The Bow and Elbow rivers filled areas of downtown Calgary with more than two metres of water in June 2013. The flood, which spread across southern Alberta, was the worst the city had seen since 1932 and the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.
In May 2016, a wildfire ignited in the parched boreal forest southwest of Fort McMurray, Alta., and blazed through the community, driving 88,000 people from their homes. It was the largest wildfire evacuation in the province’s history.
Since the 1950s, Inuit Elders in communities along Hudson Bay have observed increasing numbers of orcas, which now seem to be competing with polar bears for the top spot in the food chain in this region of the Arctic.
As the planet continues to warm from the surge of heat-trapping emissions — mainly carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons — pumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, climate scientists say events such as these will only become more frequent and widespread.
“With climate change, you tend to get these runaway or snowball effects, where you have an initial change in the climate system, then the impacts become greater and greater,” says Matthew Peros, an associate professor at Bishop’s University who holds a Canada Research Chair in Climate and Environmental Change, citing melting sea ice and thawing permafrost as examples. “It’s not just climate change itself. It’s the combined effects of human impacts, such as deforestation, and natural processes, such as diseases on forests, which can become that much more severe because of the effects of climate change.”
According to the 2013 Fifth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, irreversible changes to our planet’s atmosphere, water and ecology have already occurred. Peros, however, remains optimistic.
“We can still do something about it,” he says. “If we act decisively now, both locally and globally, a lot can be done. It’s not just a problem that’s happening ‘over there.’ It’s happening here [in Canada].”
The following images offer a glimpse at how climate change is already transforming Canada.