By Fred Schueler & Aleta Karstad
North Grenville operates under the contradictory motto of “Green and Growing,” but the issues discussed in the current municipal campaign have all been on the “growing” side, with the implication that either the “green” side is doing okay, or that it has been thrown under the bus. So to get away from splash pools and road maintenance, here are some issues facing our area:
The big issue for everybody and everything is global climate change, and the very strong likelihood that, with positive feedback loops in the release of greenhouse gasses, change and warming are going to come much faster than current government ‘action’ will be able to deal with. This rapid change is especially anticipated from the thawing of permafrost, oxidizing organic soils into CO2, and warming of Arctic seabeds releasing methane from ice-like clathrate hydrates. Calculations, probably unrealistically alarmist, are available which project that these processes will lead to the extinction of the human species by 2026, only a few election cycles away, and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that “If we do not change course in the next two years, we risk runaway climate change. . . . Our future is at stake.”
This means that the new currency of all government and personal action must be carbon footprint calculations: what is the net atmospheric consequence of every project and policy? This must include replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, winding down consumerist lifestyles, promoting carbon storage in growing rural and urban forests, and in both agricultural and wetland soils, smaller families, and adaptation of infrastructure to projected changes in climate. Every project and policy must be evaluated on these terms, including the “shadow work” footprint of distraction and travel that it may impose on the public.
As the climate changes, the vegetation will change, and, if we’re to respect the history of “our home and native land”, we’ve got to take the actions that are possible against invasive plants – especially Garlic Mustard, Phragmites and Dog-strangling Vine – so that the change in vegetation will be, as much as possible, northward movement of species native to eastern North America.
One of the most conspicuous of these changes is the death of our fencerow trees from an alien fungus and insect: lots of second-generation Elms are dying from the Dutch Elm Disease and Ashes are being riddled by the Emerald Ash Borers, which have killed so many trees in urban Ottawa and the fencerows of fields east of North Grenville. These dead trees are going to be a safety hazard and a source of fuel wood, and it will be important to see that they are replaced by appropriate species.
As species will need to move north and among changing habitats, planning must emphasise ecological connectivity, maintaining and creating connections and corridors between extensive healthy natural habitats. We’ll need to understand flooding, winter anoxia, and drought summers without flow in our streams, and how this influences which species can live there, and how the source wetlands can sequester the greatest possible amount of carbon.
Kemptville Campus has a mandate to work towards climate change mitigation, and would be a natural centre for such concerns, perhaps with an archive and museum of local data and specimens. Such local information would be an important component of engaging public education and action, and could serve as, or co-operate with, a municipal environment committee.
Since 1975, as a biologist and an artist/naturalist living in Bishops Mills, we have been studying ecological change in what’s now North Grenville, and have accumulated a database of 58 thousand natural history records from the municipality. Our work has focused on anticipating ecological change, both from interest in populations adapting to change, and the possibility of conservation action to maintain and enhance biodiversity. We have the cabinets, books, and equipment which would go a long way towards setting up a museum focused on climate change.
When it was first suggested that the municipality take over the campus, we proposed that a museum would be an essential element of such an establishment, and we have made this offer again, and would welcome an invitation to be involved in providing and encouraging local research and education, with a view toward the sustained health of North Grenville’s natural and human communities in the face of continued climate change.