I love Canadian food, and I am hugely privileged to study our country’s culinary culture. However lately climate change has been keeping me up at night; as if melting ice, crazy weather, and scorching heat wasn’t enough, climate change could seriously disrupt Canada’s food production and culinary identity.
Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate change Team has just released a major report, Climate change adaptation and Canada’s Crops and Food Supply, highlighting the possible consequences of a changing climate to Canada’s food systems. I am the co-lead policy author for the report; the lead author, Erik Karlsen, is a past chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. Our findings worried us; though farmers are extremely innovative and adaptive, climate change will challenge our food systems with a series of potentially damaging impacts. We found that though rising temperatures could increase our growing seasons, such benefit is countered by increasing drought, more frequent floods, and other damaging weather such as ice storms, hail, and extreme heat. Farmers will need assistance to mitigate against the economic disruptions such changes will cause. In this respect, climate change can be seen as a one-two punch; there will be general warming, which might actually benefit Canadian agriculture, and there will be increases in extreme weather, particularly drought and flooding, which certainly will not benefit our agriculture. Adapting to this new reality will require flood protection, drought resistant crops, and other changes to physical and economic infrastructure.
The report also highlights that Canada’s food security will be impacted by the impact of climate change on global supply chains. Much of our food comes from abroad, and those supply lines are likely to be disrupted. I will admit that when Linsay Martens completed this section of the report I immediately began plans for a greenhouse stuffed with coffee and chocolate, but the reality is we will need to plan for a resilient food system that can weather import disruptions. this is a good argument for strengthening domestic food production and local food systems, but it is also a good argument for a robust program of aid to other regions of the world struggling to adapt to extreme weather. I for one enjoy oranges and mangos, and don’t really want to live in a world where they are a distant memory.
Canada’s culinary identity is also at risk. Many of our iconic foods require cold weather for their production, putting them in danger as winters warm. The two most urgent examples Pacific salmon and maple syrup, are particularly important elements of Canada’s cuisine. Maple production requires very specific temperature conditions, and Southern Quebec is already seeing a drop off in syrup output per tree. Lack of snow cover can endanger fragile root systems, ice storms can batter trees, and a lack of clear cold nights greatly decreases sap production. The industry might need to move North, a move that should be started now. Such a move will safeguard production in the world’s major maple producing region, but it will also disrupt a way of life that is hundreds of years old. Maple production in rural Quebec is an important part of the rural economy, and puts money in the farmer’s pocket right at the start of the conventional farming season, when they need it most.
As for the salmon, they are likely the most threatened of all. Salmon already have to contend with pollution, overfishing, damming of rivers, and threats from disease. Salmon need certain water levels and temperatures in their home rivers to survive and thrive, and drought and rising temperatures will be a real challenge. Here in British Columbia we should immediately begin planting trees to provide more habitat, and we should restore as much lost habitat as we can. We also might need to allot more water to salmon, and decrease our domestic and industrial use of water. Protecting the salmon will require money, hard work, and careful research. The salmon deserve everything we can do for them.
Canada is lucky in many ways, as we have extensive resources to adapt and mitigate the effects of a changing climate. However we also have many people who are still debating the reality of these changes, which is unfortunate as it has polarized the debate in this country, leading to a lot of rhetoric on both sides. The work done by ACT was largely funded by the insurance industry, which is not really an industry known for radicalism. However they are masters of advanced planning, and advanced planning is what Canada’s food systems need. And we might want to stock up on coffee and chocolate, just in case.