Living with Climate Change in Kitchener-Waterloo

This post was originally posted on the Transition Network blog for the Living with Climate Change series, by Rob Hopkins, on March 26, 2014. View original post here

To situate this blog post, we’re in Kitchener-Waterloo, two cities that act as one, but can never quite become one because of decades or maybe even centuries of bickering. We are in southwestern Ontario, or west of Toronto for those who don’t really know Canadian geography. We like to call ourselves KW.  What does this new climate look like in KW? More intense rain events, less rain overall, and more hot days. This past year is a pretty good example of what we can expect going forward in this area.

All year we’ve been whomped with very wacky weather in Southern Ontario, cold and miserable and snowy. (not that we’ve been the only ones!) Unfortunately this weather killed a bunch of the tree cover across the area, which won’t be nice once the mid-summer heat is upon us.

Source: http://funtobebad.blogspot.ca/Source: http://funtobebad.blogspot.ca/

We lost a large number of trees during a huge downpour with heavy winds at the end of June. It rained intensely for a few hours, at one point convincing me that it was the end of the world. All I could see from my apartment window was water and cloud.  KW flooded briefly in a few different places.

Source: http://funtobebad.blogspot.ca/Source: http://funtobebad.blogspot.ca/

In those few hours of intense rain, 500 trees were damaged in Waterloo region.  Our neighbours in the big city of Toronto fared much worse. They had heavier rains (exceeding the 100-year rainfall amounts at Toronto international airport), and had to cope with old inadequate infrastructure beneath very busy areas. The main transit hub, Union Station, was flooded! Social media had fun with it, though, using the flooding photos to mock the internationally infamous Mayor Rob Ford.

Rob Ford

The next tree-destroying event was a major ice storm a few days before Christmas. The region was pelted with 25 mm of freezing rain and 37,000 people lost power. When this hit us, we were planning on having a Christmas dinner with friends. But our hosts were without power, as were many of the guests who planned on cooking dishes for the dinner. As friends do though, we banded together, and decided to relocate the Christmas dinner to a house that did have power, and have people over earlier so they can help cook. We almost didn’t have our communal Christmas dinner, so many of us were without power. Luckily, power finally came on in some places and we managed to get everything cooked in the end. We were lucky. A lot of suburbanites weren’t, as many across southern Ontario were without power for days or weeks.

What did TransitionKW learn from this and other experiences while we were creating our Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit? We should make friends with our neighbours.  It’s much more fun, and easier, too, if you work on transition projects with your neighbourhood – and besides, they’re the ones you will turn to in an emergency. You can floodproof your basement on your own, but it’s more fun when done with friends. You can make an emergency preparedness kit for your home, but when your power goes out, you should know people in your neighbourhood, because they will be your only source of entertainment, and maybe heat and good food, too. And, thinking about others now,  when the power goes out in the dead of winter, who in your community needs your help to get food, water, or to a place where they can keep warm, so why not  get to know them and their needs now?

Speaking of cold – did we ever get blasted with that here this winter. We also experienced the “polar vortex”, as did many parts of the United States that don’t usually get cold winters. We should be accustomed to cold winters in Canada, but southern Ontario has been spared from truly cold winters in the past decade, and it seems like we lost our ability to cope with -20C days for weeks on end, given the whinging that was heard everywhere (weather is a constant topic of conversation among Canadians, good or bad. Especially bad). The polar vortex is an example of the changes we can expect thanks to climate change. The wackiness was due to weather the weather pattern came from, and not the weather itself.

But those days will soon be behind us (though -10 is pretty cold for a first day of spring), and we’ll be back into the hot, humid days of summer before we know it. That is another impact expected in this region – more hot days than usual, longer periods of extended heat waves, and increased risk of drought. This affects our agricultural industry, so important in our area, as well as our human health. And shows yet another way where neighbours working together can help each other out. For example, a community garden in Kitchener has installed large holding tanks which capture rainwater from the roof of an equipment storage building nearby. The community is securing water for itself during drought, conserving water overall, and helping to ensure some food security for that neighbourhood.

That’s why we created the Climate Change Adaptation toolkit – we wanted to showcase ideas and actions that are relevant to our community when dealing with climate change. We know lots of people in our community are taking action on climate mitigation, and we fully support them in that work (see here for more on that!), but we wanted to focus on what wasn’t yet being addressed but is affecting us already.

It ended up being more than adaptation, because actions that help us adapt to climate change can also help us mitigate it, and help the environment and the community in lots of other ways.  Check it out after March 29 here: toolkit.transitionkw.com. The toolkit website will officially launch March 29, and the link won’t work before that.  If any Transition initiatives want more more information on the how & why of the toolkit, please get in touch with us: transitiontoolkit@gmail.com.

About Sylvie Spraakman

Environmental engineer, environmental activist, and community volunteer. Loves KW!
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