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Ice patterns and icebergs are seen in Croaker Bay near Devon Island in Canada's Arctic, Friday, July 11, 2008. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ice patterns and icebergs are seen in Croaker Bay near Devon Island in Canada's Arctic, Friday, July 11, 2008. (JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe Editorial

Don't accentuate the positive on climate change Add to ...

Larger forests; more cod in our northern waters: there are some silver linings for Canada coming from a warming climate. But while not all the change to Canada's climate will be deleterious, in no way does that decrease the urgency, or absolve Canada of the responsibility, to deal with climate change.

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Degrees of Change, by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, brings together in one survey many of the potential impacts across Canada that would arise from a sustained increase in temperature as of 2050. Some regions will look very different, especially the North, where summer Arctic sea ice could be reduced in half.

We could choose to see this purely through the terms of competitive advantage. Who wouldn't be excited by the prospect of the North's economic bounty (tourism, shipping through the Northwest Passage, oil and gas) being unleashed, if it can be managed responsibly? And greater agricultural yields in central and eastern Canada, predicted by the survey, will help us feed ourselves.

But for almost every benefit, the survey found a downside. We get a new breadbasket in the East at the cost of drought and desertification in the Prairies. More Canadians will be put at the risk of death from heat waves, or illness from poorer air quality and the advent of new diseases. Shipping through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway will get more expensive, as lower water levels mean that ships must carry smaller loads.

The negative impacts abroad will also affect Canada. Other ecosystems are threatened more than our own, and climate refugees - those fleeing hurricanes and floods and those moving in larger numbers because they will have to compete with more of their countrymen for fewer resources - will be asking Canada for help.

It is tempting to look at the balance of pluses and minuses from climate change, and be willing to ride it out, hoping that the global risks are overblown and that Canada will be a net beneficiary.

But the Degrees of Change survey shows that drawing this conclusion would be premature.

And it is the wrong way to think about the issue. Climate change is caused by global buildup and release of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide. This is not something limited to Canada, or something that Canada can fight alone.

Canada must be a part of the fight against the climate change. Standing on the sidelines, wagering on victory, would be the dangerous, and morally bankrupt, position.

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