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Canada in 2050? Future's so bright . . . you know the rest Add to ...

Our Arctic used to look like an outpost, a place the rest of the world came to for a brief moment of opportunity, and then left as fast as it could. Now, it behaves more like a settlement where people live their lives to the fullest. As the coastal waters have warmed up and the ice pack has receded, there has been a huge increase in maritime activity - what New York and Boston used to be like, if I recall correctly. The Northwest Passage isn't a year-round thing, granted, but for weeks at a stretch there's clear sailing across the Arctic, which shaves thousands of kilometres off the southern routes and saves millions of dollars for the big tanker companies (minus what they pay to us to pass through, of course).

Sea Change

The bigger change you'd notice, and the greater benefit so far is the increased activity within our Arctic sea itself - we're not just a sail-through zone but a place to work and play (if I'm quoting the Arctic Imperative Co.'s ad correctly). On a given day in September, you'll see cruise ships by the dozen, the military in strength (got to fly the flag - good photo ops for the PM), the big liquid natural gas tankers that have been developed to serve the huge reserves off the Queen Elizabeth Islands, regular visitors from all the other allied Arctic powers (wealth-sharing makes people pretty peaceful, it turns out), fishing boats tracking the species that have migrated north to find water and food sources more to their liking. I've heard that Disney is in negotiations to run a chain of protected polar bear parks, which could take tourism to the next level, especially if they can hook up with the casino resorts. Or does Disney still frown on that sort of thing? Climates may change, but morality endures.

We also made it a policy to move people from remote communities into the coastal towns and cities. This, you could say if you were so inclined, was the result of a climate-change negative: Higher temperatures disrupted the winter ice roads that kept these places supplied, to the point where it was too costly to maintain them (apart from those roads serving high-revenue generators like the Diavik Diamond Mine, which is going even stronger with South Africa being in such bad climatic shape). So we moved people to the coasts where they could find the jobs and social services they needed.

Gain or loss? Depends on whether you're a glass half-full or glass half-frozen kind of person. Still, if Arctic emptiness is what you prize, it's even more available now, at least in the depopulated interior. (Though keep in mind that the mosquitoes are even worse now than in your time - they too like warmer, wetter weather.)

Going south

Of course, like most conscientious Canadians of your era, maybe your relationship with the Arctic is more theoretical than real. How will climate change affect me, the concerned Torontonian asks. Will they still be able to make icewine in Niagara?

There, there, don't you fret. If not Niagara, then somewhere - both now and in the warming future, we'll still have more than enough subzero locations to delight the fastidious connoisseur and consolidate Canada's reputation for wintry hardiness. But don't forget the wine regions that once had difficulty ripening grapes for red wines, like Prince Edward County in Ontario: They're now awash in some very serious 100-point cuvees, at the very moment in wine history when the old guard in Spain, Italy, France and even California are watching their crops shrivel up in the desiccating heat of climate change. The B.C. desert vineyards? They're talking about switching to dates, or paying more for irrigation drips.

Unlike California, we've still got a lot of water and, what's even more crucial, we've got the will to charge top dollar for it. Especially on the export market. It's hard to understand why exporting water was such a big deal in your time, but the laws of supply and demand finally caught up with us. You could call it greed, if you like, but it seems to me just as much a humanitarian gesture to keep those dried-out American cities in life's necessity - plus, they pay so much better than the prairie farmers who've had to abandon the parched and eroded land where wheat used to grow.

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