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After Question Period and Petitions came Private Members' Business. (September 26)

MP Megan Leslie and MP Dennis Bevington requested an Emergency Debate on the unprecedented melting of Arctic summer ice.  It was refused. That day much discussion turned around when exactly human life begins, (Motion 312) as MPs prepared for a vote on it the same evening. However, as I see it, later in the day when the House was all but empty, Megan Leslie and Dennis Bevington bring to mind questions as to when human life ends.

Ms. Megan Leslie (Halifax, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor to speak about the extremely urgent situation in the Arctic.

Canadians and people around the world were shocked when the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center reported last week on the dramatic melting of summer ice levels in the Arctic this year. Those levels fell to 50% of the average levels reported between 1979 and 2000. Based on the latest numbers, some scientists are even predicting that the Arctic might be ice-free during the summer of 2030.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am asking today for an emergency debate on this issue and the reasons for this are significant and wide-ranging. The melting is expected to have a domino effect on our environment, creating further warming of our climate as uncovered Arctic waters warm more quickly. This will, in turn, affect all regions of Canada with more extreme weather, in part because of the effect warmer Arctic waters will have to change the speed and path of the jet stream. It will affect all communities and all industries.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen is calling the degradation of the Arctic sea ice a “planetary emergency”.

Mark Serreze, NSIDC director, told the media that “[w]e are now in “uncharted territory.”

The situation is clear and it is worrying. The extreme melting that happened this summer goes beyond being a warning of potential terrifying global environmental consequences.

Since the report was released last week, I have talked to people around the country and realized this is not just an environmental issue, it touches all aspects of our society from international relations to national security, agriculture, natural resources and more. It is a harbinger of massive socio-political and economic change that parliamentarians have a duty to address for reasons of national security. There is no time to waste. Our country needs a plan.

With Canada taking on the chair of the Arctic Council in 2013, a comprehensive debate on Arctic issues is already overdue. We must prepare our domestic plan and prepare for multilateral partnerships on Arctic issues.

This issue simply cannot wait. We have to discuss it in the House in order to find solutions and make a plan for the future.

We need to discuss next steps and Canadians must be given a voice on this issue. It concerns us all, including future generations.

I await your decision, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker:

I thank the hon. member for Halifax for both the letter and the explanation of the issue. While I am sure it is an important issue to her, I do not think it meets the test for an emergency debate.

I do know in coming weeks there will undoubtedly be supply days allotted and perhaps the House will have an opportunity to discuss it at that time.

Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):  

Mr. Speaker, this summer Canadians experienced weather extremes like none in history causing droughts in eastern Ontario and the failure of fruit crops in southwestern Ontario.

In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the highest August temperature since 1885, resulting in drought in the Midwestern states and devastating the corn crop. A report by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin showed that the extreme weather is directly related to the loss of Arctic summer ice cover. This month, Arctic sea ice declined to its lowest level ever, beating the previous record set in 2007. The North Pole's ice cap is now 50% below what it was in 1979 to 2000.

Francis and Vavrus have shown that the increased loss of Arctic summer ice cover is adding enough heat to the ocean and atmosphere to redirect the jet stream, the fast-moving high-altitude river of air that steers weather systems across the northern hemisphere. The sixth lowest Arctic sea ice extents have occurred during the past six years. As a result of such extensive sea ice melt, the study says that the jet stream is behaving differently. It is becoming slower with bigger troughs and ridges.

As more ice melts, the dark ocean is revealed, absorbing more solar energy and heating the water. The heat is released back into the atmosphere in the fall and winter increasing the air temperatures over the Arctic, which in turn reduces the temperature differential between the air in the Arctic and the air further south.

Historically, this temperature differential has driven the jet stream, which circles the earth from west to east and forms a barrier between the atmospheres in the Arctic and elsewhere. However, as the temperature difference has declined between the north and the south, the speed of the jet stream has slowed by about 20% in the last few decades. Additionally, as the jet stream has slowed and its north-south movements have become more pronounced, generally moving further north. When it does move south, these intrusions are heading further than previously.

The changing jet stream is the main culprit behind the increasingly extreme weather events. The known negative impacts of these extreme weather events are crop failures across North America and higher food prices. For example, it has been estimated that as much as 70% of the U.S. corn crop failed this year because of drought in the Midwestern states. The apple crop in southwestern Ontario failed due to a period of unusually high temperature in March and farmers in eastern Ontario are paying as much as $140 for a bale of hay due to drought this July.

The failure of the U.S. corn crop alone will result in food costs as high as 80% to 90% for food on grocery shelves containing corn. Meanwhile, beef, pork and dairy farmers are now reporting that they will have to decrease the size of their herds as they cannot afford the fodder, which will result in more shortage and drive costs up.

Potential negative impacts from higher food prices include increased unemployment, criminality and civil unrest. Lower crop and animal yields will likely increase unemployment in the food processing industry as fewer people will be required to prepare the food. People in southwestern Ontario who work in the fruit industry will have no jobs while cattle, pork and dairy farmers will lay off hands in order to afford fodder for their animals. These job losses will have a ripple effect across all sectors. Demands for goods and services will be reduced.

Further, as we have seen increased theft of gas due to higher prices, so will increased food prices result in theft. As history has shown, increased food costs or shortages have resulted in civil unrest—

The Speaker:

Order. I would ask the hon. member to quickly wrap-up. He has had the floor for quite some time now.

Mr. Dennis Bevington:

Deus impeditio esuritori nullus: no god can stop a hungry man. The Russian revolution, for example, began with riots over lack of food.

For these reasons, the House must immediately debate how Canada will deal with the increasing Arctic sea ice melt and the disastrous effect it is having on our weather systems, agriculture and economy.

The Speaker:
I appreciate the request from the hon. member. As I have mentioned, I do not think that this meets the test parameters for an emergency debate.