Homer-Dixon on protecting Canada’s permafrost
Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University, and colleague Duane Froese of the University of Alberta wrote in the Globe and Mail about protecting Canada’s permafrost.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Arctic is warming at more than twice the global rate. And this warming and the resulting wildfires are accelerating thaw of the North’s permafrost – the zones of perennially frozen soil, sediment and peat girdling the northern part of the globe.
Put simply, when carbon-cycle positive feedbacks kick in, the planet’s warming becomes its own cause – and that’s definitely not beneficial. Indeed, alarm bells should be sounding, but they’re not.
No country has a strategy to deal with permafrost feedback. But Canada recently took a step forward by holding four Permafrost Carbon Feedback Dialogues, convened by a private-sector team and sponsored by the Canadian Permafrost Association, with participation from Jonathan Wilkinson, the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change. These dialogues brought together Indigenous leaders and several hundred experts from around the world to review the state of science and the complex technical, policy, cultural and ethical challenges arising from permafrost thaw.
Yet there’s much more we can do. Canada can set up a monitoring network and remote sensing technologies that identify thaw mechanisms and accurately measure the amount of carbon being released – something no country is currently undertaking at scale. Partnering with Northern and Indigenous communities, we can pioneer research to see whether thawing might be slowed or whether regions might be converted from net carbon sources to net sinks, meaning they would absorb more carbon than they release. And internationally, we can put permafrost carbon feedback on the agenda of the COP26 climate meeting this fall in Glasgow, and pull together the circumpolar countries to work collaboratively on this issue.