How teaching about New Brunswick may be different in the future due to our changing climate

Mar 7, 2019

By Zachary Bourque

As teachers in New Brunswick know, certain parts of the curriculum from k-12 cover topics and themes related to our provinces geography, culture and climate. Climate change will incur impacts on these topics, changing how they should be taught to students. Some of these changes are higher global average temperature, higher global sea levels which will result in more dramatic coastal erosion and increased frequency of storm surge events, and a global shift in the presence of plants and animals (GNB, 2017). Some impacts New Brunswick will see include:

  • Higher temperatures
  • Longer ice- and frost-free seasons
  • Less snowfall
  • Longer dry periods between rainfall events
  • More frequent likelihood of forest fires (GNB, 2017)

While climate change is a global issue, it’s important to understand how your local environment may be affected especially when teaching students about their province. It is important to note that using scare tactics or teaching children about the harsh realities of a unsustainable future does not inspire action or behaviour change and can sometimes cause eco-anxiety. Always finish a lesson on a positive note with actions that can be taken to help keep New Brunswick a beautiful, sustainable province. Listed below are some examples of how different aspects of New Brunswick are changing or are expected to change due to climate change.

Our provincial tree:

New Brunswick’s provincial tree is the balsam fir (Abies balsamea). You may be familiar with this tree, as it can often be found in people’s homes during Christmas. This tree, like other coniferous tree species, are expected to disappear from New Brunswick if temperatures continue to increase. If, for example, greenhouse gas emissions are limited by 2040, New Brunswick could see an increase of temperature of 1.6°C, and if they aren’t, temperatures could rise by 4°C (CBC, 2016). In either case, the cold-loving tree species, such as the balsam fir and black spruce (Picea mariana), may disappear from the southern portions of the province. Warm temperature-loving species such as red spruce (Picea rubens) and red oak (Quercus rubra) could effectively replace our favourite Christmas tree in those regions (CBC, 2013).

Our provincial bird:

Much like the balsam fir, our provincial bird, the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) can be expected to migrate northward as temperatures increase in New Brunswick. In its place, the Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) will be found. The black-capped chickadee can persist in a New Brunswick with higher temperatures, but it is due to the expansion of the Carolina chickadee’s territory, caused by increasing temperatures, that drive our provincial bird northward. Both birds compete for the same food sources, and as such, the Carolina chickadee is often able to outcompete our native chickadee (McQuillan & Rice, 2015). It is unlikely that New Brunswick will lose the black-capped chickadee altogether, rather, it will only be found in the northern portions of the province (Hewett, 2017).

Our tourism industry:

Nearly 60% of New Brunswick’s populations live within 50 kilometres of our shores. Additionally, many of the province’s top tourist attractions are located on our coasts. Unfortunately, it is these coasts that are the most impacted by erosion, escalated by rising sea levels and extreme storm events. Infrastructure like roads, wharves and natural tourism sites are all at danger from erosion. Coastal experiences account for approximately 70% of New Brunswick’s tourism sector, which is expected to suffer as a result (DELG, 2002). Tourist attractions like the Hopewell Rocks, Parlee Beach, and Fundy National Park are all subject to eroding coasts. Fortunately, however, there are natural buffers in place to help us cope with severe storm events and coastal erosion, such as dunes and salt marshes (GNB, 2017).

Our landscape:

Changes in climate, such as precipitation frequency and intensity, might make some areas of New Brunswick unsuitable for most types of development. For example, steep slopes may be unable to be developed because the increase intensity of rainfall would make them more susceptible to erosion. The probability of summer water shortages is expected to increase, creating a greater need for irrigation within the province’s potato belt and other areas, which may be further problematic due to local water chemistry. The longer frost-free seasons and higher temperatures could allow for new crops to be grown, or longer growing seasons of existing crops. This applies to our natural crops as well, our trees, but would also enable destructive pests and diseases to impact them (GNB 2017). Thankfully, the agricultural and forestry industries are already aware of the possible impacts of climate change, and are acting diligently to try and limit them (GNB, 2017). Coastal municipalities are also being proactive, as each of the coastal municipalities in the province are in the process of or have completed the preparation of a climate change (Bourque et al., 2018).

Our health:

Climate change will even impact us directly through our health. Rising temperatures could cause an increase in heat stress in vulnerable populations, our food and water will be at an increased risk of bacteriological contamination, and vector-borne diseases and allergies will become more prevalent (GNB, 2017). As mentioned above, all of the province’s municipalities, which are classified as being high risk to climate change, will have their climate change adaptation plan complete within the next few years. These plans include a variety of strategies to limit climate change’s impact on human health, including keeping an inventory of residents requiring supplemental oxygen, establishing emergency measures centers with kitchens and generators, providing support to residents with mobility issues, among many others (Bourque et al., 2018).

Climate change will impact every aspect of our lives. It is not too late to implement plans to conserve coastal areas, forests, watersheds and biodiversity. Tackling the topic of climate change with your students can be done through resources on The Gaia Project’s website. Click here to try one of our resources to empower your students to take action on climate change!

About the author:

Zachary Bourque has been with The Gaia Project since 2019 and is a Program Delivery Officer. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Environmental and Natural Resource management and a Masters degree in Environmental Management from UNB.

Click here to learn more about Zachary.

References

Bourque, Z., Reeder, K., Ryan, E., & Schwarz, K. (2018). Assessment of indicators: Measuring climate change adaptation progress, capacity and resilience of New Brunswick’s ‘Highest Risk Municipalities’. ENVS6007: Practicum in Water, Wildlife, and Forest Management.

CBC News. (2016). Climate change may ‘eradicate’ some softwoods in N.B., says professor. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/climate-change-new-brunswick-forests-1.3769488

CBC News. (2013) Forestry sector may lose native trees to climate change. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/forestry-sector-may-lose-native-trees-to-climate-change-1.1382186

Department of the Environment and Local Government, New Brunswick (2002). A coastal areas protection policy for New Brunswick. Retrieved from https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/env/pdf/Water-Eau/CoastalAreasProtectionPolicy.pdf

Government of New Brunswick, Canada (2017). How is climate change affecting New Brunswick? Retrieved from https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/elg/environment/content/climate_change/content/climate_change_affectingnb.html

Government of New Brunswick, Canada (2017). Summary of predicted impacts of climate change in New Brunswick. Retrieved from https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/env/pdf/Climate-Climatiques/SummaryPredictedImpacts.pdf

Government of New Brunswick, Canada (2017). Coastal erosion. Retrieved from https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/departments/elg/environment/content/climate_change/content/climate_change_indicators/indicators/water/coastal_erosion.html

Hewett, F. (2017). Is climate change the swan song of the black-capped chickadee? Retrieved from https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2017/09/20/is-climate-change-the-swan-song-of-the-black-capped-chickadee

McQuillan, M. A., & Rice, A. M. (2015). Differential effects of climate and species interactions on range limits at a hybrid zone: Potential direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Ecology and Evolution, 5(21), 5120-5137.