Local climate czar heads Outside for inspiration

Climate change doesn't exist in Texas. "It's a non-starter," said Ryan Hennessey. The Northern Climate Exchange adaptation project manager was in Houston as part of a Canadian delegation researching climate change.

Climate change doesn’t exist in Texas.

“It’s a non-starter,” said Ryan Hennessey.

The Northern Climate Exchange adaptation project manager was in Houston as part of a Canadian delegation researching climate change.

He also visited Washington DC, California, Syracuse, New York and Des Moines, Idaho.

But Texas stood out.

It’s a Republican state and “people don’t talk about climate change,” said Hennessey.

“But it’s also the biggest wind-energy producer in America.”

Texas embraced wind because of oil security issues, he said.

Wind was big in Des Moines too.

But there, all the land is privately owned.

So wind developers need to lease land from farmers in order to put up turbines.

“It’s a big incentive for farmers,” said Hennessey.

Travelling with the executive assistant to Alberta’s Environment minister, a BC policy analyst and a member of Ottawa’s climate change secretariat, Hennessey was one of four Canadians on the climate change junket.

What he learned is that “America is highly politicized.”

A lot of research has been done on climate change, and we’re poised to take action, he said.

But if Canadians are waiting for American leadership, they’re going to be disappointed, said Hennessey.

After touring the state building in Washington DC, he was struck by the 5,000 people employed there.

“They’re arguing,” he said.

“While most of us are waiting.”

In Syracuse, things weren’t much better.

The Upstate New York city was just starting a land-use planning process.

“Prior to that, I thought we were way behind in the Yukon,” said Hennessey.

“But land-use planning is old hat here.”

Syracuse, like the Yukon, has lots of aging infrastructure.

And watching the city try to come to terms with its future, “really underscored how important land-use planning is in combatting climate change,” he said.

Not surprisingly, California was already planning for climate change.

California is worried about droughts and flooding affecting its ability to grow food, said Hennessey.

What the state didn’t realize, is how far reaching a food shortage would be.

“We get our food from California,” said Hennessey.

“And I emphasized that connection.

“If they change how much they grow, or how expensive it is, we’d have to look elsewhere for our food.”

Right now, the Yukon produces one per cent of its food locally.

Our reliance on Outside suppliers is something we have to look at, he said.

Climate change is going to hit the polar regions hardest -“it’s a fact of life here,” said Hennessey.

But after travelling through the US, he realized just how interconnected it is.

“We are all vulnerable,” he said.

The Yukon is “30,000 people in the middle of nowhere,” and if we want to stay this way, “there’s a lot we need to do.”

Hennessey wants to see more locally-produced food.

He wants to see the territory turn to biomass or geothermal to power its energy needs.

And he wants to see all of Canada adopt a carbon cap-and-trade system.

Even walking to work, or only plugging the car in for a few hours instead of overnight makes a difference, he said.

Hennessey’s job is to look at adaptation – basically, “how we take action today to prepare for tomorrow.”

Syracuse is looking at adaptation.

Texas is too, but calls it “environmental forecasting,” so it doesn’t involve climate change.

And California is already taking action.

But the US doesn’t have a comprehensive energy strategy.

“And we won’t see one in the states anytime soon,” said Hennessey.

“Which means we need to do more here.”

Coming back to the Yukon, Hennessey had one big realization -“there’s a lot we need to do.”

To learn more about the Northern Climate Exchange go to: http://www.taiga.net/nce/.

Contact Genesee Keevil at