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Whitehorse considers adaptation

If you can't mitigate climate change then you may as well adapt to it.

If you can’t mitigate climate change then you may as well adapt to it.

Following this philosophy, the city’s two-year-long community adaptation project will identify ways it can make itself more resilient to the changing environment.

“We want to identify where the risks are and what opportunities exist to deal with them,” said local climate change specialist, John Streicker, the project co-ordinator.

In the first year, Streicker will analyze how the city is being affected by climate changes. In the second, he’ll single out measures the city should be taking to accommodate itself.

“If we had a storm that cut off the Alaska Highway, how would we address that here?” said Streicker.

“One way would be to fly a bunch of food into the city, which contributes to climate change, another way would be to encourage local food production.”

A local project-advisory team will look at how variable precipitation and rising temperatures are leading to forest fires, floods, denser snowpack and more frequent storms.

Then they will find ways to incorporate changes into existing processes.

“If I found that flooding was a problem in a certain part of the city, and if the city needed to replace the sewer system in that area anyway, then we could look at ways to improve rain drainage and runoff at the same time,” said Streicker.

Streicker will be working with the city’s sustainability co-ordinator as well as soliciting input and support from territorial and First Nation governments.

“What we’re trying to do in Whitehorse is develop sound strategies to deal with the vulnerabilities,” said Ryan Hennessey, the community adaptation project’s manager, who is overseeing similar projects in three different Yukon regions.

Dawson City was the first community to be studied.

Now a year into the project, Dawson City is preparing to release a draft adaptation plan of its findings.

Melting permafrost, spruce bark beetle and local food production are some of the issues that topped the report.

“It was a surprise to see just how warm the permafrost (below the city of Dawson) is,” said Sebastian Jones, co-ordinator for the town’s adaptation project.

In some places the permafrost is half a degree below freezing posing the risk of sinking buildings and streets turning to muck.

However, the prospects of climate change aren’t all negative, said Jones.

“There could easily be opportunities because of the warmer, snowier winters. Dawson may be a more attractive place for winter tourism,” said Jones.

One of the projects Dawson is hoping to get off the ground as a result of the adaptation plan is a science centre that will offer a public place to showcase the effects of climate change in the North.

Another is a community greenhouse, said Jones.

The Whitehorse community adaptation project will be officially launched at the end of July.

The project is funded by Northern Climate ExChange and Northern Strategic Trust, a multi-million-dollar federal fund with the purpose of increasing sustainability in the North.

Contact Vivian Belik at