By Cecile Wilson
The rhythm of the seasons provides us with a guideline for shaping our yearly activities. We predict what the weather will be like based on past experience and plan our activities around those predictions.
Whether you bemoan the winter cold and snow and long to escape to warmer climes location or hope impatiently for an early opening of skiing and the Rideau Canal skateway, you have an idea of what to expect from winter. When those expectations do not materialize, you begin to wonder what is going on.
This winter, the variation from normal (if there is such a thing anymore) has been quite noticeable. Although it is the second half of February as I write this, it might as well be mid-March. The temperature rose to a record high of 8.9°C, some maple syrup producers were caught unprepared by the early warm spell and for the first time since Winterlude began, the Canal failed to open for skating during the festival.
Ottawa has always experienced variations in winter temperatures. Even so, this winter has had some noticeable abnormalities. The record high set on February 15 substantially surpassed the previous record set in 1954 by 2.2°C. That usually warm temperature was preceded only 11 days earlier by a record low temperature of -32.2°C. Taken together, these two records illustrate one of the hallmarks of climate change: extreme variability.
The economic impact of climate change
Winterlude was created in 1979 to showcase “Canada’s unique northern culture and climate.” The highlight of the festival is the opportunity to skate on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the longest natural skateways in the world.
Approximately 600,000 people attend Winterlude annually. With the Canal closed, skaters turned to much smaller, artificial ice surfaces instead. The opportunity to skate on the Canal distinguishes Winterlude from other winter festivals and makes it unique. What is the likelihood that people will return to Winterlude if the main attraction is unreliable?
A graph on the National Capital Commission website charts the length of season openings for the skateway since its opening in 1971. It illustrates a discouraging but not unexpected trend. The average skating season lasts 50 days, but the frequency of shorter skating seasons has increased. If the Canal fails to open this year, however, it will be a first: a far cry from the longest skating season of 95 days set back when the skateway first opened.
Not only does temperature variability wreak havoc with our recreational plans, it affects the economy as well. Many businesses who cater to the skating public are feeling the hit to their income. Skate rentals, skate sharpeners and food and drink vendors have seen their sales drop noticeably.
This brings me to another season.
Annual General Meeting (AGM) season
Early April is the traditional AGM season for Canada’s banks. What is the connection between banks, AGMs and skating on the Rideau Canal? Let’s look at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), for example.
RBC ranks first in Canada and number five in the world for financing fossil fuel projects. At last year’s AGM, Investors for Paris Compliance filed a proposal that would have prevented RBC from classifying the financing of fossil fuel projects, as well as projects that faced significant Indigenous opposition, as “sustainable financing.” RBC advised its shareholders to reject the proposal, and they did.
This was despite warnings from the International Energy Agency (IEA) as far back as May 2021 that funding any new oil, gas or coal projects was incompatible with remaining at or below 1.5°C of average warming. Furthermore, the IEA advocated reductions in the emissions of current fossil fuel projects and called for increased spending on renewable energy.
Yet, Canada’s banks continue to fund fossil fuel projects that threaten numerous local economic activities, such as skating on the Rideau Canal, by disrupting the stability of our climate. They also fund projects that disrupt traditional ways of living on the land for many Indigenous people, even on unceded territory.
If you are a customer of any of Canada’s big banks, the spring AGM season provides an opportunity for you to let your bank know what you think about transitioning off fossil fuels and increasing funding for clean, renewable energy.
Cecile Wilson is a Glebe resident who likes winter and will be paying attention to RBC’s AGM in Saskatoon on April 5 this year.
The Rideau Canal, one of the longest natural skateways in the world, did not open for skating this year for the first time in its history, wreaking havoc with local businesses. Photo: David Wilson
Canada’s banks continue to fund fossil fuel projects that threaten numerous local economic activities, such as skating on the Rideau Canal, by disrupting the stability of our climate.