What started with a group of maverick scientists in the late 1950s who suggested the addition of man-made greenhouse gases into the atmosphere could be causing the Earth’s climate to warm, has since developed into a general scientific opinion that the climate system is undeniably warming.
It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that the general public learned the phrases ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’.
Many denied the existence or human involvement in climate change, however according to national and international science academies it is now 95% probable that humans are contributing to climate change through activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, which increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The City of Red Deer has shown leadership in the region by addressing the issue of both climate change and overall air quality within the 2011 release of their Environmental Master Plan and the 2014 release of the Climate Change Adaptation Plan.
The City recognized a need to protect the assets within City limits as well as look at how general operations would be affected by climate change. The Climate Change Adaptation Plan aims to give a shared understanding of what climate change is and the effects it will have. The first part of the plan was released in March and focused largely on the corporate level, with a community plan being released later this year.
Nancy Hackett, environmental initiatives supervisor with the City explained there were a number of major factors implicated within the plan.
“What we expect to see is the risk and increased frequency in severe weather, so this might be excessive winds, tornadoes, hail, winter storms, severe rainfall – and these weather events will impact everything from our storm drainage system, to our parks and buildings,” said Hackett.
“Another major risk is that of flooding due to excessive rainfall and we have seen some flooding in the last three years in Red Deer, so we know firsthand what some of the impacts of climate change can be and we just want to be prepared for these events and protect our infrastructure while continuing to provide services to residents in case of these events.”
Another large portion of the plan was identifying large emitters of greenhouse gases within the City’s corporate operations – one of which was found to be the City’s landfill as it releases methane when waste decomposes. Currently the City is looking into options to capture the methane from the landfill and use it as a source of semi-renewable energy to generate electricity.
However, methane isn’t the only gas on the City’s radar since the adoption of the Environmental Master Plan by council in 2011.
An annual report to the community detailing results from the last year of the plan’s implementation released in 2012 showed there was concern in the areas of fine particulate matter and that Red Deer had exceeded Canada-wide standards for the threshold measure of fine particulate matter (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres) in the air, which are known to pose a health and environmental risk to residents.
Fine particulate matter can be caused by motor vehicles, power generation and wood burning and is measured in ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre).
The EMP’s baseline for fine particulate matter in 2009 was 15.9 ug/m3 and it stated a goal of not exceeding 20 ug/m3 however in 2011 they measured levels at 24.4 ug/m3 and by 2012 levels were at 31.4 ug/m3.
Monitoring of these levels is done by the Parkland Airshed Management Zone (PAMZ), with Executive Director Kevin Warren explaining, “Suspicions are that these levels are primarily due to motor vehicles but home heating practices and certain industrial processes could play a role as well,” he said.
“More extensive monitoring needs to happen until we are sure.”
Although Red Deer’s levels were deemed higher than the Canadian standard, in comparison to Red Deer’s air quality, according to global estimates from Environmental Health Perspectives, annual levels of particulate matter over eastern China exceed 80 ug/m3.
Currently there is one permanent air quality monitoring station within Red Deer located in the Riverside Industrial Area, which Warren fears could be skewing data due to the location of the station in the river valley.
Warren said, “The activity around that station has changed greatly since it was put in back in 2000 and the industrial park located near the site has doubled in size since the time of the site’s creation.”
To address this issue, PAMZ is currently in the works of creating a second permanent monitoring site in the Lancaster areas of Red Deer.
Warren believes this will give a, “Better representative characterization of Red Deer’s air quality because it is in a residential area where most residents will be affected by air quality.”
He thinks the second station will give them a, “Much better handle on the air quality levels as at this point the biggest concern in Red Deer’s air quality is the fine particulate matter.”
The particulate levels of both Red Deer and Edmonton caught the eye of the provincial government and an air quality management plan has been put in place for Edmonton through Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, with Hackett adding the City is looking forward to working with the province on their plan.
Warren emphasized most people tend to take air and the quality of it for granted.
“Water quality is always important of course, you can go a few days without water – but you can’t go long without air.”
While you can clean your water it is difficult to clean the air and the most you can do is, “Reduce activities that lead to air pollution, and there can be improvements made at industrial facilities that reduce pollutants at their source,” he said.
“Except for those few days with high levels of inversion, we generally enjoy an air quality that is the envy of most of the people in the world,” said Warren.
“We are really trying to ensure that while we do prosper and grow, we maintain the quality of life that most Canadians have come to enjoy.”
For more information on air quality and real time data of local air quality visit www.pamz.org.