Canada sitting pretty in climate change scenarios

While other regions suffer, Western Canada could use its land, water and energy resources to prosper

BANFF, Alta. — Prime minister Stephen Harper might have described Canada as an “energy superpower,” but Yale economist Vikram Mansharamani appears to see it as more of a future food superpower.

Mansharamani said Canada and the United States can both prosper and supply the needs of a world with booming population growth and an expanding ability to buy imported food but also dwindling access to cheap fertilizer and likely lower crop yields because of climate change.

“North America looks great. Canada looks spectacular. This is a big opportunity,” Mansharamani told the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention in Banff March 5.

“You want to have abundant energy. You want plentiful water. You want to have fertile land. You need a temperate climate.… Given this collection of ingredients, it’s spectacular that we live here in North America. We are actually extraordinarily well-positioned for what could be a chaotic future.”

Mansharamani said Western Canada appears to have the “winning combination:” fertile soil, water supplies, fertilizer and energy combined with a low population and a climate that will be in the rare situation of likely benefitting from global warming.

“It’s (climate change) going to crush productivity in India and Africa … (but Western) Canada’s a net beneficiary of global warming.”

Others, such as the Worldwatch Institute’s Lester Brown, paint a grim picture of the coming world situation, with depleting water resources and increasing world temperatures bursting a “food bubble” of high productivity that is possible now but will evaporate.

“Civilization as we know it can’t withstand the stresses of continuing with business as usual,” Brown said in a February 2011 New Scientist opinion piece.

“We’ve got to move, almost on a war footing, to cut carbon emissions, eradicate poverty, stabilize populations. We must also restore the economy’s natural support systems: forests and aquifers and soils.”

Mansharamani said climate change is likely to give the Canadian Prairies the weather that is now experienced by Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, which is likely to be an improvement from the present situation.

He noted several possible reasons that his projection might fail.

Hundreds of millions of people in developing nations are approaching the income level that generally signals a great increase in meat consumption, but political instability could end or reverse that trend.

The political chaos in eastern Ukraine and the food riots that occur when food prices rise show how political stability can vanish.

Countries such as Iran could emerge from present stagnation and begin growing, which would spur even more demand, or they could slip deeper into a morass.

China’s economic slowdown could go deeper than expected and cut its food demand, although Mansharamani thinks it is much more likely to increase, even as its demand for industrial commodities slips.

“This thesis could be completely wrong,” said Mansharamani.

Some analysts believe that new and better-applied technologies and innovations can create massive gains in productivity, even in a world of challenging environmental conditions and political instability.

Futurist Jack Uldrich, the author of books looking at trends that he thinks will shape the future, presented a bullish picture of agricultural potential to the canola council conference. He focused on nanotechnology, robotics, computer-device-object interconnection and 3D printing, which could radically increase the efficiency and output of most industries, particularly agriculture.

He said it would allow farmers to produce much more with the same resources, land, labour and technology than is possible now.

That revolution is just beginning to occur, Uldrich added.

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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