The New Normal: The Canadian Prairies in a Changing Climate

26 October 2011

The New Normal: The Canadian Prairies in a Changing Climate
by David Sauchyn, Harry P. Diaz and Suren Kulshreshtha
Published by the Canadian Plains Research Center
Review by Sandy Bonny
$ 75.00 ISBN-13 987-0-921104-27-8

Don Gayton got it right years ago when he wrote ‘Average in this country is meaningless; it is a mere summation of profound extremes.’ Cold winters, dry summers, winters without snow, floods among sand dunes; these are all historical facts of life on the Canadian Prairies. How then do we assess ‘climate change’ in such a variable geography? How do we respond and adapt when wildcard years are increasingly the norm? These questions are addressed in the most recent publication of the Canadian Plains Research Center, The New Normal: The Canadian Prairies in a Changing Climate.

Acknowledging that we are in the midst of climatic instability tied to human activity, this book brings together the work of 24 scientists and sociologists to paint a locally-focused portrait of the challenges we are likely to face in the coming century. The book can be read as a Prairie climate tour-de-force, or chapter descriptions in the introduction can guide readers to areas of particular interest. The New Normal moves beyond climate evaluation to a comprehensive analysis of shifting socio-economic, environmental, and agricultural practices, and staves off doom-and-gloom scenarios with optimistic suggestions for strengthening our policies and practices toward resilience. As precipitation becomes increasingly variable, we are urged toward adaptive water resource planning. With expected shifts in growing season and average seasonal temperatures, native, imported, and genetically modified plants are assessed for both agriculture and forestry. In the social realm, climatic vulnerabilities in health and livelihood are explored for urban and rural centres, with acknowledgment of shifting cultural demographics and traditional Indigenous land use. Discussion is grounded in an impressive collection of long-range datasets and community case studies, but The New Normal remains refreshingly upfront about uncertainties in future modeling, emphasizing flexibility as a key component to social, environmental and agricultural restructuring.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its understated commentary on political responses to climatic and environmental change. As the authors’ note, broad calls for changes to economic policies in the natural resource sector have not been met with resolve at either the federal or provincial level, and this failure may be due in part to a mismatch between scientific reporting, which values skepticism, and political discourse, with favours staid assertion. Stepping into this communication gap, The New Normal urges against political complacency, building links between regional social and economic priorities and climatic and environmental change for an intended audience that includes politicians and policy makers along with agriculturalists and environmental managers. Last but hardly least, this book has been written for the public whose concerns it voices—it is hard to examine yourself without a mirror, and the reflection The New Normal provides is comprehensive, up-to-date, and credits us with the will and ability to adapt to an imminent era of change.


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