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Slippery Slopes: Canadian Recreation Meets Climate Change

Climatologist Micah Hewer and economist Pat Lloyd-Smith tell Jay about the good, the bad, and the ugly effects of global warming on Canada’s outdoor recreation sector. On the bad side of the ledger: shorter downhill skiing and skating seasons and slime-covered lakes in the summer. On the good side: longer, better seasons for outdoor pursuits like hunting, bird watching, and cross-country skiing. And one of the best of all: better, more widespread winemaking, especially of fine red wine.

Please note: For seasons 1 and 2, we were known as “Let’s Talk About Water,” so you may hear that title in this episode. Don’t worry, it’s still us!

Guest Bios

Micah HewerMicah Hewer

Dr. Hewer is a lecturer and research associate in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at the University of Toronto in Scarborough. He is an environmental scientist, Canadian geographer, and applied climatologist who specializes in climate change impacts and biometeorology. Dr. Hewer’s research focus has been dominated by the study of tourism climatology and climate change impacts for recreation and tourism. Micah has focused on the relationship between weather and climate and camping, as well as zoo attendance. He has also explored the impacts of climate change on ice conditions in Ontario. Most recently, Dr. Hewer has begun to look at the impact of projected climate change on grape growth and wine production in British Columbia, Fraser Valley, and Okanogan Valley.

Patrick Lloyd-SmithPatrick Lloyd-Smith

Dr. Patrick Lloyd-Smith is an assistant professor of water and resource economics at the University of Saskatchewan. Pat’s work focuses on measuring the benefits people receive from nature and how this information can be used to make better decisions involving environmental resources such as wetlands, water, and fish. Pat is also a member of the interdisciplinary Global Institute for Water Security where he contributes his economics expertise towards ongoing work modeling Canada’s water future.

Further Reading

Photo Credit

Micah Hewer – Photo courtesy of Micah Hewer
Patrick Lloyd-SmithCollege of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan; Gord Waldner

Full Transcript

Micah Hewer:
Winters are warming faster than any other season in Canada. So, when you talk about ice rinks, whether indoor or outdoor, when you talk about snow, that’s why we’re seeing these consequences so meaningfully, because the winter is where we’re experiencing it the most. And what an effect it’s going to have on Canadian culture, on our hockey culture, on our winter heritage. It’s kind of sad to think about it.

Jay Famiglietti:
Welcome back to Let’s Talk About Water. This is a podcast about the future of our planet’s water, and why you should care. I’m your host, Jay Famiglietti.

As we are all painfully aware, 2020 is the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people were stuck inside their homes for days on end. To get away from life on the inside, people flocked outdoors in search of some healthy recreation, which is great.

But with changing climate, you might not get as many seasons as you’d like out of those new cross-country skis. Here in Canada, we’re warming at twice the global rate, in Saskatoon, three times the global rate.

For some ski resorts, that means they won’t be able to make snow. They may not have snow at all. It also means algal blooms will be a common occurrence across our favorite lakes in the summer.

What about our local orchards and wine production? As our climate changes, we may be able to find poutine anywhere, but accessing Alpine skiing and a slime free lake will become more and more difficult today.

Today, Micah Hewer and Pat Lloyd-Smith are here to help me slalom through the steep slopes of how climate change is impacting outdoor recreation across Canada. Micah here is an applied climatologist at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, who studies the impacts of climate change on recreation and tourism, and on wine production in Canada. Michael, welcome to the program.

Micah Hewer:
Thanks, Jay.

Jay Famiglietti:
First of all, let’s talk about climate change. Can you give us the big picture about how climate change is impacting Canada?

Micah Hewer:
Yeah, sure. I mean, when I think about climate change, I try to limit my perspective to what has been observed, and what’s been documented with the instrumental records.
So, I generally focus my attention and my discussions around the last 150 years, which, really, we have instrumental records for that. We also have something very important that happened in that time frame, which was the Industrial Revolution.

Ever since we started emitting greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, especially, then eventually, those accumulated in the atmosphere. And we started to be able to witness and to observe and to document changes, anthropogenic changes in the climate system. But when we’re talking about climate change, it’s interesting, because globally, we’ve seen about a one-degree warming.

But in a Canadian context, that’s been amplified. And we’ve seen almost two degrees of warming already over the last hundred years, in a Canadian context. It’s actually even greater than that, in the Canadian Arctic.

Although you might not expect that Canada would be one of the greater impacted countries, because, does it really matter? Are Canadians really feeling the heat? Do we care that it got a degree warmer? That seems like a benefit to most Canadians, you would expect.

But we have started to see some real negative impacts, especially in regards to, for example, from a tourism context, the ski industry is certainly not celebrating the one-degree or two-degree warming that they’ve experienced, and nor are the communities that are on fire.

Jay Famiglietti:
No, no. So we should talk about both the cold side and the warm side.

Let’s talk about the snow season a little bit. So, what’s happening there on the cold side of climate change?

Micah Hewer:
Most Canadians live in Southern Canada, which is really what I like to refer to as a transition zone. Because a lot of these regions, you think about Toronto, you think about even Montreal, Calgary … Not so much Vancouver, that’s a bit of a unique discussion.

But a lot of our populated cities live in a transition zone, where a one-degree warming, especially a two-degree warming, is going to move these areas from being characterized by harsh, cold, snowy winters into climates that are much more similar to Vancouver, where we’re receiving much more rain than snow. Because our average temperatures are so close to the freezing point.

I did some research recently in Toronto to document that, to quantify that, and to really show that that winters in Toronto are much more rainy than snowy, compared to what they used to be. I mean, that’s the science, but you even just think about the lived experience. I mean, I’m 37. And the interesting thing about 37 is that, I can look back to a different climate.
Climate’s generally characterized by about 30 years. 30 years of time characterizes a climate normal. If I remember, back when I was seven years old, I lived in a very different climate, where we used to get snow blowing up against the front of our house, and you couldn’t open the door.

Nowadays, and I have kids that are, I have some children that are about seven, and they’re hard-pressed to get a snow day, or even opportunity to play in the snow, never mind, be barricaded in the house by a snowstorm. And so, you can really see very, very real changes, especially in our winters.

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah, so let’s talk about that a little bit. And I think generally there’s an expectation, with the … Thank you for pointing out that Canada is warming at twice the global rate. We learned yesterday that the Saskatchewan is warming at three times the global rate. The impacts on the snow season, I mean, what are you seeing?

Micah Hewer:
I’ve thought about it a lot, but I haven’t quantified it. And I’m not sure that anybody has, in a Canadian context. But I really think that you would see a shorter winter, and a longer summer, just generally speaking. And that obviously has dire consequences for industries that depend on ice and snow, such as the Alpine, well, all ski-based industries.

I mean, with Alpine skiing, they have some adaptation capacity. They can make artificial snow, to a degree, but it’s expensive. And it has, obviously, the water and environmental consequences, energy consequences as well.

But there’s even a threshold for that, where the ski season in Canada, especially in Ontario and Quebec, where elevation is relatively low, the ski season is really contracting. And it’s costing the producers much more money in order to create a skiable terrain.

Jay Famiglietti:
I’m just really curious about how these resorts might shift to survive. Can they shift to other sorts of resort activities, more summer-based things, more activities in the shoulder seasons?

Micah Hewer:
Yeah, certainly they can. And they have been, to such a degree, that you think about it, from my own perspective, because I live in Southern Ontario. The largest resort in kind of a two-hour drive for us is … Blue Mountain is the largest and probably most profitable resort in Southern Ontario. And they have really exercised that adaptation strategy. The resort was built and the community is reliant on the ski industry. But the ski industry really only characterizes, at best, three months of the year.

Most of their investment is now going into a four-season style resort, where they still have the mountain terrain, and they’re using it for warm weather activities that can make up at least six months of the year. Things like downhill mountain biking, zip lining, hiking, and a variety of other activities that they can do on that terrain, that doesn’t require snow and ice, in order for it to be enjoyable.

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah, so, that’s great, and that seems completely appropriate. It’s just the way the world is going, and I’m sure this is happening all around the world. I want to talk a little bit about ice, and what you’re seeing with changes in ice.

Of course, we love ice here in Canada. I’m curious about the future of the backyard ice rink. Remember where we used to play hockey in Canada?

Micah Hewer:
Yeah, yeah. On ponds. And I would not recommend my kids going out on to any ponds any time in the near future. I remember as a kid, we used to always go skating and play hockey on ponds. I mean, that’s just a recreational, but you think it, also, about the communities that have outdoor rinks. That’s another topic.

I mean, we have an outdoor rink, downtown Hamilton, by the waterfront, and I’m very curious about how much money it costs to maintain that. Then you can also talk about indoor rinks. What’s the consequence of climate change for running all of our indoor hockey rinks? How much additional energy do they need to consume? How much money is it costing them to maintain those rinks, as winters, and both the spring and fall, continue to get warmer and warmer?

That’s one last point that I’d like to emphasize, that winters are warming faster than any other season in Canada. So, when you talk about ice rinks, whether indoor or outdoor, when you talk about snow, that’s why we’re seeing these consequences so meaningfully, because the winter is where we’re experiencing it the most. And what an effect it’s going to have on Canadian culture, on our hockey culture, on our winter heritage. It’s kind of sad to think about it.

But certainly, time goes on. And we’ll have to adapt and evolve, as everyone else does, as well.

Jay Famiglietti:
Let’s talk about a little more about the warm side of climate change in Canada. What do you think are ways that we can adapt for recreation in a warming climate, here in Canada and other high latitude locations around the world?

Micah Hewer:
Well, adaptation, in that regard, seems to be somewhat natural. It doesn’t necessarily require a lot of prompting or planning. And what happens is that when temperatures and conditions just simply become uncomfortable in July and August, which are, generally speaking, perceived as our peak tourism season, people just simply start to naturally broaden that shoulder season.

So that eventually, we’ll no longer see a peak in July and August, and we’ll start to actually see a dip in July and August, and June and September will begin to peak for certain activities as it does, especially in the South. And that’s a great thing to consider.
We refer to it as a climate analog. In this regard, it’s a spatial climate analog, where we look to the South, where, how do tourists behave, how do recreational seasons operate in the South?

And then we can use that as an expectation for what’s likely going to happen here in the future, when climate change makes our conditions, then what they are now in the South. That’s what we refer to as a spatial analog, and it could be used for tourism, it could be used for agriculture, it could be used for a number of activities. Certainly, that’s an effective mechanism to plan, and to prepare for adaptation.

Jay Famiglietti:
I have been looking forward to chatting with you about what you’re finding in wine production. So can you share any of your insights?

Micah Hewer:
Yeah, sure. So wine, the study of climate change and wine, is even younger than tourism and climate change. We’ve been looking at tourism and climate … I published a paper entitled 30 years of Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Tourism.

Basically, we’ve been doing that for about three decades now, but in the case of grape and wine, I had a little bit of interest in it, because I went to school in St. Catherine’s, which is one of the most recognized wine growing regions of Canada, in the Niagara Peninsula. I had the interest and I decided to look at it a little bit.

I jumped on that boat and wanted to get involved with that type of research, so that’s what we started doing. But because it’s such a new topic, really, all we’ve been able to do so far is look at how climate change is affecting key indicators and critical thresholds for grape and wine, things like growing degree days, things like extreme temperatures, heat stress, freeze damage, frost potential.

Overall, what we’re seeing is that our growing season is getting longer, it’s becoming warmer and that’s a positive. But within that, we’re also experiencing greater heat stress. You mentioned this previously, so, the number of hot days. What it really relates to, in the end, is that when we started growing grapes for wine production in Canada, we were considered cool climate viticulture.

We were growing specific grapes, generally speaking, white wine. White wine was most suitable for Canadian viticulture. And that’s what we were growing, and that’s what was thriving here.

But as climate continues to warm, we’ve already actually transitioned out of cool climate viticulture classifications. And so, growers are beginning to grow the more red wine. This has been seen in France, as well. If you talk to wine growers in France, they’ll tell you that, “Yeah, we used to grow white, and now we’re growing almost predominantly red.” And that is stressing the need for adaptation.

If we don’t adapt, what we’re going to end up with poor quality white, and we’re going to miss the opportunity of capitalizing on high quality red, that actually sells for a higher market value, anyways.

Jay Famiglietti:
But I just want to wrap it up by saying, it’s a good thing that I really prefer red wine. So if there’s a silver lining, that could be it.

Micah Hewer:
This is true.

Jay Famiglietti:
Micah Hewer is an applied climatologist at the University of Toronto, in Scarborough, who studies the impacts of climate change on recreation and tourism, and wine production in Canada. It was great having you on, Micah. Thanks very much.

Micah Hewer:
Jay, it was a pleasure to be part of this.

Jay Famiglietti:
Pat Lloyd-Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and a member of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan.
His research focuses on the economics of water and ecosystem services. Pat, thanks so much for joining us today.

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
Thanks for having me, Jay. It’s great to be here.

Jay Famiglietti:
Where were you raised? With the pond hockey disappearing, were you raised closer, more down South?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
There’s the kicker. I was raised in Vancouver, where there was no pond hockey. So when I finally moved out East, I got my first taste of it when I was 18. And I was like a kid that just had sugar for the first time.

I was just out there all the time. And my mom wasn’t even around to say, “Hey, come on back, come on in for dinner.” So I was just out there tons. So I’ve been kind of late to it, but I’ve really enjoyed it since.

Jay Famiglietti:
Well, but it’s really tough to see it disappear, especially, especially for our kids. You know, I was the same way. I was raised on, not pond hockey, but pond skating. And it’s disappeared.

This is down in Rhode Island, in the United States. It’s unsafe now. The places that I used to skate, you can’t do it anymore. So where are you teaching your kids to skate?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
Well, she’s eight months. So I’m only-

Jay Famiglietti:
That’s not too soon.

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
… I know. I’m only teaching her to skate in my mind, but I’ve already visualized it, out at Boffins, out at that little pond out there. So I’ve already very laid down some tracks for her.

Jay Famiglietti:
Okay, very good. But you have a big focus on recreation economics. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
Yeah, absolutely. I’m interested in recreation, because it’s one of the most tangible ways that people experience nature, they benefit from nature. And there’s a lot of really interesting questions in terms of human behavior, human values, for the environment, and how people’s recreation behavior influences the environment, and then how the environment influences people’s records and behavior.

As an economist, it’s a fascinating area of research, because when we’re talking about how people receive benefits from recreation, we have to move beyond just the data of what people are spending on recreation, to really understand, well, what’s actually the benefit they’re receiving from recreation activities?

Jay Famiglietti:
So, tell us a little bit about some of those benefits.

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
We’re understanding, more and more, from a whole range of disciplines of the mental health benefits, the physical benefits, spiritual benefits, cultural benefits, that people receive from recreation. People have all these diverse reasons for why they recreate, why they enjoy the outdoors.

As an economist, when we think about them, we don’t necessarily try and understand the drivers of why. Is this a cultural reason? Is this, are you doing this hunting for the subsistence, for the food itself? But really trying to understand this comprehensive picture, of what are the impacts on someone’s well-
being, from participating in these activities?

Jay Famiglietti:
Now you have me concerned about how the well-being will suffer, in the face of climate change and environmental degradation. Do you have any examples for what’s going on and, and how these changes are impacting, how people recreate?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
I mean, one of the aspects of climate change is, it just is going to have so many different impacts. When we think of recreation, one of the first thoughts is we’re, especially here in Canada, we’re worried about our winter sports activities. We think of all these snow-based activities, we have warmer weather, shorter winters, those are going to suffer.

Those are front of mind, and we can seek to understand those, but even broader than that, of even when we’re thinking of some of our summertime activities, or activities that aren’t necessarily so temperature-driven, climate change can still have some indirect impact on these recreation activities. For example, there’s concerns that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of algae blooms.

So, you have really bad water quality at lakes that are popular for swimming, fishing, and boating. Even in, for the summer-based activities, they can be negatively impacted by climate change.

Jay Famiglietti:
I’m wondering if you’re able to put any dollar values on some of these losses, either due to climate change, or algal blooms, or, whatever?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
So, I’ve been working on one study, looking at the impacts of poor water quality for recreation in Alberta, and on camping, or lakes that are in provincial parks. I’ve been working with a young researcher, Nasim Amini and we’ve been trying to understand exactly, this question of, what are the impacts of these sort of beach and swimming advisories on people’s recreation behavior?
The nice thing about it is, it’s starting at an individual level to kind of understand how people respond, right? Because unlike a lot of physical impacts of climate change, you have this human behavior element, where people are going to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

If you have poor water quality in one lake, they may just go to a different lake, or they may change their trip to a different time of year. When we’re trying to understand what these impacts are, we need to understand all of these different substitution possibilities that people have, with their recreational activities.

In that case, in Alberta, it was, the cost of having poor water quality was about $15 per camping trip. When we just think of all the camping trips that occur, that can scale up to be a larger number, but even just bringing it down to that individual level can be important for understanding these numbers.

Jay Famiglietti:
You mentioned something about how people are modifying their behavior. What kind of options do you think they have, when we think about a few different outdoor activities? It might be fishing; it might be hunting.

It’s not clear to me. Where I’m going with it is, how free are people, because of their circumstances, if they’re tied to their jobs? COVID is one example where people are working from home, and maybe have more flexibility over their schedules.

But just in general, do you have any insight into how flexible … How easy is it for people to shift gears?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
It’s a challenging question. Part of it is, you have a huge diversity across the spectrum for people. I like to think of it as substitution.

You can think of spatial substitution, so people don’t go to this lake, they go to a different lake. Again, that’s assumes that there’s other lakes, better water quality that are nearby. And that may or may not be the case.

But then you can also then think of that temporal substitution. So, “I’m not going to go this weekend, I’m going to go next weekend. I’m not going to go during the day, I’m going to go at night, to avoid maybe some of the hotter temperatures.”

I think, temporally, that there’s a lot of challenges there, because people’s leisure time is not as flexible, in a lot of different elements, because of work schedules, because of, when their friends or family that they want to, also have time off. So there’s a lot of other kind of coordination costs, that limit this ability to just participate in these activities.

Jay Famiglietti:
Have you made a stab at looking at quantifying how these things are impacted by environmental change, environmental degradation?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
It’s a big challenge, but it’s really important. One of the limitations of the existing recreation economics work is, a lot of it’s focused on the spending.

So, it’s thinking about recreation, and expenditures that people spend, to participate in all of these activities, and what that does for the economy. You often hear that that type of language, and that can be really important for different local areas and different regions.

But one of the downsides of focusing on the spending as sort of a proxy for the benefits of recreation, is it misses out on the actual benefits that people receive, right? It’s just a focus on expenditure. If expenditures go up, then that’s great.

But when we actually try and think of, step back and think about what the benefits are, that people were actually receive from the recreation, not what they’re spending, we get this more complete picture. Because it allows us to incorporate all these different dimensions and reasons for participating.

The outcome of that is that, in Canada, there’s estimates that Canadians spend about $40 billion a year on recreation. That number often gets touted as, “Isn’t that, isn’t recreation so important?” But that’s actually a gross underestimate of what the benefits Canadians receive from recreation, not what they’re spending.

When we look at what they’re receiving, it’s closer to about $100 billion, based on some estimates, with some uncertainty there. But what that shows is, because we’re so focused on the spending that people have, we might be sort of under-investing in recreation, underestimating the impacts of things like climate change or other environmental change will have on recreation, and the values it provides to people.

One of the elements in the recreation world is, there’s a lot of emphasis on hunting and fishing. One of the reasons is, a lot of people that study this tend to also participate in those activities. Those activities are important. Those activities have really high values per participant for per person that’s actually participating in this activity.

But there’s also a whole other broader range of recreation activities that are probably underrepresented in the literature, that are important for people. I’m thinking of a lot of certain non-consumptive recreation activities like birdwatching, different types of hiking, things where people maybe have less of an impact on the environment.

Maybe the per day values might be lower, but there’s a lot more people participating in these activities. So when we’re thinking recreation and the impacts of climate change, it’s important to take all of this more broader, comprehensive picture of what recreation is.

Jay Famiglietti:
Yeah, so I think that’s a great point, Pat. Because one of the things that has gotten me and my wife through the pandemic is that we go out and we walk our dog three times a day, and we’re outside. We often walk along the South Saskatchewan River.

If there were conditions that change, if the water were contaminated, the weather is bad, we don’t walk as much. What I’m trying to say is, this is a core outdoor activity that we do every day, we’ve been doing it for years, and more so during the pandemic. And in a sense, no one, and that’s probably true for lots and lots of people around the world. And I haven’t really seen that.

Jay Famiglietti:
Your point is well taken. This is not really included in these estimates of the benefits of recreation.

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
Yeah. I mean, in some ways, there’s good reasons to focus on hunting and fishing, because there’s a lot of resource management issues. Because you’re actually taking fish, or you’re taking deer or different animals, out of the environment.

So, there’s a lot of management issues at play there. But when we start thinking about how people benefit from nature, and how climate change can impact people’s recreation activities, I think it’s important to take that sort of broader perspective.

Jay Famiglietti:
What’s your level of optimism about effecting change in the areas that you work, and across Canada?

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
I’m an optimist at heart, so I’m very optimistic. I think there’s a real opportunity to, and we’re seeing it across a whole bunch of different spaces, that different sort of actions we’re doing, actually don’t cost that much. They cost less than we think, when we think of a lot of renewable energy potentials with just, technology changes, reducing those costs. We’re seeing that in a whole bunch of different spheres.

And the benefits are actually quite large, going back to our recreation example. For a long time, we’ve just been valuing things using expenditures, but if we actually value them using benefits, it’s over twice as large. I think we’re starting to really understand just the potential for these, and the really big benefit cost ratios that a lot of these relatively simple initiatives and projects can have.

Jay Famiglietti:
Well, that’s great, Pat. Thanks very much for joining us today.
Pat Lloyd-Smith is an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and a member of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan. It was a pleasure, Pat.

Pat Lloyd-Smith:
Thanks for having me, Jay, it’s been fun.

Jay Famiglietti:
Remember, everyone has an intrinsic connection with water. Go find yours in the great outdoors.

Well, that’s it for another week of Let’s Talk About Water, which is produced by the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, with the Walrus Lab. I’m your host, Jay Famiglietti.

Thanks to everyone who helped put the show together, including Mark Ferguson, Laura McFarlan, Amy Hergott, Jesse Witow, Shawn Ahmed, Stacey Dumanski, Aaron Stevens, Nikky Manfredi, and our producer, Sean Prpick. As always, special thanks to Linda Lilienfeld.

This is our last show of 2020, and I know you won’t want to miss what we have in store for next year. So why don’t you make it easy for yourself and set an alert, so you’ll know the moment the new episode drops?

Remember, we’re on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and many other quality podcasting platforms. You can also stream us on Facebook, at Let’s Talk About Water Podcast, or follow us on Twitter @LTAW Podcast.

See you in 2021!