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Human Settlements, Energy, and Industry



This section looks at the impacts that human activities have on the environment. The figures, maps, and charts have been chosen to represent the present state of the environment and the effects of present human activities, especially those dealing with energy and the emissions from ‘business as usual’. This section also raises awareness of the vulnerability of our environment to climate change. The ecosystems in many areas are already stressed from the effects of human activities. Consequently, they have less tolerance for the effects of additional stresses due to climate change.

The question is, How much electricity is too much?


Ontario’s daily energy needs and how to reduce them



An Energy Attention Grabber – Blackout!

A power blackout gets everyone’s attention. In August 2003 on a hot afternoon, the lights went out on 50 million people in southern Ontario, New York state, Michigan and Ohio. In the week following that blackout, the experts were looking hard at the amounts of power it takes to keep the lights on in our province.

They were also looking at how local power systems are linked together over vast areas. A problem somewhere in the large, inter-connected electrical distribution system ( the grid) can, if things go wrong, shut down large areas. That’s what happened, and kept people in the dark on that hot August night that followed.

The Mayors’ Megawatt Challenge

The Office of Energy Efficiency is looking for ways to make people more aware of their energy use and the ways they can reduce it. They’re helping cities do the same thing. The Mayors’ Megawatt Challenge brings the leaders of Ontario cities together to build effective energy efficiency programs.

Reducing energy NEED is the best way to take the load off the power generation and distribution systems. When the need for energy goes down, so does the need to build large, expensive new energy-generating facilities. Conservation is the best way to make the best use of the resources we have.

Check out http://www.trca.on.ca/living_city/megawatt/

Planning for growth or development must take climate change impacts into consideration in order to be sustainable in this century and beyond – especially energy consumption. Mitigation, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation to the projected impacts must be included in discussions and planning for all sectors of human activity. Conservation culture is only the beginning of what must be undertaken by society as a whole.

Great Lakes Basin – fuel sources used for the production of electrical energy.

Source:IJC, 2003 Climate Change and Water Quality in the Great Lakes Basin

1. Locate the closest city. Where is the electricity used there produced? From what source(s)?
2. How many sites are in Ontario? Use this total, calculate the percentage represented by each source.
3. Check the same data in the latest statistics available for the province of Ontario.

The figure below, for central southern Ontario, shows several important features.

Source: A. Fenech et al (2000) Ontario Roads (poster) www.utoronto/imap

1. What areas are represented in green and brown? In yellow?
2. What is the name of the smaller lake between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario?

Road building increases to support communities. But road building also brings problems such as fragmentation of ecosystems which isolate plant and wildlife communities. Roads also change the water absorption and albedo effect. Increased fossil fuel consumption and the accompanying change air quality creates conditions for smog to occur.

Winter driving conditions have dictated use of salt for road safety. Reduction in use of salt and some new methods are being recommended by the federal government in 2004. New treatment of water runoff from main highways such as Highway 403 is being piloted. Planting trees along highways and streets is not included in transportation budgets.

The three figures below illustrate the road systems in Ontario from 1935, 1965, and 1995.

They are part of a scientific poster series. What is the trend shown in the next 3 figures?

Check out the source below the maps.

Ontario Road Systems 1935-1995.

Source: A. Fenech et al (2000) Ontario Roads (poster) www.utoronto/imap

Blue: unpaved

Red: paved

Heavy red: major highways.

1. The increase in urban population parallels that of motor vehicle registrations in Canada.Does this hold true for Ontario? Research these statistics and plot a graph for Ontario 1950-1998.
2. What was the most popular model of motor vehicle in each of the years shown in the above maps?What was their weight, gas consumption? Remember to report using the metric system.
3. Check out the Canadian statistics and plot the new vehicle fuel efficiency since 1977.

Environmental Signals National Environmental Indicator Series, E. Canada (2003) http://www.ec.gc.ca/soer-ree.

Also read Linda McQuaig, (2004) It’s the Crude, Dude. Doubleday Canada. www.randomhouse.ca. This book traces the history of business and politics of big oil and the fight for the planet. The notes section is a great reference for further research.

  • What is the actual width for which a roadway is planned? that is including roadside ditches, lighting boulevards, etc. A street? A streetcar track? A railroad bed? A bicycle path?

The influence of external factors on climate can be broadly compared to the concept of radiative forcing. The following figure shows the factors that cause changes in the climate system. Both anthropogenic (human-caused) and natural factors are included. See Section 2.3 Climate models. The height of the vertical bar represents the best estimate of the factor causing the change. The vertical line represents a likely range of values.

Source: IPCC Climate Change (2001), Synthesis Report Working Group 1, 11, 111 www.ipcc.ch.

1. In your own words, what is being measured on the y axis? What do the units represent?
2. How many factors can be grouped as greenhouse gases which are mixed over the globe?
3. Why might the other factors have a greater effect regionally? Hint: check particulate matter.
4. Name the factors in the above chart to which use of motor vehicles contribute.

ACTIVITY 5 Research
1. What story does the x-axis tell? How is this chart related to the Kyoto protocol?
2. Choose one factor. Research why the science behind the posting on the graph has a warming (in the pink) or cooling (in the blue) effect.

The Great Lakes show greater sensitivity than thought earlier when examining the effects of nitrogen and sulphur deposits. The concentrations of phosphorus are also a major consideration in the health of all bodies of water. See eutrophication later in this section.

Source: Environmental Signals, National Environmental Indicator Series, E. Canada (2003)


1. What are wet nitrates and how are they deposited? What are the units of measurement?
2. What is the general trend shown when comparing the 2 graphs?
3. What is the change seen in Northern Ontario between 1983 and 2000?
4. What is the relationship between nitrates and nitrogen oxides (NOx)?

When nitrogen and phosphorus (next graph) are used as inorganic fertilizers they are not listed as contaminants. When increased concentration of these substances from runoff boosts normal levels in aquatic systems, they stimulate growth of algae causing algal blooms* and eutrophication*.

Lake Erie Dead Zone

Source: Canadian Geographic map insert, 2003

Municipal Waste Water

Good news is that, in spite of an increasing population, phosphorus load or amount released back into water sources has been decreasing. This is due to more secondary and tertiary sewage treatment. Lowered water levels and more extreme weather events will make it difficult to continue this trend.

Annual phosphorus in runoff increases as more land is used for agriculture and septic systems age. The removal of phosphorus in tertiary sewage treatment allows the Bay of Quinte to presently meet drinking water quality standards. Climate change effects of lower water levels and continued increases in annual phosphorus in runoff /sewage will make it very difficult for the Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan (RAP) to continue to ensure this present standard of water quality.

Data from 1972-92 was used to establish this base case shown for phosphorus (P) concentration in the future. See scenarios Section 2.

Source: Walker, R.R., 1996.  Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on the Bay of Quinte, Ontario.

A report to Environment Canada, Environmental Adaptation Research Group, Burlington, Ontario.

The horizontal line at 0.03 mg/l is the Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan target.

0.02 mg/l is the target or Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) for P concentration in lakes.

0.03 mg/l is the target or Provincial Water Quality Objective (PWQO) for P concentration in rivers.

Under 1996 base conditions the target was achieved. Decreasing runoff and smaller percentage of phosphorus from easily managed sources will make it more difficult to meet targets under the climate change conditions seen in modeling scenarios.

1. What are the y axis units used to measure phosphorus concentration?
2. What is the greatest increase in concentration predicted? Calculate this as a percentage.
3. What two factors are most likely to cause this increase?

ACTIVITY 8 Research
1. What change has there been between 1992 and 2002?
2. What is the base case concentration of 1972-92 in ppm per litre?

Lower water levels also impact Ontario’s built world – shipping, recreational boating, fishing, commercial and residential docks and harbours. Generation of hydroelectric power will also be affected as precipitation patterns change. Reduced regular runoff and increase in extremes where water must pass the turbines will complicate expected normal production of electricity.

Aesthetics may be degraded through changes in plants and animals along the shorelines and wetlands. Beaches may be closed more frequently due to increased bacterial counts.

Lower water levels impact Ontario’s built world and affect shipping, recreational boating, fishing, commercial and residential docks, harbors.

Dredging of ports and harbors will be increased with an added cost where the sediment is proven to contain high levels of contaminants. Treatment of the toxic material removed must be considered. Generation of hydroelectric power will also be affected by changes in water levels. The list below shows beneficial uses potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

List of Beneficial Use Impairments on the Great Lakes Vulnerable to Climate Change.

Source : IJC Report 1991

1. Loss of fish and wildlife habitat.
2. Degradation of fish and wildlife populations.
3. Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations.
4. Added costs to agriculture or industry.
5. Eutrophication or undesirable algae.
6. Degradation of benthos
7. Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption.
8. Tainting of fish and wildlife flavour.
9. Restrictions on drinking water consumption.
10. Beach closings.
11. Degradation of aesthetics
12. Restrictions on dredging activities

1. State the title of this list in simpler language. Rewrite this list in your own words.
2. Choose one item from the list. Research details of this item and list the changes that might occur or already have occurred in a local body of water due to changes in climate.
3. Name at least 2 other topics that might be considered for this list.

Each of the 12 conditions on the list above represents a body of research. Each set of research findings is directly related to projected impacts of climate change. The chart below represents the research findings for item number 5, eutrophication and undesirable algae.

In Table 4-9, italics indicate that it is directly related to impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes basin. Normal type indicates the findings outside the Great Lakes basin to show the further range of climate change impacts. Some of these impacts have already been observed.

Source: L.Mortsch et al., Climate Change and Water Quality, May 2003. www.ijc.org

Summarize this chart in one short paragraph.

Sulphates (SO4) are produced as sulphur dioxides by burning fossil fuels whether for heat or for transportation. Fossil fuels contain sulphur that can be separated and sold as a separate product.

When added to water, sulphur dioxides can form sulphurous and sulphuric (H2SO4 ) acids.

The graphs below show sulphates being deposited over eastern North America for the last twenty years.

1. What is the general trend noted?
2. Trace the Ontario boundaries. Find where you live and note the kg/ha/yr. of wet sulphate deposited there in each of the time periods shown.
3. Why is the highest concentration of wet sulphate located south of Lake Erie? What does this mean for Ontario? Hint: see Earth Systems: wind patterns.

ACTIVITY 12 Research: Use the 3 graphs above to help answer the following.
1. What is “acid rain”? Find some statistics with reference to changes in Ontario lake pH.
2. What types of damage can be done by sulphates? Hint: check out the history of Sudbury area.
3. What has been a major reason for the improvement shown in the above graphs?

Water in Our Lives

Water is critical to every aspect of our lives including our health, energy production, industry, and transportation. Reduced water levels will have the following effects:

1. Hydro power production will be reduced.
2. Shipping costs will increase because ships will have to make more trips with lighter loads.
3. Lower water levels create problems for cottagers, marine operators, and for launching, hauling out, and boat operation in shallow areas.
4. Higher water temperatures reduce water quality by creating a more favourable environment for microbes and algae blooms. Lower water levels can affect the ability of intakes to draw water. Water quality will be affected as supply intakes may not draw water properly.
5. Fish access to wetlands and other shore habitats will be affected.
6. Shoreline properties will have less flooding and erosion damage, but existing docking facilities will have to be changed.

Canadian per capita water use is nearly three times that of European countries and second only to the U. S. In 1996, households in Ontario used 270 liters of water per person per day.

Source: Environmental Signals National Environmental Indicator Series, E. Canada. 2003

1. Update these statistics for Ontario, 2005.
2. What is the volume of 16 billion liters of water at standard temperature and pressure(STP)?

Source: Environmental Signals, National Environmental Indicator Series, E. Canada. 2003

Research has shown that water usage is reduced by about 50% when household water is metered.

Many water metering charges by municipalities are correlated with the sewage output to pay for the treatment of both water and sewage. Some municipalities, especially along the St. Lawrence River, historically charged households for water use based on the number of taps in the home.

1. Find a recent bill from a municipality showing water usage charges.
2. What are the units used? What is the cost of water per liter?
3. What is grey water? Is it being treated separately?

ACTIVITY 15 Research
What would a liter of tap water cost based on the cost of a container of bottled water?

Table 1. Categories of Water Use in Ontario Homes


Source: Environment Canada

1. Construct a pie graph to represent household water using the above information.
2. Determine how many liters are used on average, in Ontario households, for each activity.
3. List five ways your household can reduce water consumption. Consider the information in Table2.

ACTIVITY 17 Research
What was the water use per household in Ontario for 2003? What is this as a percentage increase?

Table 2. Water uses and consumption:


Visit the section on the menu bar What you can Do – and check out individual challenges.


A 1% increase in stratospheric ozone is predicted to result in a 2% increase in non-melonoma skin cancer. The incidence of melanoma has doubled in the last 20 years.

Ground Level Ozone and its role in Smog formation.

1. In what units is the concentration of ground level ozone measured?
2. Explain why the number of ground level ozone days shown in above figure has this distribution.
3. Check out the graph below and relate the two. How many ppm is the Canada-wide standard?

ACTIVITY 19 Research
1. Update this report using data from 1991 to 2001. Check the Canadian graph below.
2. Why do the western provinces have less ground-level ozone?
3. Ground level damage to trees has been researched in Ontario. Check out the data available.


See Solar UV in Our World and the diagram of smog formation


At the other end of the wire is THE ONTARIO POWER GRID

When you reach for the wall and flick on a light switch, do you ever stop to think how that seeming magic of light happens? What is it that actually makes the light go on?

There is a remarkable collection of power-generating technology connected to every light switch. But it’s very easy to forget what it takes to produce the electricity. We pretty much take the process for granted.

During what’s called “peak load” – at the end of the day when everybody’s home turning on lights, watching TV, cooking dinner, doing laundry, using computers, running dishwashers, listening to music, and in summertime, running air-conditioners – Ontarians all together are using 28,000 megawatts of electrical power. And where is it coming from?

Hooked up to your light switch in Ontario, there are five different kinds of technologies that produce electricity. Some of them produce carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse gas. During peak load, Ontario turns on its fossil-fuel burning generators to keep up with the demand.


Nuclear – 31% Hydroelectric (water) – 28% Fossil fuels (coal & oil) – 39% Wind & green – .05

Heating Demands

Beginning in the 1940s changes in heating demands, or standard deviations from normal, increased substantially through the 1960s and 1970s. The demand for heating changed the most during the 1990s. The 1990s recorded the maximum deviation from normal, that is the largest decline in annual HDD. The increased temperatures had reduced the need for heating energy the most in the last decade of the last century.

Since 1960 all weather stations have recorded a significant decrease in heating demands during January, February, March. This means that the recorded temperatures were higher so less heating was demanded from suppliers. There also has been a decrease in the coldest temperatures recorded. LOWS ARE NOT SO LOW NOW!

During El Nino and La Nina events years the HDD were significantly less – up to 20% below normal. The effects from these atmospheric-oceanic events in the Pacific Ocean increased Ontario temperatures in the same years causing up to a 20% warming. an overall decrease in Heat Degree Days *(HDD). Increase in rodent populations such as the deer mouse after these events has been tied to viral outbreaks of respiratory illness in southwestern United States. Flowering times of Alberta species have moved forward as well.

Climate change and heat island effects in our big cities, such as Toronto, are considered as “likely” contributing factors to the decline in HDD in the twentieth century. Atmospheric-oceanic events add to the already complex factors that influence natural variability in climate. Climate change projections for changes in temperature add to the uncertainty and variability of future heating demands.

See section 2.4 for bell curves and implications of shifting the mean re: extreme events.

Source: Solar UV in Our World, ACER, Environment Canada, Health Canada,2002 www.acer-acre.org

Source: Bill Rees presentation to State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference, Toronto, October 2004