(Jul 19, 2007)

Climate change could bring disease and polar bear extinction

From AP

TORONTO (AP) - A Canadian provincial minister warned that continued climate change may lead to the extinction of polar bears in southeastern Canada and unleash new insect-borne diseases across the province of Ontario.

Minister of Natural Resources David Ramsay Minister launched a new environmental education web site Thursday that indicated that temperatures will rise up to 8 degrees Celsius in northern Ontario if climate change continues, essentially wiping out the polar bear population.

Gogreenontario.ca states that weather will also warm up in southern Ontario, bringing with it insects like the Lyme disease-carrying black-legged tick and an influx of white-tailed deer, which can carry brainworm - a fatal affliction to some animals.

''This is real,'' said Ramsay, borrowing a page from the script of former U.S. vice president Al Gore, whose ongoing crusade against global warming is documented in the Oscar-winning film ''An Inconvenient Truth.''

''The impacts of a hotter north will be very severe. It will be harder for species at risk to survive. New species may be placed at risk because they aren't compatible with the change in the climate and many invasive species are likely to migrate to Ontario as the climate warms,'' said Ramsay.

If sea ice continues to melt in the Canadian arctic, the Ontario polar bears could lose their habitat and source of food.

The province has ordered a three-year study of the bears, but government research scientist Marty Obbard said the animals are already starting to suffer.

Pregnant females are much smaller and thinner than they used to be 25 years ago, Obbard said.

''We think this is an early warning sign that there are changes - dramatic changes - that are about to happen to the number of bears in the population,'' Obbard said.

Scientists say people in southern Ontario also face the prospect of an invasion of new insects and pests. As the winter temperature rises, scientists warn creatures such as the possum, the white-tailed deer and the black-legged tick will start making their way across Ontario.

''All of our species are intimately connected with temperature and precipitation patterns,'' said Paul Gray, with the climate change program at the Ministry of Natural Resources.

''As soon as those temperature and precipitation patterns change, our critters start to think about moving around a bit.''

Ramsay said he hopes the very real effects of climate change will prompt people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own by using more efficient lightbulbs and taking public transit.

''We've been spoiled by the wonderful blessing of resources,'' Ramsay said. ''Now we see a big threat to the wonderful blessing of resources and we've got to step up to the plate and protect them.''

Peter Ewins, director of species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, said the province has to more rapidly phase out its coal-fired plants and impose some strict vehicle emission standards on cars - the number one contributor to Ontario's greenhouse gas emissions.

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