Saturday, June 22, 2013

Floods, Alberta and Climate Change

Between Wednesday and today, southern Alberta experienced over 250 mm of rain – equivalent to an entire year of rainfall. Needless to say, flooding is extensive with over 100,000 persons evacuated and the downtown of the City of Calgary is closed. The Calgary Stampede grounds – home of the biggest outdoor event on earth (due to be held just two weeks from now) is submerged. A state of emergency has been declared, three are known to be dead and the army is en route to help.

To the West the Town of Canmore, where I spend a month or so each year to write, is cut off, with all major roads to the Town unfit for use with one of the nations most major highways damaged and in need of radical repair. Many river side or creek side houses are damaged beyond repair.

It is a disaster. One of the most major disasters in Alberta history – ranking alongside the Tornado which hit Edmonton in 1987, though this had many more deaths (27).

Right now the focus is on seeking to ensure that there is no further loss of life, to provide shelter, food and clothing for those displaced and to care for the animals affected.

Next attention will turn to recovery, restoring some sense of normalcy and demonstrating how resilient communities can be. In particular, there will be a need to rebuild infrastructure - roads, bridges, power supplies.

Then we will start to understand what needs to be done to repair the damage and protect against the next severe weather event.

Sometime soon there will be an attempt made to explain these floods in terms of manmade climate change. But the science doesn’t support this explanation. In fact, the science focuses on cycles of natural occurring and competing phenomenon (including shifts in ocean circulation patterns, cloud formation and sun spots) and the building of property on flood plains, recovered wetlands and other “at risk” zones. The extent of damage to property and community is due more to planning decisions and building designs rather than man made climate change.

No doubt, links will be made between oil sands development, climate change and extreme weather events. But even Al Gore laments that the science does not enable him to claim that climate change and extreme weather events are linked. An IPCC report on this exact matter came to this conclusion. While there is a political interest in this link, it is not scientifically sound to make one.

Rather than engaging in fantasy science, it would be better for us to spend our energy and use our skills to care for those who need practical help right now.

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