Alberta Flooding: A Climate Change Wake Up Call for Harper?
By Bill Henderson *
The severe flooding in Southern Alberta should be a climate change wake up call - but only if Canadians and particularly Albertans understand key climate science and choose to be responsible instead of lapsing back into pervasive denial. Action is needed but first Canadians have to wake up to the scale of climate change danger and then choose to consider the scale of mitigation necessary.
No single weather event can be attributed solely to climate change but climate scientists have predicted that increasing temperature due to increasing greenhouse gases will lead to more extreme weather events. Warmer air holds more water vapour. A warming Arctic is changing northern hemisphere climate patterns : Arctic amplification is altering and meandering the jet stream . Southern Alberta has experienced two 'hundred year' floods since the turn of the century.
But did you know that the climate change consequences we are living in today are the result of emissions up to about 1980. There are time lags averaging about 40 years between when we burn fossil fuels and actual temperature rise and consequences. There has been to date a .8C rise in global mean temperature.
Global emissions today are twice what they were in the 70s. Our kids are predicted therefor to live in a world with a 2-4C temperature increase. So our actions today are predicted to cause much more extreme weather events by mid-century.
We live in a well governed, technologically advanced, wealthy society; there is now pain and dislocation, but Albertans will survive this years flooding - but floods, heatwaves, violent storms, and drought in 2050 will be far more challenging.
Few in the world share wealthy Canada's capacity to adapt and survive. If you take the time to search for and read the dire predictions of climate change impacts in no nonsense reports compiled by military agencies such as the Pentagon you will begin to understand that the most serious climate change threat to our kids comes from famine and pestilence, death and dislocation, failed states and subsequent warfare, in parts of the world already susceptible and expected to be hit much harder by climate change. Canadians are dependent upon an already stressed global economy. A 2-4C rise in temperature threatens not only this global economy, but civilization itself. Indeed, more than a 4C rise in temperature and humanity's very existence and everything we know love and care about are at risk from climate change.
We greatly benefit today from both the production and use of fossil fuels but, with time lags, the consequences fall on our descendents in the future. If we were responsible we'd connect the dots and insist upon a proper framework for managing our actions today; we would recognize our obligations to future generations and be pro-active. We wouldn't let the various shades of denial get in the way of doing what is right based upon the best science, the best evidence-based decision making.
Forty years ago those that produced fossil fuels or burned them in their cars and machinery had only a dim awareness of possible climate change consequences. But what about those who still, today, despite the science and evident consequence, advocate for increasing fossil fuel production and use?
Today we have a deep scientific understanding about climate change dangers and needed mitigation. There is a carefully compiled carbon budget : in order to stay below 2C (an internationally agreed precautionary ceiling, Canada is a signator too) at least two thirds of present fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground until used without emissions, coal and the most carbon dirty unconventional oil especially.
But fossil fuel production and consequent emissions continue to rise.
A year ago I wrote a Net op-ed ' Stephen Harper is a Monster '. This wasn't a disgruntled partisan politics slur. The op-ed was an attempt to awaken Canadians to the scale of our PM's cynical criminality: climate change is a crime against innocents that dwarfs the Holocaust. After at least two decades of failure to reduce emissions, our PM and his government are world leaders in trying to expand fossil fuel production and use. Not only has Stephen Harper's government actively subverted multilateral negotiations to reduce emissions, but the central policy thrust of his government is oilsands expansion as Canada's economic engine.
At this crucial time when we need leadership to change direction and escape catastrophe, Stephen Harper doesn't connect the flooding in his Calgary riding with climate change. Although he should have been briefed about the climate change consequences for future generations from expanding fossil fuel production in Canada - coal and proposed liquid natural gas exports to Asia from my province, BC , too - Mr. Harper refuses to even acknowledge, let alone debate, let alone lead in connecting fossil fuel production to climate change.
Albertans aren't bad people punished by God for their bitumen producing sins. Natural disasters can happen to any place and Albertans, like everybody else, are only waking up to the unintended climate consequences of burning fossil fuels. I have a lot of empathy for all concerned including the PM - so many of us are economically dependent upon fossil fuel production, every Canadian in some way, and our governments too - but change we must if we are responsible and recognize the consequences for future generations.
Wake up to the climate change dangers for our kids and do the right thing and choose to be pro-active, a leader, in getting us to a mitigation path to escape catastrophe at mid-century. Be a leader in Calgary and Edmonton, in Mr. Harper and Ms. Redford's ridings, in your own riding and in national campaigns to connect the dots so that every politician in Canada can no longer ignore the climate consequences of policies to increase fossil fuel production.
There are solutions but first of all we must escape denial and business as usual. We must overcome denial and narrow economic self-interest to connect the dots so that we can be responsible and do the right thing and keep fossil fuels in the ground.