Extreme weather stories are getting repetitive. “I’ve never seen anything like this before” is a common reaction that people experience when they experience an intense weather event. The situation in South Surrey, British Columbia, was no different.
“Nine acres of Yue’s crops were destroyed after the South Surrey area was pounded by more than 91 millimeters of rain on Sunday”. This represented over a months worth of rain in less than 36 hours. Other areas around the area had intense downpours, but of course its variable and often location specific. Vancouver managed to avoid most of the deluge. Next time, they may not be so lucky.
The issue in this story of an extreme weather event was that it hit farmer’s crops. Hence, these torrential downpours have real consequences beyond damage to property. Things like compromised food or water security, have the potential to affect more people than those that suffered the deluge.
We haven’t approached summer yet and these extreme events are are well underway around the globe. It concerns me that severe events appear to be accelerating and the national conversation hasn’t even started about adaptation and possible mitigation. I have little hope that mitigation will happen. I don’t see westerners willing to sacrifice their pampered lifestyle that people in developing countries dream of having. I do not see any substantial change within our society. People may ‘talk’ about climate change, but how many actually understand how much petroleum is embedded in every aspect of our life?
Adaptation is something we need to address immediately. I don’t think its possible to fully adapt to what is happening now or a sea level rise which is already ‘locked in’ over the next few decades (cause and effect of CO2) . Unlike poor countries that are profoundly vulnerable, we still have the economic capacity to address some of our structural vulnerabilities. But even though conservative politicians think we’re close to being a third world country because of ‘debt’, they haven’t seen anything yet as the severity of extreme weather will intensify in both severity and frequency.
This economic ‘capacity’ of counties like Canada are increasingly tenuous. The Canadian government has invested much energy and capital in the Alberta tarsands. Alberta has built its economy on the tarsands. Couple that with issues like an over heated housing market in cities like Toronto and the ingredients are there for some serious financial issues.
At some point, desensitization to increasing severe weather will pass a certain point that the severity will be difficult to ignore or rationalize. The concern is all of the vulnerable issues that societies are experiencing right now will be amplified. The fear is we have waited much too long to address this issue and issues like adaptation will be expensive and beyond the financial capacity of even first world governments to truly address.
I understand there are many issues today that are concerning to people. Although these issues are important (social or economic inequality), if we don’t immediately attempt to address our structural infrastructure and begin planning for larger more disruptive events, problems of social or economic inequality will only get worse.
I give Obama credit for shining a huge light on this issue because countries like Canada or Australia are going in the wrong direction. That doesn’t mean that Obama will follow through on climate change action as countries like Canada acknowledged the problem in the past, but never met emission targets. Not even close. Today, Canada and Australia won’t even openly acknowledge the way we live is contributing to climate change. To acknowledge the Alberta tar sands as a dirty oil that is worse for the environment than light sweet crude, means taking action to solve the ‘Alberta” problem. I say the “Alberta” problem because we have an entire provincial economy dependent on their tarsands as a main driver of the economy. Yes, Alberta is a ‘problem’. The issues are big and this involves a lot of people. People in Alberta are overwhelming conservative in their political leaning which complicates solutions to the problem. Everyone’s conservative when they are making money because they want less government intervention and save on taxes. They are conservative until tragedy strikes and they need help from the federal government. Republican Chris Christie didn’t have a problem with ‘big’ government when his state suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy and he came to dad (federal government) for help.
Each day we wait to begin to take action on this critical issue means we are only pushing the snowball (problem) down a hill and that snowball is gathering more snow and getting bigger and bigger. Identity politics are difficult in the needed new paradigm. Addressing climate change means seeing ourselves as ‘global citizens” (not just Canadian, American, Australian, etc). It also means having to find issues we have in common to fully address the challenges ahead. It means being honest with ourselves about how we’ve chosen to live and how that it is impacting on the environments of people in countries that are vulnerable to disaster. To address this issue in the most adaptive way means being brutally honest with ourselves on issues that were never up for discussion in the past.
Naomi Klein has been writing some interesting pieces in relation to this topic. It so much more than a ‘carbon tax’. This means going much deeper into how we approach life and conduct ourselves. It requires a level of awareness that I fear we don’t collectively have. Being old enough to live in society that didn’t have smart phones, I’m amazed at how many people are distracted from their environment by this little gadget. Some people felt that Sony Walkman’s in the 1980s was the beginning of being ‘detached’ from our environment. Smart phones take it to a whole new level. If there is one issue to watch as it grows larger and proliferates every aspect of society, its climate change and our relationship with the environment in which we depend on for life. It’ll mean putting down the phone and beginning to connect with others to address the defining issue of our ‘time’.