A cold-water wake-up call from Mother Nature

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As the flood waters in Calgary begin to abate, the question turns – as it so often does in such cases – to the issue of culpability. Who’s to blame?

Was Mother Nature having an especially bad day when she dumped more than 100 millimeters of rain in less than a day on the western city? Or was there more to the deluge than met the eye? Did we humans exacerbate the hydrological cycle through global warming and then promptly ignore the predictable consequences?

In his commentary, which appeared in major newspapers across the country last week, nationally award-winning energy writer and Calgarian Andrew Nikiforuk answers definitively. “If nothing else the city’s often arrogant elites have been reminded that the province’s Chinese-style economic growth is vulnerable to extreme events,” he notes. “A crowded and overdeveloped province of four million is nowhere near as resilient as a province of one million. . .Albertans have also learned that climate change delivers two extremes: more water when you don’t need it, and not enough water when you do. The geographically challenged have also become learned, once again, that water travels downhill and even inundates flood plains. So climate change is not a mirage. Nor is it weird science or tomorrow’s news. It is now part of the flow of daily life.”

In fact, according to a Global News report (also covered by other print and broadcast outlets), “Strategies to prevent another devastating Albertan deluge sat on the provincial government’s desk for more than half-a-dozen years. George Groeneveld headed a flood mitigation committee after record-breaking rainfall and river levels soaked the Calgary region in 2005. They were tasked with figuring out how to lessen the risk of a recurrence and spent a year coming up with 18 recommendations.”

The suggestions included ensuring the Alberta Environment “coordinate the completion of flood risk maps for the identified urban flood risk areas in the province; develop a map maintenance program to ensure that the flood risk maps are updated when appropriate; identify priority rural flood risk areas that require flood risk mapping and develop a program to prepare the maps.”

In an interview with Global News, Mr. Groeneveld said “Of course I’ve always been disappointed. . .People have very short memories with floods: Go through one good year and they start to relax again.”

The signature feature of climate change is the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events. On the East Coast, that means the number and severity of hurricanes is rising. On the Great Plains and prairies, the number of super cells producing supremely destructive tornadoes is on the upswing. It means more and longer droughts; more and deadlier wildfires; and it means more water falling from on high. Much more.

According to an item in the Calgary Herald, John Pomeroy, a Canada research chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, says the floods in the Alberta foothills has “changed changed the Rockies. . .forever. . .He says the overflowing waters have changed everything from how the landscape will handle future flooding to the animals that live in it. Pomeroy says Alberta towns and cities will need much better flood defences in the future to handle high rainfall events. He says the Bow River has swallowed so much silt from eroding banks that its status as a blue-ribbon trout stream is in doubt. Pomeroy says many of the developments that have been affected by the flooding should never have been built in the first place.”

Given the crucial role Alberta now plays in the Canadian economy, these so-called “natural disasters” are no longer local calamities; they are clear and present threats to national security.

And while it may be one thing to turn a blind eye to the science of global warming, it is quite another to reject the evidence one’s own eye gathers as the sky proceeds to fall on one’s head.

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