The temptation to assign blame for Mother Nature’s tempests is, at times, overwhelming – especially when you’ve been without power for a week.
According to New Brunswick’s electrical utility, on Friday as many as 18,000 people in this province were still in the dark, both literally and figuratively, after post-tropical storm Arthur slammed into the Maritimes on July 5.
A rising chorus of those affected are asking tough questions.
Why is it taking so long to restore service to everyone? Why are some homes reconnected while their neighbours across the street remain blacked out? Have our famously verdant urban streets become states of emergency just waiting to happen?
Naturally, a matching deluge of politics falls steadily on the capitol these days.
The provincial Liberals have criticized the Tory government’s weather preparedness, suggesting that NB Power was, once again, caught with its pants down around it ankles. “It’s a total embarrassment,” charged Rick Doucet, Grit MLA from Charlotte-The Isles, last week. “How many events do we have to go through before we’re going to learn? . .This is the third major weather event to hit New Brunswick in the past seven months. We should be getting better at this, but it appears that’s not the case, unfortunately.”
The critique prompted an immediate and sharp rebuke from provincial Energy Minister Craig Leonard, who barked: “For them (Liberal opposition members) to come out and criticize the preparation work done by this utility, in the middle of the restoration work, is just the lowest of the low. . .It just highlights their ignorance.”
But, in at least one respect, we are all ignorant. To what extent should we, on the East Coast, expect increasing and increasingly severe weather? And how should those calculations inform the decisions we make about preparedness?
Clearly, what we currently have in place in this province and in Nova Scotia (where hundreds also remain without power) are insufficient to withstand the new normals climate change metes out.
For, make no mistake, this is what we are beginning to experience.
Last winter’s brutally long winter on this continent was, most experts think, the ironic result of a steadily warming planet. Higher temperatures in the polar region played havoc with the traditional gradients in air pressure which, in turn, sent the jet stream literally all over the map.
This produced wild swings between iron cold and almost balmy conditions sometimes within a matter of mere hours. The result: Ice, rain and snow storms within single 24-hour periods with the predictable effects of downed power lines, blankets and games of Old Maid by candlelight.
That was last December in New Brunswick. It’s harder to blame climate change for this month’s storm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States predicts a near-normal Hurricane season for the Atlantic coast.
Even so, it takes only one of these violent tumults to exacerbate, through storm surges, another demonstrable effect of global warming: rising sea levels. According to NOAA: “There is strong evidence that global sea level is now rising at an increased rate and will continue to rise during this century. While studies show that sea levels changed little from AD 0 until 1900, sea levels began to climb in the 20th century. The two major causes of global sea-level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers and polar ice caps) due to increased melting.
“Records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900. This rate may be increasing. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year. This is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years.”
For New Brunswick and every coastal area of Canada, these are real nuts and bolts, dollar and cents, issues. Every time a tempest storms into our environs, we can measure the economic costs in the millions and tens-of-millions of dollars – costs that will, in time, only escalate.
It’s now time, if it wasn’t before, for closer regional cooperation on protecting and managing our respective power grids.
After all, Mother Nature doesn’t observe provincial borders. Why should we?