Strange Weather Patterns
Weird weather doesn’t prove our climate’s berserk but the facts fit theories
by Stephen LaRose
For climate change deniers, the last couple of months have been something they would rather forget.
Their wallets may not let them.
At a Saskatoon news conference July 8, Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall and Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a bailout plan for Prairie farmers plagued by one of the wettest springs and summers in memory.
Farmers in central and southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are eligible for a $30 per acre compensation package. The provinces and Ottawa will spend $450 million on the program.
It didn’t take long for NDP opposition leader Dwain Lingenfelter to say that $30 an acre wouldn’t begin to slow down many farmers’ slide towards bankruptcy this year. The NDP is campaigning for a $100/acre payout. Link also noted that the program offered nothing for cattlemen, or to municipalities whose roads and bridges washed away in the torrential flooding. This isn’t to mention the destruction of property in centres such as Yorkton (receiving four inches of rain in an hour on Canada Day), Maple Creek (where residents canoed down Main Street after a late June downpour), Saskatoon (where some of downtown flooded after a July cloudburst), or the Raymore/Kawacatoose First Nation district (struck by an F3 tornado which destroyed many houses).
But while political parties fight over how much money should be provided in disaster relief, and to whom, they’re missing a larger question. Why are they paying it in the first place?
About 30 per cent of Saskatchewan’s cropland was too wet for seeding last spring, and it’s estimated that as much as another 30 per cent will either be drowned out or be too wet to harvest.
Whether you measure productivity through income or production, the 2010 crop year stands to be one of the worst for farmers since the Dirty ’30s.
But while this year may be one of the wettest on record, according to Environment Canada, western Canada isn’t alone with stories of strange weather. While Saskatchewan swims, Ontario swelters under record hot temperatures. The heat combines with high humidity to make communities like Kingston public saunas.
Harry McCaughey knows. The Queens’ University geography professor and specialist on climate patterns is, during this telephone interview, in the midst of a severe sweat warning. Almost everyone who has an air conditioner during a day when the humidex passes 40 degrees Celsius has it cranked, and southern Ontario’s archaic electricity grid is groaning under the strain. Blackouts and brownouts are common.
Like the weather-related farm crisis on the Prairies, this will be expensive to fix — but it will also be nothing compared to the cost of living on a planet mankind has soiled like a bird fouling its own nest.
Right now, human activity is pumping enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that humans will have to make big sacrifices in order to cut the projected world temperature rise to two degrees Celsius by 2030 — just below the projected ‘tipping point’ where a changing world climate would result in massive storms, droughts in agricultural areas, rising sea levels, and, generally, a point where climate change would result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people.
Now, you can’t say Saskatchewan’s or Ontario’s weird weather proves climate change is happening. Because it doesn’t. You can’t confuse weather and climate.
But climatologists have computer models of what would happen with increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, and the results — on the early stages of increased climate change — eerily resemble the kind of weather that’s currently happening.
“What I’m seeing, around the world and particularly in Canada, is a series of extreme events,” says McCaughey.
“The problem is that we can see all these events and yet scientists can’t say there is a direct correlation between extreme weather events and global warming,” he says. “We can say that it follows the models, but we can’t say that it’s a direct correlation.”
Yet, he says, the models are much more accurate in their forecasts than anything said by climate change skeptics.
The best way to regard the climate change debate is to compare the world to someone about to leap off the roof of one of the McCallum-Hill towers. Climate change proponents are the ones saying ‘don’t jump.’ Based on the laws of physics, they say, something bad is going to happen to someone hitting a solid object after reaching terminal velocity after a long fall.
Climate change deniers are the ones saying that death by falling from a great height is just a theory. Just look at the person about to be pushed, they say. He’s okay so far! There’s no direct scientific evidence that this tower-diver, who’s never been killed by a fall in the billions of years life has been on this planet, is going to get so much as a scratch.
“We’re pushing the climate system to a place where it’s never been before,” says McCaughey. “The concentration of greenhouse gases now is higher than they have been for the last 700,000 to 800,000 years. You can’t keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thinking that it’s no big deal. What’s happening is a big deal.”
Right now, it’s a big deal on a ‘three day wonder’ news-cycle way — storm coverage interrupts Saskatchewan’s attention on the Riders’ march to the Grey Cup or Lindsay Lohan’s mental meltdown or any number of relatively trivial events in our world.
Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan and federal governments are in the thrall — and pockets — of those who have a vested interest maintaining the fiction that climate change is a chimera.
Ironically, these politicians are voted in by ordinary people who have been convinced that climate change doesn’t exist — such as rural Saskatchewan residents.
By the time governments make the connection between paying out money for disaster relief from severe weather and climate change… well, look at what happened to the lobster in the slowly boiled pot.
STORMS HIT POOR FAMILIES HARD
Basements in Saskatoon’s Westridge Village were again filled with water after violent rain and thunderstorms in late June. The 90-unit housing complex was flooded when close to 100 millimetres of rain came crashing down in just three hours on June 29 — basements were polluted with sewage and other debris, and residents were forced to spend the night in hotel rooms.
Although most residents have now returned to their homes, there remains the larger question of what to do with this flood-prone complex.
After all, this is the seventh time in 10 years the social housing complex has been flooded because of heavy rains.
Westridge sits on the low-lying corner of Laurier and Confederation Drive, and nearby storm lines cannot handle the large amounts water that come down during intense rain storms.
City councillor Maurice Neault, whose ward includes Westridge, has said he’d like to see the Village and its low-income tenants moved to a new social housing unit. Residents of Westridge are low-income families, almost all of whom have children, and they pay anywhere from $100 to $750 a month for space in the complex.
The question is, where will these people go if the complex is mowed down?
“We have to talk to those people who live there,” says Vanessa Charles, co-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition. “They have a right to their opinions and to offer their voice into this.”
Charles says she’d like to see conciliation with Westridge residents before any major decision is made. A move would mean finding new schools for their children, and displacing them from their homes could be traumatic for these already economically vulnerable families.
But she also finds it hard to believe that developers, the Province and the City were not aware of the flood potential when Westridge was first built.
“It reminds me of the levy situation in New Orleans,” she says. “Who lived right beside the levies on the low ground? The poor. It’s just such an injustice, again and again and again.” /Charles Hamilton