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Russell Wangersky: Climate Change — Action matters more than names

In this GOES-16 geocolor image satellite image taken Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma, left, is just north of the island of Hispaniola, with Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma, a fearsome Category 5 storm, cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees on a track Thursday that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida. (NOAA via AP)
In this GOES-16 geocolor image satellite image taken Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017, the eye of Hurricane Irma, left, is just north of the island of Hispaniola, with Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma, a fearsome Category 5 storm, cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving at least 10 dead and thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees on a track Thursday that could lead to a catastrophic strike on Florida. (NOAA via AP)

Don’t call it man-made climate change, I don’t care. Call it “butter chicken” if that makes you feel better.

But we’ve got to do something about the symptoms, even if we’re going to deny that there’s a critically illness.

If your ego and your stubbornness mean you’ll always accept off-the-cuff conspiracy theorists that back your own preconceived opinions over the actual peer-reviewed, tested knowledge of scientists, fine.

But at least be aware that we have to get off our asses and react to clear changes happening in our world — if not for our own safety and security, then for that of our children.

I mean, it’s all well and good enough for amateur weather specialists like Rush Limbaugh to declare, like he did last week, that, “people in all of these government areas” are “hell-bent” on proving climate change, adding, “All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.”

But hold that hyperbole up against the matter-of-fact analysis of scientists looking at the aftermath of hurricane Harvey in Houston, and ask yourself what’s more reasonable.

Have a look at what scientists pointed out in a story on the MIT Technology Review website — you can see it at http://bit.ly/2gOV4Qv — about post-Harvey flooding. It’s not a screed, it doesn’t demonize the oil business or other heavy industry.

It merely points out that, if you take a map of the flooding that occurred with Harvey, water rose in a whole bunch of places that earlier flood mapping suggested it shouldn’t occur.

In fact, “two-thirds of the inundation occurred outside the federal agency’s 100-year floodplains, where there should be only a one per cent chance of flooding in any given year. More than half of the deluge happened ‘outside of any mapped flood zone,’ even including 500-year events, in areas that should face only “minimal flood hazard,” the report says. (It also points out that, by some calculations, Houston has faced three 500-year flooding events in just three years.)

And that means past rules no longer apply: “The crucial problem is that flood-zone maps are based on historical patterns that are increasingly divorced from the current dangers under changing climate conditions. That, in turn, means that planning policies, building codes, insurance programs, and building patterns based on these assessments can often be dangerously out of date as well.”

As Paul Milly, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Society put it in the article, “We can’t extrapolate the past into the future because of changes going on in the system.” That’s only common sense: if the tread on your car’s tires is no longer new, you have to change your expectation about how those tires will perform when you’re out on the road, or else you’re in the ditch. And crashing in the ditch is both expensive and dangerous.

The pragmatic fact is that flood maps have to change, construction methods have to change to become more robust, and even where and how we allow developments to be built has to be looked at through a new and different lens. Things already in the ground may have to come out, to handle stronger and more sudden water flows, for example.

If you won’t believe the climate is changing, at least believe that the assumptions on which we make infrastructure decisions — like rainfall rates, rainfall totals, wind speed — no longer hold true, putting people’s lives at risk. And that’s as much the case for Newfoundland and Labrador as it is for anywhere else.

You don’t have to name the problem “climate change,” if that name bothers you so much.

But if butter chicken is going to kill people and cost the economy billions of dollars, we have to address the root causes.

 

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 35 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

 

 

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