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EDITORIAL: Climate change alert

This section of Harbour Drive in St. John's is flooded this afternoon by about a foot of water. The flooding is due to rain, melting snow and snow-blocked drains. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Flooding is shown on Harbour Drive in St. John’s in this file photo after rain and melting snow proved too much for snow-blocked drains. — Telegram file photo

Sooner or later, it’s bound to happen in St. John’s.

And just like Halifax and Vancouver, it will be more about style than substance. But it will be significant, just the same.

Halifax and Vancouver have already declared “climate emergencies” — recognition by the two port cities that increasing rainfall amounts, flooding and sea level change brought about by climate change constitute a significant danger for the cities’ well-being.

The declarations affect almost nothing — except in Halifax’s case, to speed up the council’s efforts to have a well-rounded plan to address the coming changes.

Halifax made its declaration last week; Vancouver did in in January. London and Los Angeles have done the same thing. How long can it be until it’s suggested here as well?

For ports, there’s the question of already-occurring sea level rise, and the question of storm surges related to tropical storm-style winds and rains moving further north.

The declarations are a recognition of issues that are already arising — and they are happening in this province, too. In some cases, underground infrastructure is no longer substantial enough to handle heavy rainfall, which has already increased significantly in terms of intensity and is expected to increase further in intensity, duration and frequency.

In St. John’s, replacing infrastructure — as was the case for storm drains on Kenmount Road — means installing systems capable of handling substantially more runoff. Eastern Health is planning on building a wall — an earthen berm actually — to protect the hospital from expected highwater flooding. As a result of that plan, the provincial government is looking at the effects of redirecting that water away from the hospital, and the problems that will occur if it covers a significant part of Prince Philip Parkway.

For ports, there’s the question of already-occurring sea level rise, and the question of storm surges related to tropical storm-style winds and rains moving further north.

The point of the emergency declarations?

For cities to show that they understand and see what’s happening, and to point out that it is often municipal governments that are on the front lines and do the heavy lifting when it comes to handling extreme weather emergencies. Cities are where the people are, and it is city resources that people turn to first.

The declarations are great for gaining attention. The word “emergency” alone tends to do that.

The practical, daily replacement of old systems to ones with newer standards? Even more valuable.

The other, more gradual recognition of climate change by everything from insurance companies to oil companies that change is here and is happening? That can’t hurt either.

The main problem?

Climate change has reached the point where it is moving more quickly than we are. Barely a day goes by that we don’t hear about weather records being toppled by more extreme weather.

An emergency declaration, like talk, is cheap.

But if it does one tiny bit to increase attention and move our preparation ahead even marginally, it can’t be a bad thing.

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