Alberta floods: A changing tide? ‘I only hope my city’s nightmare is the climate-change wake-up Alberta, and Canada, needs’Posted by Jim at Thursday, June 27, 2013
OTTAWA, 26 June 2013 (The Economist) – One of the most divisive debates in Canada during the seven and a half years that Stephen Harper has been prime minister has been about climate change. It has pitted Mr Harper’s Conservative government and the country’s oil industry against the New Democrat and Liberal opposition parties and environmentalists, who mourn Canada’s exit from the Kyoto protocol and advocate stronger measures to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions.
Floodwaters began to rise in the western province of Alberta on June 20th. Within days four people had died, 100,000 had been displaced and the Calgary headquarters of the major oil firms had been forced to close. Greens quickly sensed an opportunity to press their case: with the centre of Canada’s oil industry underwater, perhaps the government would take a stronger line on the environment? Andrew Nikoforuk, a Calgary-based environmental writer, said: “I only hope my city’s nightmare is the climate-change wake-up Alberta, and Canada, needs.”
That seems unlikely, at least in the short term. Mr Harper, who represents a Calgary constituency and flew over the area in a helicopter to survey the damage, focused his remarks on what federal agencies, including the military and police, were doing to help with the emergency and steered clear of the science behind the disaster. Jason Kenney, the federal minister of immigration whose Calgary constituency abuts that of the prime minister, denied that climate change was involved. “The stuff that I’ve read and commentary from scientists says that there is not a connection between weather events of this nature and broader climate issues,” he said in a televised interview on June 23rd.
Making the connection between climate change and a particular storm is difficult. But scientists point to warmer global temperatures that are leading to increasingly unpredictable and severe weather around the world. A recent study by the Insurance Bureau of Canada warned that Alberta was particularly vulnerable to more intense rainstorms that could cause flash floods.
The flooding in Calgary and other cities and towns along the Bow and Elbow Rivers was caused by an unusually prolonged storm that dumped record amounts of rain near the sources of the two rivers in the Rocky Mountains. With much of downtown Calgary built on a downstream floodplain, inundations were almost inevitable.
Cleaning up will be costly for the cash-strapped Alberta government, which has set aside an initial C$1 billion ($950m) in aid, and for Canada more generally. The Bank of Montreal estimates that the closure of head offices, coupled with the shutdown of parts of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a major freight hauler, and of the Trans-Canada Highway, could cost Canada’s economy C$2 billion in June.
That is just the start. Homeowners cannot get flood insurance in Canada, although commercial enterprises can. [more]