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Editorial: Going to extremes

Keeping the Christmas spirit alive on Cheyne Drive during the 2014 power outage that became known as DarkNL.
Keeping the Christmas spirit alive on Cheyne Drive during the 2014 power outage that became known as DarkNL.

As the New England governors and the Eastern Canadian premiers sat down in Charlottetown Monday morning, you can imagine that they had a few words about hurricane Harvey, and the destruction literally raining down on Houston.

You can’t be the head of a government in a state or a province without having a clear understanding that, at any time, you might be facing a calamity as serious as the one unfolding in Texas right now.

It might not be as large and dramatic, but the risk is always there that your action, or more precisely, your inaction, might cost someone their life. It could be as simple as last winter’s ice storm in New Brunswick, or Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2014 “Dark NL,” when the power grid collapsed on the island part of the province.

It must always be in the back of your mind: the need to prepare for the worst.

Earlier this month, a group of U.S. scientists released the draft report of the Fourth National Climate Assessment — it’s been suggested that the report was released in draft form to ensure that it wouldn’t be altered for political purposes.

What it points out is that governments have to be prepared not only to face extreme weather events, but to expect them more frequently, and to expect them to be more severe.

“Extreme precipitation events will very likely continue to increase in frequency and intensity throughout most of the world,” the report said. “For Atlantic and eastern North Pacific hurricanes and western North Pacific typhoons, increases are projected in precipitation rates and intensity. The frequency of the most intense of these storms is projected to increase in the Atlantic…” (That sounds strangely prophetic, given this weekend’s events in Houston, but bear in mind, Houston is one storm, and the report is referring to the long-term direction our climate is taking.)

The report has other concerns as well: snowpack melt in the west, increased incidence of large forest fires in the west and northern U.S. It also points out that Atlantic and Gulf Coast cities have seen an increase in minor nuisance flooding — not major floods, but still with considerable localized damage — by five to 10 times over what they saw just a few decades ago. “Tidal flooding will continue increasing the depth, frequency and extent this century,” the report says.

Perhaps the governors and premiers talked about that, too, about the fact that infrastructure that used to be sufficient for rainfall and coastal flooding isn’t up to the task anymore, and that more and more dollars have to be directed towards improving and increasing mitigation measures.

Or maybe, like they had originally said they would, they talked cross-border trade.

Long term-infrastructure planning in a changing world isn’t sexy.

It doesn’t earn you instant votes.

It does save lives.

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