06 August 2012

Shocking Forecast: A Century-Long Megadrought

by Cathryn Wellner

Last weekend we were sitting on our balcony, enjoying appetizers with friends, when the sky darkened and a wind fiercer than any we have experienced in the interior of British Columbia sent us inside. We dashed back out to rescue the flying chairs and table before they could crash through the glass doors.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s (IBC) new study warns Canadians “the frequency and severity of severe weather is on the rise,” and we had better prepare for it. “Telling the Weather Story” confirms the recent landslides, fires and drought are becoming the new norm.

Another study, this one published by Nature Geoscience, confirms the prediction. A team of Canadian and American scientists studied the drought of 2000 to 2004 and found it was the worst since the one that lasted from 1146 to 1151. They warn a “megadrought” could parch the planet through the entire 21st century.

Insurers have been hit hard by the impacts of catastrophic events. IBC reports insured losses internationally reached $10 billion to $50 billion a year over the past decade and exceeding $100 billion in 2011. In Canada alone insurers were on the hook for roughly $1.6 billion in 2011 and close to $1 billion annually in the previous two years. Aging infrastructure contributed to the losses, as older sewer systems are unable to handle the increased precipitation.

In our region alone, landslides, fires, floods, storms and small tornadoes have changed from rare to frequent occurrences. According to CBC News the West Kootenay area has already shelled out $2 million in emergency repairs in 2012, five times the usual tally.

IBC advises governments, communities and individual home and business owners to “make targeted decisions about how to adapt existing public and private impacts to manage the risks associated with these events.” The City of Vancouver is one municipality taking the warnings seriously. Their “Climate Change Adaptation Strategy” includes plans for such things as green transportation, green buildings, sustainable energy, and urban agriculture.

Those trying to implement adaptation plans face roadblocks and challenges. Columnist Jon Ferry of Vancouver’s Province newspaper sniped at the Vancouver plan with a dismissive, “Climate change is so yesterday’s news.”

It is indeed yesterday’s news – and tomorrow’s and next year’s. Fortunately, the ostriches are gradually getting their tails burned and are bringing their heads up long enough to feel the heat. Unfortunately, a lot of them still hold powerful positions where they continue to erect barriers to thoughtful action.

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