Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Vortex Retreats, Was It Really a Fluke?

When Calgary was inundated last summer by its second "once a century" flood in eight years, Conservative federal and provincial politicians parroted the line about how 'no one could have seen it coming.'

Now as the Polar Vortex of 2014 is on the cusp of receding from the American south to be replaced by seasonal temperatures, it'll be another 'no one could have seen it coming' moment.  Hurricane Katrina - no one could have seen it coming.  Superstorm Sandy - no one could have seen it coming.

Maybe it's time we asked ourselves some hard questions about how our political leadership never sees these things coming.

I was drawn back this morning to a 2013 publication from the U.S. National Research Council entitled, "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change, Anticipating Surprises."  It can be yours for sixty bucks in printed form or you can download it free in .pdf.

I won't try to summarize the report but the title is pretty descriptive.  We're now in a world of abrupt impacts of climate change.   They're hitting us fast and hard.  Based on what we're now experiencing and what we can reasonably expect in the future, it's our responsibility to anticipate surprises and prepare for them so they don't catch us with our pants down.

We have to break the stranglehold of partisanship.  We have to accept that environmental policy must trump energy policy.  As fossil fuels are driving these "surprises" we really should tie their production to the consequences we're facing - at least to our own country and people.  If the profit margins on products like high-cost, high-carbon are so meagre that we must subsidize production by keeping environmental costs off the books, then maybe it's time we thought twice about closing up that shop for now.

You know that old line, the one that George w. Bush couldn't remember?  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.  It's the same sort of thing when it comes to surprises.  When a surprise happens often enough it transforms into a possibility and then into a probability and eventually into a certainty.


Speaking of surprises.  In the wake of the lac Megantic disaster, there's a lesson to be learned from yesterday's CN derailment near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.  Of the 17-cars that derailed, five were loaded with oil, four with propane.  The response of emergency crews spoke volumes of a problem we need to address.

A fire broke out among the derailed cars.   The response of firefighters was not to go in and attack the fire but to establish a large cordon, around 1-mile, and wait overnight for the fire to run its course.  That was probably a wise decision.  After lac Megantic who wants to risk being consumed in an explosive fireball? 

The question, though, is what are we doing transporting products through populated areas that are  so potentially dangerous that emergency crews won't go near them? 


Dana said...

Who says this was *the* Polar Vortex of 2014 Mound?

Is there only one allocated per winter?

There could be another next week.

And another in February.

One of these days the surprises will become features.

karen said...

The question, though, is what are we doing transporting products through populated areas that are so potentially dangerous that emergency crews won't go near them?

Maybe someone was trying to prove that trains are just too dangerous and we should build pipelines?

The Mound of Sound said...

Point taken, Dana. Yes this could be repeated. Surprise, surprise.

Hi, Karen. You could be right.

e.a.f. said...

what are the trains doing going through populated areas? trying to make a buck. and hoping no one gets killed and they get sued.

How could they not see it coming is more like it. there have always been natural disasters and as usual, no one is prepared for them, especially the government. /they continue to build, where they shouldn't. They build with materials which won't survive bad storms, the list goes on. No one wants to think about it. to think about it would be to acknowledge it and then they'd have to do something about it.

In the early 1950s, perhaps 52/53, The Netherlands sustained huge floods and people died. The Dutch government decided to ensure it didn't happen again. they understood, spending the money then would save money later.

Infrastructure is 40yrs old in NFLD People have been moving into the area and new homes being built with electric heat. Like they didn't see that coming???? They'd have to be idiots not to have seen a big storm coming one of these days.