Thursday, May 05, 2016

It's Just Like Flooding, Only Different.

Here's a dramatic video clip of the nightmare that is now Fort McMurray. I found it over at Kinsella's page where he admonishes those of the left or the right who might exploit it for political purposes to claim "victory" whatever in hell that might mean. Shame, shame - shame on them.

The fact is this wildfire could easily have happened forty miles north of Fort McMurray, 40 miles east of Fort McMurray or 40 miles west, perhaps 40 miles south of Fort McMurray and it would have gone largely unnoticed save, perhaps, for some news accounts of people in the region having to deal with a lot of smoke.

However this is Fort McMurray, a small city just down the road from the Athabasca Tar Sands, and it had a population of 80,000 people who have had to leave their homes. Got it.

So what is this "victory" to which Kinsella alludes? What is the political angle on this? Climate change, is that the political angle? Does he think climate change is a political football to be kicked this way by the left and punted in that other direction by the right?

Climate change is a matter of science. There should be nothing political about it. However in a petro-state it is intensely political because the petro-powers do their best to squelch public discussion about it. Sometimes they even call it a hoax or a "socialist plot."

We don't need the Fort Mac tragedy to demonstrate that climate change impacts are here, that they're destructive and that they're getting a lot worse faster than we had ever imagined just a few years ago. I guess you don't see that in the concrete slab that is urban Toronto.  Out here we see it, we live it. We don't have a choice.

We watched as pine beetle infestations killed off thousands of square miles of once verdant forests, turning them in death an awful rust colour. What's that got to do with climate change? Everything. We don't get the cold winters we had even a decade ago. Without enough cold days there's no winter kill of the beetle larvae. Come summer they emerge en masse and destroy vast swathes of forest.

We watch as new species enter our coastal ecosystem. White-sided dolphins in large numbers. Humpback whales too, plenty of them. Brown pelicans taking up residence in Victoria. California sea lions roosting year round in Fanny Bay. Marine life is migrating away from the warming southern waters. As the herring and sardines swim north, they bring their food chain with them. There's climate change in action.

We now fret over whether we'll manage to accumulate an adequate snow cap on the local mountains. Life out here - from spawning salmon to bears and eagles and wolves, even the forests - depend on that snow cap and the life-giving summer meltwater it provides. There's your climate change.

Fort McMurray is afire. It's not alone. There are massive forest fires underway from British Columbia to Manitoba. The entire middle third of Saskatchewan is under an extreme fire advisory and the rest isn't much better. That's what climate change does. It messes up the hydrological cycle, the lifeline of every terrestrial species on Earth. Get your heads around the idea that the hydrological cycle as we knew it during the 11,000 years of human civilization is broken, kaput.

While Fort McMurray is ablaze, America's eastern seaboard and Gulf coast is bracing for inundation from sea level rise. Miami streets flood regularly. They did an amazing job at looking the other way but that's over. They're not looking the other way any longer. They can't. Sea level rise compounded by high tides and hurricane season storm surges is a climate change Trifecta.

But if it's heatwaves and blazes and drought you're looking for, take a gander at the nations of south and southeast Asia. From Pakistan to the MeKong delta, it's a mess, a real nightmare that eclipses anything going on in Canada. It's causing unrest in India. China could be next. Climate change is a global scourge and countries in the tropical or equatorial zones are Ground Zero.

If this is, as Kinsella maintains, a political football then, and I'm sorry to say this, we're fu_ked, completely. Like the pine beetle infestation, like the steadily worsening wildfire season, like the species migration underway, like sea level rise and coastal inundation, like severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration, like our dangerously broken hydrological cycle, all Fort McMurray represents is another in a long line of routinely unheeded wake-up calls.

You have to be insensate to frame this as a political issue. It's a scientific matter. It's a matter of geology, hydrology, chemistry, biology, botany, atmospherics, physics, glaciation, meteorology and every other Earth science. Research in all of these disciplines - all of them, without exception - confirms the central hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming. Nobody is asking anyone to take this on faith, it's not a question of belief. Save that for your favourite religious fantasy. This is a question of science and an overwhelming mountain of omni-disciplinary research and testing. That's not something you believe. It is, however, something you must accept.

There is no political victory in this and there can be no victory unless and until our political leadership fully accepts the science and acts accordingly. Unfortunately there's no sign of that happening on the horizon.


theo said...

Well said, Mound.

Dana said...

Kinsell's become an insufferable asshole. It's beyond me why anyone pays any attention at all to him.

Boris said...

The twitter commentary is full of discussion of rebuilding. The cost of rebuilding a town that has boomed massively in the past 20 years with the rise in oil prices that has just entered a bust with the collapse in prices? It might well be economically unviable to rebuild or rebuild anywhere near the former size. That's be a political mess.

The Mound of Sound said...

There are undoubtedly some residents who won't rebuild but will take their insurance settlements and just leave while the getting is good. I'm sure the extent of destruction overall will be a significant factor.

Living in Canada's north has always been economically difficult and often precarious. Fort McMurray brings to the fore the reality that the forest fire threat has grown far worse over the past couple of decades and will be worse still in the decades to come.

Extreme forest fire conditions are becoming the new normal in summer months even out to the coast. The trees are still green but do they ever come to look hot and dry and quietly dangerous.

There was a time the rainforest was virtually immune to this sort of hazard. That time is past.

Boris said...

The insurance side will be interesting, both in terms of payouts and who will qualify but also the psychology. People are attached to their homes and place and may very much want to rebuild in place. There will be tremendous political pressure I think to 'rebuild'.

When they do try, they will rebuild larger more opulent looking structures on the lots to make up for the loss; fly-by-night builders will take advantage of some and sell people oversized gaudy crap - not that there wasn't a lot of that in Ft Mac already, some structures were condemned as soon as they were built during the boom!

On the flipside, the bust has seen a decline in the real estate market there and I'm guessing there's a fair number of people looking at the end of their jobs stuck with grossly over-valued dwellings for which there's no market and the fire will provide a financial exit. That said, I also imagine there might be a comparatively low savings rate as people are mortgaged and credit-lined to the gills: happens when you put younger people and high incomes together.

the salamander said...

.. great & highly informative stuff from you.. I did like an article Colby Cosh did.. as it had a historical slant re Ft McMurray.. FYI i''m the jerk on Twitter that asked if Paulson of the RCMP could let Canada know when the Guns of Ft McMurray would be grabbed.. & as much as I favor shipbuilding.. I also tweeted re Harper Inc dumping a 40 MILLION contract to Seaspan to 'help save money for the government' on Election Day.. as the Harper cabal wuz retreating from the Libtard onslaught.. which side o the Joe Oliver 'surplus' that falls on, we may never know.. prob a 'Cabinet Confidence' to quote Tony Clement.. eh!

The fires at Fort McMurray.. OK.. the trashing of Fort McMurray by wildfire are stunning. Suffice it to say, there's extreme irony re the epicenter of Stephen Harper's 'energy superpower' going up in smoke via Mother Nature.. The tar sands afire .. so to speak. The Boreal Forest dances to its own tune.. Kinsella seeks.. whatever.. in the ashes

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Boris - The scenario you describe sounds a bit like reconstruction in Florida after a major hurricane. The long term viability of the economic base, bitumen, adds a huge issue to the mix.

Alberta is used to property value booms and busts.The evidence is in the law against personal covenants. If you bought your house at the peak of a boom that busts you have the option of simply handing the keys to the banker. You can't be sued for the deficiency on the mortgage. Recreational vehicle dealers are swamped with returns - ATVs, motorcycles, boats, campers. Looking for a sweet deal on a nearly-new pickup? You know where to go and, best of all, no sales tax.

deb Scott said...

when I read kinsella, all I read is someone trying to spin events, not actually decipher them with rationale.( and then I go to...hmmm is this latest commentary for a client:P)

and for climate change, Right on the mark Mound, the idea of politicians and industry trying to pass this hot potato off as a one off, or as a common event, miss the whole scientific consensus data...that climate change is here.
(regardless of whether spin doctors believe it or not, or want to wait til the ashes are long cooled to discuss)
its relevant, its a crisis, and this one "incident" is going to cost 9B many of those type of calamities will Canada be able to afford( Our tax base is pretty darn small)

and insurance companies....yeah I hope the homeowners and residents get a pay out, but it wont be any time soon, and it will be a hoop jumping event and if its anything like what the Okanagan residents had to put up may not happen at all.
Insurance companies always give themselves a loop hole "out" for these mass events.

Anonymous said...

WK's position on this seems just incredibly stupid to me as well. And I might as well lump Pierre's offspring in there too. It's not about scoring political points any more than the following.

A guy's doctor keeps telling him to change his diet because he has gout and he's likely to lose some toes. Eventually the day comes and the toes are loppped off. The doctor says "see, I told you. Now will you change your diet?". The medico is not trying to score points (or that's at most a minor side motivation); he's trying to save the rest of buddy's foot and his other foot. Apparently now is not the time to talk about this. Have a beer and a steak, dude.

The Mound of Sound said...

Insurance companies are actuarial. Sort of like bookies. They look at all the facts, evaluate prospects and set the line. For insurers, it's premiums. For bookies, it's betting odds.

There are little insurers, the outfits we typically buy our policies from, and then there are big insurers, the re-insurers, to which the small guys offload some of their risk parting with some of their premium in exchange.

With climate change it's the big ones we need to watch. My fave is Munich-Re. As Trump would say, they're Yuuuge. I wasn't aware of them until I noticed someone there kept visiting this blog.

The funny thing is, while our governments are so complacent, "business as usual", these re-insurers are quite open, telling anyone who'll listen how they see their worsening risk and they'll reach a point where you just won't be able to buy insurance for a number of climate change risks any longer.

They're in business to make money, not lose their shirts. When the cost of the premium begins to exceed the price homeowners are willing and able to pay, it's over. The big insurers say they'll be out of most forms of insurance before we reach 2C. They're telling us now. Nobody is paying the slightest attention. Amazing.

deb Scott said...

thanks for explaining the insurance issue so clearly MOS, and yes they are in it for profit, and with costs on floods, fires and other climate change calamities, they just will have to cut their losses. So I get how they are stating their position re Climate Change, and folks just don't realize what the outcome of that will be.

and Anonymous@1018am...I love your doctor vs gout analogy...its perfect and its why I hate when politicians and spin doctors say during/after a crisis is the wrong time to talk about serious change.
and its not like anyone was willing to bother before...