The Atlantic provinces proceed to rebuild after post-tropical storm Fiona swept through the region last weekend, toppling trees, washing out roads and causing power outages for tons of of hundreds of individuals.
The storm, which has been blamed for at the least three deaths in eastern Canada, has been described as “historic” by meteorologists and politicians – but Blair Feltmate warns that it won’t be the last powerful storm to cause devastation.
“Fiona reminds us that climate change is real, and we’re going to experience extreme weather going forward,” said Feltmate, head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation.
“We actually need to grasp that, as a result of climate change, we’re going to experience more extreme weather on this country, and we’d like to arrange by means of adaptation, very rapidly, for that extreme weather.”
The Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation is a research centre out of the University of Waterloo that appears at ways governments and homeowners can adapt to the changing climate, which is able to bring more severe weather events as time goes on.
Feltmate said climate change isn’t some far-off threat: it’s already here, it’s already causing weather events to be stronger and more destructive, and it’s here to remain.
“Climate change is irreversible. Period,” he said. “We usually are not going backwards on climate change. Extreme weather goes to get more extreme going forward.”
Earlier within the month, Gordon McBean, a professor within the department of geography and environment at Western University, told Global News that climate change won’t necessarily create more hurricanes, but it should increase their intensity.
He said the intensity of a hurricane is driven by the quantity of energy it gets from evaporating water from the ocean, which causes it to show around faster and harder.
Resulting from climate change, the arctic regions are warming up faster than the tropical ones.
“Canada is warming about twice as fast because the globe … roughly two and a half degrees Celsius (above average),” said McBean, adding that eastern Canada will probably see more severe weather events in the long run.
Throughout the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season – one of the lively on record – climate change boosted hourly rainfall rates in hurricane-force storms by eight to 11 per cent, based on an April 2022 study within the journal Nature Communications.
The world has already warmed 1.1 C above the preindustrial average. Scientists on the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect that, at 2 C of warming, hurricane wind speeds could increase by as much as 10 per cent.
NOAA also projects the proportion of hurricanes that reach essentially the most intense levels – Category 4 or 5 – could rise by about 10 per cent this century. To this point, lower than a fifth of storms have reached this intensity since 1851.
Sense of urgency ‘missing’
Feltmate said Canada is doing a little elements of climate change adaptation well, akin to developing “excellent” guidelines about methods to mitigate damage attributable to extreme weather events.
Nonetheless, more work is required to follow that up with motion – and quickly.
“We all know what the solutions are. The part that we’re not doing so well is operationalizing solutions – actually putting actions in place, mobilizing actions to mitigate the chance,” he said.
“We still are likely to have, on this country, roughly a management-by-disaster strategy. Within the aftermath of all the pieces happening, people kick in high gear to bring people back as much as working speed, and produce properties back into working motion.
“However the much better place to be can be to not have the issues in the primary place.”
Feltmate said the “tide is popping” in relation to attitudes toward climate change and mitigation.
Up until about three years ago, a lot of the conversation about climate change in Canada was about reducing greenhouse gas emissions – which is very important, he said, but now the conversation is shifting.
“With floods, fires, extreme heat events, over the past two to 3 years, the magnitude of maximum weather events are convincing those that, along with mitigating emissions, we must also put measures in place to deal with the issues and lessen the impacts, through a large-scale effort on adaptation,” he said.
Nonetheless, these measures aren’t coming fast enough, said Feltmate.
“What’s missing in Canada is a correct sense of appreciation for the necessity to act with an awesome sense of urgency to place adaptation measures in place,” he said. “There still is way an excessive amount of complacency within the system.”
In keeping with Feltmate, the largest risks in Canada from climate change are fires, flooding and extreme heat.
Resulting from their proximity to the ocean, the Atlantic provinces are definitely at great risk from flooding and erosion, which was demonstrated on this latest storm.
A number of the most striking images from Fiona were coastal houses in Port aux Basques, N.L., being battered by waves and sucked into the ocean. Authorities have confirmed a 73-year-old woman died after being swept into the ocean when a storm surge flooded her home.
Feltmate said as extreme weather events are expected to worsen, communities on shorelines need to evaluate the areas most vulnerable to being hit by water during storms.
In some cases, shorelines might be fortified with higher seawalls and breaker partitions. In others, a “strategic retreat” ought to be considered – moving people away from coastlines altogether.
“There are houses in certain low-lying areas right on the shore that, quite frankly, you possibly can’t do much to guard them, and it might be that the prudent plan of action is to maneuver those houses further inland,” he said.
Resulting from the present cost-of-living and housing crisis, the federal government would want to step in and help with that, Feltmate said.
He noted that the federal government is working on a national adaptation strategy for climate change, and suggestions are being put forth that the federal government fund a strategic retreat program, where it might pay for homes to be relocated, or for people to rebuild their homes further inland.
With about 20,000 homes across the country where a strategic retreat may very well be used, and with a median house price of $640,000, this system would cost around $13 billion.
“So it’s not low cost,” Feltmate acknowledged. “Nevertheless it’s higher than the choice of simply losing the homes, after which you’ve to go and rebuild some place else anyhow.”
When it comes to power outages, cities should spend money on more “aggressive” tree-trimming programs to assist protect power lines, said Feltmate. This may be helpful during winter storms when branches and features get bogged down by ice and snow.
In some cases, burying power lines might be a superb idea – but he noted this costs about seven to eight times as much as having power lines above-ground, so it may not all the time be feasible. Nonetheless, it may very well be an option in cases where there’s a latest construct and the bottom is dug up anyway.
Feltmate also said homeowners must have backup generators so that they can run sump pumps, especially in the event that they have basements which are liable to flooding.
As well, for brand new builds or retrofits, hurricane-resistant shingles and hurricane straps – which hold roofs onto houses during high winds – ought to be considered.
“So there’s an awful lot we are able to do, that’s very doable, in anticipation in these storms,” he said.
Feltmate also said there’s a “misunderstanding” around adaptation, with some believing these changes are too expensive. But he said with every $1 invested into adaptation measures, there are $3 to $8 in savings from damage that didn’t occur.
“If you’re constructing latest, or you’ve a scheduled retrofit, it costs roughly the identical amount of cash to construct something right under the umbrella of adaptation, than construct it incorrect,” he said. “But in case you construct it incorrect after which need to retrofit, it’s very expensive.”
There’s also the human cost of failing to adapt.
As an illustration, in 2018, the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation interviewed 100 households within the Burlington, Ont., area, which experienced loads of precipitation and flooding just a few years prior.
Of the respondents that had experienced basement flooding, nearly half reported still feeling very stressed when it rained, even years later.
“It really becomes a lifestyle. The psychosocial, the mental health stress that folks realize, it lasts years and years after the event,” said Feltmate.
“It’s not a matter of weeks, it’s not a matter of months. It’s a matter of years.”
On Wednesday, Federal Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters in Ottawa the Liberal government desires to get ahead of “extreme weather events.”
“We totally share the view that if we are able to get ahead of those extreme weather events now, regardless that the amounts of cash required are significant, it should be much less in the long run,” he said.
“Not only less money by way of the actual infrastructure adaption and mitigation, but as you’ve heard from my colleagues there are real human and economic costs when a few of this infrastructure fails that goes beyond simply the fee of rebuilding.”
During a visit to storm-battered P.E.I. earlier within the week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to seek out ways to construct more resilient infrastructure.
“The fact is that extreme weather events are going to get more intense over the approaching years because our climate is changing. That’s why we have now to be sure we’re adapting to it,” he said.
— with files from Global News’ Aya Al-Hakim and The Canadian Press