Thursday, May 12, 2016

In The Service Of Truth

There are many truths today that, thanks to the almost reflexive, visceral response of an often vitriolic social media, few dare to speak. Most recently, linking the terrible fires in Fort McMurray with climate change has been one of them. Is it insensitive and opportunistic to draw such a connection, or is it only stating the obvious?

In a recent column, Thomas Walkom did just that:
If the world’s leading climate scientists are correct, global warming raises the probability of extreme weather conditions occurring – from drought to ice storms to floods to the kind of unseasonably high temperatures experienced this spring in Fort McMurray.

To say that the inhabitants of Fort McMurray brought this disaster on themselves is dead wrong. But to say that climate change played a role is not.

The Fort McMurray wildfire is not just a freak accident. Neither was the 2013 ice storm that crippled much of Toronto.

True, these things can happen without global warming. But climate change dramatically increases the probability of their occurring.

So perhaps the politicians should get over their squeamishness and begin to ask the tough questions.
Fortunately, Toronto Star readers show no such squeamishness, as the following letters amply demonstrate:
I’ve been accused of being insensitive for talking about the climate irony of the Fort McMurray wildfire, which continues to dominate the news in Canada. Many people have argued that now is not the time to discuss global warming and climate change.

I insist that now is precisely the right time to make the link between epic wildfires and climate change. Once the fire is over it will be too late. People will move on with their lives and the Fort McMurray climate disaster will be remembered as just another freak of nature as were the 2013 floods in Calgary.

Experts believe that the Fort McMurray blaze could be the new norm for wildfires as global warming continues to heat up the planet causing earlier and longer fire seasons with more severe and destructive fires. A warming climate has extended the duration of fire seasons – now 78 days longer than in 1970 according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Fort McMurray exists because of the tar sands, which produce a carbon-intensive bitumen that is adding to the world’s carbon problem. We are all consumers of oil products. This means we are all responsible for this raging inferno that has produced 88,000 climate refugees.

The climate irony continues to build. Premier Rachel Notley is now calling for the fastest possible return to full oil production by oil companies that have temporarily suspended operations. The circle is complete.

Rolly Montpellier, Ottawa

Congratulations of the highest order are due to Thomas Walkom for this column. At last we have a prominent journalist acknowledging that climate change “played a role” in this disaster.

Why political leaders, Elizabeth May excepted, have failed to admit the link is best known to themselves, but one wonders if Justin Trudeau fears that pressure may be brought to bear on him to get on quickly with transitioning from fossil fuels to electricity. This would put him at odds with the “international community,” which has, against common sense, agreed to delay action on climate change until after 2020.

What we must, regrettably, bear in mind is that the Fort McMurray fire is not a unique incident. It is part of a chain of disasters, some past, with many more to come. It seems that we cannot reduce the global temperature.

Even if the entire world switched to sustainable electricity at once (impossible), the Earth would go on warming for two more decades, then remain at the elevated temperature for 1,000 years, according to the Australian Academy of Scientists.

That’s all the more reason for drastic action, right now!

Ken Ranney, Peterborough

This discussion also begs the question of whether tar sands oil production is causing the temperature in that region to soar so high in the spring. I bet native groups would have an interesting opinion on this.

Rather than spending billions to rebuild Fort McMurray, so tar sands oil production can start up again, perhaps the federal government should be investing that money in renewable energy, wind and solar power.

Max Moore, Toronto


  1. The evidence is everywhere, Lorne. Only the willfully blind refuse to see it.

    1. Sadly, those with vision problems are too often our 'leaders,' Owen.

  2. The sophistry of Trudeau is stunning, Lorne. He purposely looks at the Fort Mac fire in isolation to make his specious argument. Look at this fire in conjunction with the mega-fires sweeping so many other corners of the world and a picture emerges with far more clarity than Trudeau would have us see. I wish I knew the identity of the puppeteers manipulating his strings.

    1. Even though I am an inveterate cynic, Mound, I hadn't expected Trudeau's halo to become so quickly tarnished.

  3. Environment Canada provides this explanation of various events linked to climate change including wildfires:

    I can only comment on extreme weather (I manage a flood control program for a municipality now and have 20 years of consulting experience in water resource management) - Environment Canada's Engineering Climate Datasets (version 2.3) show no trends in extreme rainfall despite the temperature changes we have had:

    The insurance industry has consistently misquoted this data, confusing predictions of statistical frequency shifts with actual data. Here is a clear review of that mistake / gaffe which seems to underlie the narrative on climate change and extreme rainfall:

    Unless someone works in the field that I do it is hard to interpret media reports and it is understandable why many people take reports at face value. The 2013 GO Train flood is an example of reporting you may be familiar with, that is cited as a climate change induced event - even to guide provincial policies, but that simple data show was really something else (in this a case a disregard for known flood hazards, documented way back in the flood inquiry for Premier Davis, and known to many in the Toronto flood management / engineering community):

    So, I have spent the last 14 months drilling into the data behind extreme weather reporting - in all cases reporting has come up short on data and long on anecdotes (the plural which is not 'data'). The CBC has been good enough to correct their reporting that initially claimed storms were increasing:

    I have been working successfully through Advertising Standards Canada to get some other media corrected as well.

    If anyone is interested in other explanations for flooding, there are lots and they relate to hydrology and hydraulics (not meteorology) - since we don't have a 24-hour cable Hydrology Channel, these sciences are rarely reported on. My letter to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change outlines many of these:

    Here is another perspective on that, based on a review of design standards and historical flooding in Toronto:

    1. Many thanks for both your comments and your links, Flood Advisor. I shall take the time to carefully study each of them.