Sunday, July 7, 2013

Canadian cities' vulnerability to climate change clear after Alberta floods

Laura Tozer in the Energy Collective: Flooding swept over Southern Alberta, Canada from Calgary to Canmore in mid-June. Evacuation orders were issued in towns and cities as rivers like the Bow and the Elbow swelled and spilled over their banks. Historic water levels were reached in Medicine Hat, downtown Calgary was emptied and underwater, and towns like High River were completely evacuated for days as police patrolled the flood ravaged streets.

The Alberta flooding is one of the many climate change impacts already being felt around the world, but it also foreshadows the rise in extreme events that is on the way. The frequency of weather disasters will continue to increase as long as we keep recklessly pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As the climate warms, we will see extreme events like the flooding that push the boundaries of our built infrastructure. Since it has hit so close to home this time, in Canada it should be a call to arms.

In the flooding that hit Alberta, the resiliency of Albertans has taken centre stage. The stories pouring out of the province have been full of neighbours helping neighbours. One water engineer and entrepreneur that I met in Alberta last week was nearly sleeping as he stood after a soggy, scary and sleep-deprived week. He had been setting up basement pumps across downtown Calgary, helped by roving bands of volunteers descending on homes and businesses to help clean up the mess. It's clear that the social fabric of society is the key to our ability to respond and rebuild. However, that's not the only factor affecting vulnerability to climate change.

The emergency has called into question the resiliency of our cities' built infrastructure. In addition to energy infrastructure that is still too waterlogged to turn back on in downtown Calgary, the most drastic infrastructure failure was the collapse of a rail bridge in Calgary that was undermined by the flooding. When a train crossed it days after the flooding started, the crumbling bridge caused several train cars full of petroleum products to derail and hang perilously over the swollen river. The incident stressed the emergency services of a city already stretched to the edge. It is obvious that a failure to adapt to climate change will continue to result in incredibly costly impacts on Canadian cities...

Riverfront Avenue in Calgary during the floods in June, 2013, shot by Ryan L. C. Quan, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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