Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2020 (565 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The severe weather that hit Manitoba in the past week can be a dramatic reminder of the urgency of slowing climate change.
Anyone arguing, "We’ve always had hot summers!" is correct. But weather authorities say heat waves like the one that baked Winnipeg, and torrential rain that caused flooding in Westman, are likely to become more common in coming years.
For the 30-year period ending in 2005, Winnipeg averaged 14.3 days a year when temperatures exceeded 30 C. But as the Earth’s average temperature warms owing to climate change, that increase isn’t proving to be evenly distributed. According to a 2019 Weather Network report, evidence shows that the climate is warming in Canada up to two times as quickly as elsewhere.
And that means, according to the latest climate models from the Prairie Climate Centre’s Climate Atlas, the average number of 30 C days in Winnipeg is expected to rise between 2050 and 2080 to 52.1 days per year.
Heat waves are already hard on the elderly and marginalized people, who may not be able to get relief from oppressively hot temperatures. As the Main Street Project’s Cindy Titus noted this week, with many public spaces closed owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t many places for people who are homeless to avoid overheating. An increase in prolonged high temperatures will have greater impact on people’s health, and could be fatal.
It also increases the risk of drought that hits agricultural producers particularly hard, as well as forest fires that endanger rural and northern communities.
Along with hotter average temperatures, another grim feature of climate change is the increased frequency of severe weather events. That’s something Manitobans in the Westman area experienced this week.
Torrential rainfall led to flooding in many areas, deluging Brandon and the surrounding area. On Thursday, the provincial government warned water levels on Lake Wahtopanah had risen more than four feet above the level set in 2011. Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler described it as a once-in-1,000-year event. That led to concerns about the integrity of the dam at Rivers, adjacent to the lake. Engineers did not have confidence in the dam, which wasn’t built to handle this amount of water, and residents in the area were advised to evacuate and remove livestock.
Like droughts, sudden flooding can ruin farm land. And, as Environment Minister Catherine McKenna pointed out to the Weather Network, it can drive insurance premiums up over time as more claims for water damage are made.
The changes necessary to slow climate change may seem intimidatingly huge, but reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic offers hope that momentous measures are possible when it matters greatly. Governments around the world are taking action to combat the pandemic, with early successes being recorded by those that have embraced the formation of policy based on science and with an eye to both long-term prevention and reducing damage. Like climate change, combating the pandemic takes buy-in from the general public in addition to government support that enables people to do so.
We’ve known for a long time that mitigating the damage from climate change is expensive, and that the need to prevent it from accelerating is urgent.
Shifting economies to become carbon neutral, or potentially carbon negative, will be expensive but the bills are already coming due for decisions to put off adequate action. Like the COVID-19 curve, the effects of climate change are likely to increase disastrously — in human lives and in economic terms — the longer we do nothing.