Saturday, March 31, 2007

Farewell to Nova Scotia -- and PEI -- and NYC -- and Tokyo -- and... and...? Rising Sea Levels, Megafloods, and the Deniers

In coming decades, rising sea levels and frequent mega-storms will endanger Canada's Maritime Provinces. Some of the largest world cities, like Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Dhaka are also at risk. The culprit, according to researchers: you guessed it, global warming. Yet some people continue to deny the scientific evidence -- either cynically or due to breathtaking ignorance, even about very recent history.

Back in more innocent times, political bickering about power-sharing and transfer payments were Canada's main concerns (I know, they still are, if you judge by the latest Federal Budget). I heard a parody version of "Farewell to Nova Scotia" on the C.B.C. in the late 1990s that began with "Farewell to Nova Scotia and P.E.I. / And New Brunswickers will understand...."The rest of the song mocked the notion of a "Maritime Union", with the punch-line, "And the name of our new land will be NewScotIsland!" (If you can find the rest of the lyrics, please leave a clue or link in the Comments.)

The issue facing the Maritimes this century is not union but physical isolation -- and worse -- due to rising seal levels and increasingly frequent super-storms. Consider this:
  • "The major railway line that connects Halifax with the rest of Canada runs along about a foot above sea level along the Bay of Fundy," according to Gordon McBean, president of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. It is at risk of being flooded out in the upcoming decades unless we do some serious engineering. (Source: Globe & Mail)
  • A soon-to-be-released "...UN study will identify coastal areas sensitive to sea-level rise and cite Charlottetown [the Capital of Prince Edward Island, and the birthplace of Canadian Confederation] as an example of a city vulnerable to increased flooding and storm surges, Mr. McBean said." (Source: Globe & Mail; emphasis added)
  • The Canso Causeway is what links Cape Breton Island with the rest of Nova Scotia. Nobody seems to have mentioned it recently, but during the November 2004 winter storm,
    "The Canso Causeway to Cape Breton... suffered structural damage and was closed."
If rising sea levels and frequent storms close the Causeway permanently, then the Cape Breton separatists might just get their wish -- though not in the way they had expected.
The Great Maritime Blizzard or "White Juan" (February 18, 2004)
Environment Canada, GOES satellite
imagery showing the evolution of the storm
Source: Regional Municipality of Halifax,
"Climate SMART: Be cool - reduce global warming & climate risks"

The Maritimes might need Elizabeth May and the Green Party even more than some people realize. Their "Green Plan 2" (GP2) [PDF, see p. 3] includes support for
"Adaptation to Climate Change: Develop pro-active adaptation strategies for vulnerable residential areas, and for economic sectors particularly dependent on stable climatic conditions...."
Unfortunately, the problems foreseen for the Canadian Maritime Provinces are far from unique:

"More than two-thirds of the world's large cities are in areas vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, and millions of people are at risk of being swamped by flooding and intense storms, according to a study released Wednesday.

"In all, 634 million people live in the threatened coastal areas worldwide — defined as those lying at less than 10.05 metres above sea level — and the number is growing, said the study, which was published in the journal Environment and Urbanization.

"More than 180 countries have populations in low-elevation coastal zones, and about 70 per cent of those have urban areas of more than five million people that are under threat.

"Among them: Tokyo, New York, Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Dhaka, Bangladesh." (Source: CBC.)

Hey, these just happen to be some of the largest cities in the world!
"Separately, the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a draft copy of a report expected to be released next week that coastlines are already showing the impact of sea-level rise. The draft copy, which was obtained by the Associated Press, said about 100 million people each year could be flooded by rising seas by 2080.

"The draft copy warned that two of the biggest cities in North America — Los Angeles and New York — are at risk of a combination of sea-level rise and violent storms. By 2090, under a worst-case scenario, megafloods that normally would hit North America once every 100 years 'could occur as frequently as every three to four years,' the draft said." (Source: CBC.)

Alas, some of the the reader comments to the above Globe & Mail story show an incredible level of cynicism, ignorance and denial. For example, "Dutchie . from Toronto, Canada" writes:
"I think the sense of panic portrayed in the comment about the rail link to Halifax being under threat is tragically hilarious. It's a foot above sea level? Fine, build a two foot berm next to it, maybe accented with some nice bushes. Sea levels are not going to come crashing in with a giant tidal wave to flood us all; even as they rise it will be a slow, gradual increase that will lead to a little bit higher high-tide. The overall issue of climate change is serious, but it isn't helped by non-serious comments by scientists/politicians clamouring 'Catastrophe! Disaster!'" [emphasis added].
Wow! It's so good to learn that Hurricane Katrina was not a "Catastrophe! Disaster!" where a mega-storm overwhelmed flood control structures that had been adequate against then-average sea levels. Hey, maybe it never really happened -- was it all just a made-for-TV movie?!

Flooded I-10/I-610/West End Blvd. interchange and
surrounding area of northwest New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana
Source: Wikipedia

How soon some people forget!

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