Resilience to Floods: Canada is underperforming!

Seven years ago this May, 4RG sponsored a panel review of the risks and consequences of Global Warming. One of the panelists was Glenn McGillvray, Director of the Institute  for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR).  He predicted that a changing climate would bring more severe weather resulting in

There is an old saying that lightning does not strike twice.  This saying  recognizes that lightning striking a  person, house or tree  is so extraordinary that in practice that strike will not re-occur.

Weather forecasters had a similar but much more complex problem:  they had to explain when extreme  weather events  would be repeated.  They began to use “recurrence”  language to explain extraordinary weather events, referring to very remote possibilities, such as “a once in a hundred year flood”, or, to explain the safety of a dam  controlling the flow of a river: – built to withstand “a millennial flood”.

John and Jane Citizen were comfortable with such language. The most common belief about “weather” was  that “mother nature” was erratic – occasionally severe and occasionally benign – but one could never be certain what would happen or why it was happening.  The continuing acceptance of  mother nature as controlling weather is still shared by many Canadians as it excuses them for crossing their fingers and allows them to ignore or reject the risks of climate change with a clear conscience.

In 2017 rivers in Ontario and Quebec flooded , causing extraordinary damage to houses built on riverain land .   That year Glenn McGillivray contributed an op-ed article to the Globe and Mail with the ironic title “Flood. Rinse.Repeat.”  He commented:

“Once again, homes located alongside a Canadian river have flooded, affected homeowners are shocked, the local government is wringing its hands, the respective provincial government is ramping up to provide taxpayer-funded disaster assistance and the feds are deploying the Armed Forces.”

Two years later the flooding again occurred on the Ottawa River, and also in other places in Quebec and in New Brunswick.   The potential damage along the Ottawa River was so great, so menacing  that the Mayor of Ottawa declared a state of emergency.

McGillivary noted that sympathy for flood victims is always strong during such a crisis, but he sensed political movement as more and more taxpayers want the government to take a different approach. He added: “The cycle has to end, we can’t continue to do this. Not fair to taxpayers, federal taxpayers.”

Taxpayers should be thinking seriously about the necessity of spending tax dollars on resilience – being prepared for what damage flooding might bring! – and not forgetting that for the longer term the best defence is reducing GHG emissions to a safe level.

A resilience program must be undertaken now.  Compare the measures being taken by the UK Government to guard against coastal flooding and its determination to foster resilience among shore dwellers.

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