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Is Alberta Flooding a Sign of Climate Change?

Posted: 06/22/2013 2:22 am

It seems hardly a week goes by when we don't hear some climatologist or other expert say, "it's difficult to connect one particular weather event to global warming, but..." We heard it this week as communities in Calgary and Southern Alberta were evacuated in the face of extreme rainfall and rising floodwaters.

The "but," of course, is that we know burning fossil fuels and pumping carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere causes the Earth's average surface temperatures to rise. That warming leads to climate change, which generates increased extreme weather-related events. Those events, according to the World Meteorological Organisation's "Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2012," include "major heatwaves and extreme high temperatures, drought and wildfires, extreme precipitation and floods, snow and extreme cold, and tropical cyclones."

As the report points out, "Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change."

In many ways, climate change is about water change. For every one degree increase in temperature, the atmosphere's ability to hold water increases seven per cent. Massive amounts of water from melting ice sheets are being liberated while evaporation increases from oceans that cover 70 per cent of Earth's surface. Meanwhile greater turbulence and instability of the atmosphere and jet stream dump heavier loads of water and increase the frequency of extreme events like tornadoes and hurricanes.

Despite what we know about climate change, and despite the fact that less than one per cent of climate scientists dispute the prevailing research behind human-caused warming, we still see news outlets, industry and others trying to convince us that it's not happening or that it's not a big deal. And we see governments refusing to act in any meaningful way.

As I wrote in a recent column, "When people around the world apply rigorous scientific method to study our actions and their impacts on the things that keep us alive and healthy -- clean air, water, soil and biodiverse plants and animals -- we must listen, not just about climate, but about a range of issues."

Air, water and land are intimately and complexly interconnected in ways that we still barely comprehend. For years, the insurance industry has warned us that exploding costs of climate-related claims must be met with greenhouse gas emissions reductions. In light of that, it's shocking, after so many years of denial that human-induced climate change is real, to hear some pundits now calling for adaptation rather than demanding a massive program to slow climate change.

Can we say the recent flooding and extreme weather in Southern Alberta and B.C. were caused by global warming? Maybe not, but we can say we should expect more of the same - and worse if we don't do something to get our emissions under control. As many scientists warn, climate change isn't coming; it's here. We may be able to adapt to and cope with some of its current effects, but it will become increasingly difficult if we continue to ignore the need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, through conservation and switching to cleaner energy.

WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 2012.

Click here for live updates from Alberta.

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  • Emergency Declared In Southern Alberta After Heavy Flooding

    Houses damaged along the edge of Cougar Creek are shown June 20, 2013 in Canmore, Alta. Widespread flooding caused by torrential rains washed out bridges and roads prompting the evacuation of thousands.

  • Emergency Declared In Southern Alberta After Heavy Flooding

    Residents watch flooding along Cougar Creek June 20, 2013 in Canmore, Alta. Widespread flooding caused by torrential rains washed out bridges and roads prompting the evacuation of thousands.

  • Emergency Declared In Southern Alberta After Heavy Flooding

    Residents watch the flooding Cougar Creek as it takes out Eagle Terrace Road and nears the top of the Elk Run Blvd Bridge June 20, 2013 in Canmore, Alta. Widespread flooding caused by torrential rains washed out bridges and roads prompting the evacuation of thousands.

  • Emergency Declared In Southern Alberta After Heavy Flooding

    Houses damaged along the edge of Cougar Creek.

  • A lone truck sits submerged in the flood waters near downtown High River, Alta. on Thursday.

  • Homes along Cougar Creek in Canmore, Alta. barely hang on as the town struggles to deal with flooding Thursday.

  • A front end loader carries residents after they were rescued from the flood waters in High River, Alberta.

  • A kayaker paddles down a flooded street in High River, Alberta on Thursday.

  • Cars are submerged by the flood waters in High River, Alberta on Thursday.

  • Kevan Yaets swims after his cat Momo to safety as the flood waters sweep him downstream after submerging his truck in High River, Alberta on Thursday.

  • A woman is rescued from the flood waters in High River, Alta. on Thursday.

  • Kevan Yaets crawls out the back window of his pick up truck with his cat Momo as the flood waters sweep him downstream after submerging his truck in High River.

  • A helicopter carrying residents lands on a road in High River, Alta., Thursday.

  • Crystal Poirier, Roger Poirier

    Roger Poirier, holds his family's cat, Smartie, as his wife Crystal looks on after rescuing it from their flooded house in High River, Alta., Thursday.

  • Cars and homes are submerged in flood waters in High River.

  • Rescuers looks for stranded residents in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • A shot of the homes along Cougar Creek.

  • Semi truck sit idle to the Trans-Canada Highway in Canmore, Alta. on Thursday June 20, 2013. Calgary and most of southern Alberta are being hammered by rain that has washed-out roads and bridges, caused mudslides and closed major highways.

  • A flooded residence in High river, Alta. Heavy rains have caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation in High River, Alta., Thursday, June 20, 2013.

  • A front end loader carries people to safety from the flood waters in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • Kevan Yaets swims after his cat Momo to safety as the flood waters sweep him downstream and submerge the cab in High River, Alberta on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks. Hundreds of people have been evacuated with volunteers and emergency crews helping to aid stranded residents.

  • A resident is comforted by rescuers as she clutches her dog after being retrieved from the flood waters in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • Bragg Creek Flood 2013 House Breaking

    A video of a house shattering against the bridge during the first day of the 2013 flood in Bragg Creek. I offer my sincerest condolences to those who lost th...

  • A lone truck sits submerged in the flood waters near downtown High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • Krystal Lelond of Black Diamond clutches her cat Pipi after being evacuated from her home after the Sheep River overflowed its banks.

  • An elderly woman is rescued from the flood waters in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • Debris and water pours across the Trans-Canada Highway as Canmore struggles with flooding.

  • A woman wades through the flood waters in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • Flooding in Black Diamond

  • This is the view of the bridge over the Highwood. Normally there is a couple metres clearance below it.

  • A kayaker paddles down a flooded street in High River, Alta. on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks.

  • One of several rock slides blocking #hwy40 in Kananaskis. No access to Kananaskis village.

  • Look at the flooding in #lethbridge !! This street has been shut down

  • Residents wade through flood waters after an evacuation order following heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation in High River.

  • A helicopter carrying evacuated residents lands on a road in High river, Alta. Heavy rains have caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation in High River, Alta., Thursday, June 20, 2013.

  • The Bow river swells over its banks in downtown Calgary, Alta. Heavy rains have caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, June 20, 2013.

  • The Bow river swells over its banks in downtown Calgary, Alta. Heavy rains have caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, June 20, 2013.

 

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