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We Must Heed Storm Warnings to Build a Brighter Future

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By David Suzuki with contributions from Senior Editor Ian Hanington
David Suzuki Foundation

A house on the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks collapsed when it was undercut by the storm surge from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Credit: Mark Wolfe/FEMA

A house on the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks collapsed when it was undercut by the storm surge from Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Credit: Mark Wolfe/FEMA

In 2012, North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission warned that sea levels there could rise by a metre over the next century. The warning was based in part on U.S. Geological Survey findings that “sea level rise along the portion of the East Coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is accelerating at three to four times the global rate” and that sea level in the region “would rise up to 11.4 inches higher than the global average rise by the end of the 21st century,” according to ABC News.

It was meant to help the state prepare its long, wide, low-lying coast for the kinds of severe occurrences that are becoming increasingly common as climate change ramps up. But developers and others complained the forecasts could hurt property values and increase insurance costs.

Politicians came up with a novel “solution.” They passed a law banning policies based on the forecasts.

Under the law, predictions can be for 30 years at most and must be based on historical data about sea level rise. This ignores mountains of scientific evidence about global warming and its consequences, including the fact that sea level rise is accelerating as ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions drive global average temperatures higher.

The law allowed developers and government to continue building homes, buildings, roads and bridges along the coast, oblivious to threats outlined by people who study climate and oceans. Whether heeding the warnings would have mitigated the devastation and tragedy from Hurricane Florence depends in part on actions government might have taken. But refusing to accept scientific evidence for the sake of short-term profits, although all too common, isn’t the way to protect citizens and property.

The Coastal Resources Commission released a more modest warning in 2015, concluding sea level rise could be 15 to 20 centimetres over 30 years — less than other research predicts. North Carolinians also elected a governor last year who accepts the reality of climate change and has committed to taking action. But so far, not enough has been done to safeguard the vulnerable coastline from sea level increases or storm surges exacerbated by climate change.

As meteorologist Eric Holthaus explains in the Washington Post, “A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor — producing heavier downpours and providing more energy to hurricanes, boosting their destructive potential.”

The notion that storms and other weather events will follow predictable historical patterns is being shattered by record climate-related storms, droughts, floods and heatwaves worldwide. The tragedy so many are facing, from loss of homes to loss of lives and livelihoods, is compounded by the fact that much of it is or was preventable. Employing solutions while continuing to develop new knowledge and technologies in everything from agriculture to renewable energy would create good jobs and economic gains, while protecting human health and well-being and the very life-support systems that keep us alive and well.

Many in the U.S. understand this. While the federal government rolls back environmental laws and protections, “more than 3,000 U.S. cities, states, businesses, investors, counties, regional associations, faith communities, and post-secondary institutions are on track to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 17% — and possibly by as much as 24% [by 2025], bringing the country close to meeting its promised target under the Paris Agreement,” an Energy Mix article states.

Those reductions depend on how well signatories to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ America’s Pledge keep their commitments on a range of goals regarding renewable energy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, carbon pricing, carbon sequestration strategies and preventing methane leaks. But the benefits of doing so go beyond ensuring our survival and well-being — though that should be enough!

A study by C40 Cities, the Global Covenant of Mayors and the NewClimate Institute concluded, “Cities around the world could create 13.7 million jobs and prevent 1.3 million premature deaths per year by 2030 by pursuing ‘ambitious urban climate policies’ that ‘vastly reduce carbon emissions globally,’” Energy Mix reports.

As our thoughts and hopes are with the people of the U.S. East Coast, the Philippines and other places caught in terrifying weather, we must remember that we’re all in the storm now. Our way to safety is also our way to a brighter future.

Published with permission from David Suzuki Foundation

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Ecology

Today’s letters: ‘Visionary’ plans don’t always work in Ottawa

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The opinion piece written by Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, declares that a “bold, visionary transit plan” would showcase the capital.

As a long-term resident of Ottawa, I’ve had it with visionary plans. In the 1950s, the streetcars serving Ottawa so well were sent to the scrapyards. In the early ’60s, Queensway construction bulldozed established neighbourhoods and ripped the city apart. Later in the decade, the downtown railway station, which could have formed the hub of a commuter network, was relocated to the suburbs. These actions, in the name of “progress,” were undertaken with the “vision” to make Ottawa a car-reliant city.

Now we have an LRT, built just in time for most people to realize that they do not have to go downtown as they can work from home.

Current thinking is pushing a new “link” between Ottawa and Gatineau, with yet more expensive and disruptive infrastructure projects being touted, including a tramway or another tunnel under the downtown core.

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Ecology

That was then: Biggest earthquake since 1653 rocked Ottawa in 1925

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A regular weekly look-back at some offbeat or interesting stories that have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen over its 175-year history. Today: The big one hits.

The Ottawa Senators were playing a Saturday night game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Auditorium, the score tied 0-0 halfway through the second period. Sens’ rookie Ed Gorman and the Habs’ Billy Boucher had just served penalties for a dustup when the building began to make “ominous creaking sounds.” A window crashed to the ground.

Nearby, at Lisgar Collegiate, all eyes were on teenager Roxie Carrier, in the role of Donna Cyrilla in the musical comedy El Bandido. She had the stage to herself and was singing “Sometime” when the building rocked, the spotlight went out, and someone in the audience yelled “Fire!”

At a home on Carey Avenue, one woman’s normally relaxed cat suddenly arched its back, rushed around the room two or three times, spitting angrily, and climbed up the front-window curtains.

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Ecology

Ottawa delays small nuclear reactor plan as critics decry push for new reactors

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TORONTO — Canadians will have to wait a little while longer to see the federal government’s plan for the development of small nuclear reactors, seen by proponents as critical to the country’s fight against global warming.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day virtual international conference on Wednesday, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of natural resources said the plan will lay out key actions regarding the reactors. Its launch, Paul Lefebvre said, would come in the next few weeks.

“We’re still putting the finishing touches on it,” Lefebvre said. “The action plan is too important to be rushed.”

Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller in size and energy output than traditional nuclear power units, and more flexible in their deployment. While conventional reactors produce around 800 megawatts of power, SMRs can deliver up to 300 megawatts.

Proponents consider them ideal as both part of the regular electricity grid as well as for use in remote locations, including industrial sites and isolated northern communities. They could also play a role in the production of hydrogen and local heating.

“SMRs will allow us to take a bold step of meeting our goal of net-zero (emissions) by 2050 while creating good, middle class jobs and strengthening our competitive advantage,” said Lefebvre.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan had been scheduled to speak at the conference but did not due to a family emergency.

Industry critics were quick to pounce on the government’s expected SMR announcement. They called on Ottawa to halt its plans to fund the experimental technology.

While nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem facing the industry is its growing mound of radioactive waste. This week, the government embarked on a round of consultations about what do with the dangerous material.

Dozens of groups, including the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, Green Party and some Indigenous organizations, oppose the plan for developing small modular reactors. They want the government to fight climate change by investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

“We have options that are cheaper and safer and will be available quicker,” Richard Cannings, the NDP natural resources critic, said in a statement.

Lefebvre, however, said the global market for SMRs is expected to be worth between $150 billion and $300 billion a year by 2040. As one of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Canada has to be part of the wave both for economic and environmental reasons, he said.

“There’s a growing demand for smaller, simpler and affordable nuclear technology energy,” Lefebvre said.

Joe McBrearty, head of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, told the conference the company had signed a host agreement this week with Ottawa-based Global First Power for a demonstration SMR at its Chalk River campus in eastern Ontario. A demonstration reactor will allow for the assessment of the technology’s overall viability, he said.

“When talking about deploying a new technology like an SMR, building a demonstration unit is vital to the success of that process,” McBrearty said. “Most importantly, it allows the public to see the reactor, to kick the tires so to speak, and to have confidence in the safety of its operation.”

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