Landscapes - People - Global change

Tag: Climate change (Page 1 of 2)

Fiona

A view from my morning commute on Tuesday, along Quinpool Road; a silver hatchback still sits crushed under that tree.

As September comes to a close, the whole Atlantic region is still reeling from the impact of Hurricane/Tropical storm Fiona, which hit last Friday night and Saturday morning. Many remain without power and/or out of their homes and–most horrifyingly–some have lost their homes and/or their lives in the storm. Many beautiful coastal towns and holiday communities lie shattered, and sad, scary stories abound: I even knew the person missing and presumed lost on the NS coast. My home and family were thankfully spared, and we’ve started feeling a bit guilty about this as the recovery ahead looks so long for so many.

There will need to be a time, however, after the first stage of emergency response and before the recovery process begins in earnest, to ask questions about how and where that should happen. I think some people feel like a big storm like this is so rare and unlikely that once it is past, they are safe for a good while. That is not how it works, unfortunately, and certainly not anymore. With climate change these outsize events will become more common, so this storm is a very stern warning to those who live in vulnerable coastal areas. People may think the changes associated with the climate will come slowly and they’ll have time to react and to decide, but storms like this show they likely won’t. Change will be noisy and unpredictable, not gradual. What we have seen is an extreme form of unmanaged retreat. It’s the worst case scenario, but we’ll have more of if we don’t listen to the lessons Fiona offers and be proactive.

There is a policy window now to consider managed retreat in a coordinated way that supports local communities to reimagine what it might look like to thrive coastally. I did a little media for the Toronto Star and Toronto’s News 1010 morning show in the last 24 hours about this. There will be a lot of insurance and emergency response money flowing, sooner or later. I hope that the political pressure to use such funds to rebuild in situ, regardless the risk, can be shifted to a broader conversation about the resilience that comes from leaving more space for the ocean to do its thing. It’s thing is dynamic, and against that dynamism hard infrastructure will always have it’s limits. Getting out of the way won’t. Yes, this might mean sacrifice, for instance new regulations and constraints on land long-held and cherished (such as the setbacks proposed in Nova Scotia’s Coastal Protection Act), or a lower tax base for municipalities. The conversations won’t be easy and the implications will be uneven, falling at times on people who will need more public support than others to accomplish it. But we should tackle it as a shared challenge, a duty not only to current generations but also future ones.

Last week I was doing revisions for a paper and a reviewer pushed back against the estimation of the length of the Nova Scotia coastline that I had included in my paper. I looked around and found others had used mine but also two other dramatically different numbers. In the end I decided not to include a length, because, well, how do you measure a coastline anyhow? But it is always constantly changing, as the recent PEI pre/post imagery shows quite well.  An unavoidable lesson from Fiona is that coastal stability is an illusion. We need to learn to live with that fact.

 

20 seconds on The National

This is my earnest face.

This is my earnest face.

CBC came calling this week about the recent letter in Bioscience warning about a “climate emergency”, on which I’m a signatory (along with 11,000 other scholars). Part of the press on this story is that it has not just been climate scientists signing on, but researchers from a wide range of fields including social science: climate touches us all. Kayla Hounsell and cameraman Steve visited my office yesterday for a quick explanation on why I signed, and it screened last night as part of a story about climate action in the Nova Scotia town of Berwick, after host Andrew Chang outlined the letter and its recommendations. During my email exchange earlier with Kayla, I explained my reasons for signing (little of which made it into my 20 seconds on air):

Briefly, I am concerned with ways to rewrite our landscapes and lifestyles for the scale of the changes we are facing. It is clear to me that we have great capacity for altruism and collective action if we perceive an emergency, such as in big storms or wartime mobilization, but we also have great capacity for inertia if all the signals we get are that there is potential it could be someone else’s problem. That’s why I signed. Anything that could expedite a sense of urgency among people and politicians is to be encouraged, as long as it is followed with action, rather than simply inoculate us against it.

More spring flooding on the Wolastoq

Flooded islands from Springhill Road, foggy Easter Sunday morning

Flooded islands from Springhill Road, foggy Easter Sunday morning

Another long weekend, another trip to Fredericton. Feeling lucky to get through on the Trans-Canada, particularly upon return, given flood stage at Jemseg. Despite the impacts to many up and down river, Fredericton still throws an impromptu ‘flood fest’ at such times, with residents driving downtown to view the swollen river and flooded infrastructure. Based on the art installation showing the levels of past floods (see upright posts, below), unlike last year this one will not make the history books. [Update Apr 25: I spoke too soon. Fredericton has now broken records and the highway is closed at Jemseg]

Impromptu flood fest at the Fredericton waterfront, Easter Sunday

Impromptu flood fest at the Fredericton waterfront, Easter Sunday

The newly renovated Beaverbrook had its flood gates up, but we were able to drop in to see the wonderful show by Ian MacEachern, The Lost City, documenting the vibrant community before and during urban ‘renewal’ in Saint John in 1968. Interesting to see this in the context of Halifax’s Cogswell Interchange renewal process: we’re pulling down the highway interchange created after slum clearance around the same time here.

Ian MacEachern photography show on urban renewal and dispossession in Saint John at the Beaverbrook

Ian MacEachern photography show on urban renewal and dispossession in Saint John at the Beaverbrook

Front row to flooding at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

Front row to flooding at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton

OECD Rising Seas report release

OECD ad for new Rising Seas report

OECD ad for new Rising Seas report

Last summer I led the writing of a case study on an innovative coastal adaptation project underway in Truro, Nova Scotia, a place plagued by flooding for decades. A confluence of provincial department interests enabled collaboration on a dyke realignment and salt marsh restoration project in the absence of overarching climate adaptation or coastal protection policy. That case study was Canada’s contribution to an OECD report (featuring case studies also from New Zealand, Germany and the United Kingdom). That report , “Responding to Rising Seas: OECD Country Approaches to Tackling Coastal Risk“, was released this week with a webinar from Paris (slides here). I was proud that OECD’s Lisa Danielson, who also joined us in Halifax for our workshop on the case study last November, highlighted the Truro case during the session. The report features some excellent synthesis of learnings from the four case studies, as well as some novel analysis on cost-benefit ratios for adaptation action for the world’s coasts: sadly rural areas aren’t going to pay for themselves this way, so novel finance options will be needed.

OECD's Lisa Danielson speaks to the Truro case study at the Rising Seas webinar, March 6, 2019

OECD’s Lisa Danielson speaks to the Truro case study at the Rising Seas webinar, March 6, 2019

OECD Coastal Adaptation Workshop

Everyone is eager to hear about the coastal protection policy in development.

Everyone is eager to hear about the coastal protection policy in development.

Fun with flood maps.

Fun with flood maps.

Over the past few months I’ve been leading the writing up of a recent dyke realignment and salt marsh restoration project in Truro for an OECD report called Responding to Rising Seas, due out in January 2019. Co-authors are those who designed and implemented the case study from Saint Mary’s University and CB Wetlands and Environmental Services. The Truro case study is one of four cases explored in the report; others are in the UK, Germany and New Zealand. We culminated that case study with an all-day workshop November 21 at SMU on ‘scaling up the insights’ from the Truro case study. Requested by NRCan, funded by Lisa Danielson of the OECD’s Paris office, and hosted by Danika van Proosdij at SMU, we had sessions on policy, financing, engineering and human dimensions. Thirty attendees joined from across all scales of government, NGOs, First Nations and the private sector (as well as a few academics, but that couldn’t be helped). The various conversations and interactions knitted together some previously isolated groups working in parallel, and it felt very much like a day well spent. We hope attendees felt the same way.

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