An inconvenient ice storm hits Canada and northern U.S. amidst the whirlwind of climate science denial
Monday, Dec. 30, 2013--The ice storm that struck central and eastern Canada and northeastern United States, on Dec. 20-22 should be viewed not only an important news event but also a big climate change story. Not because the storm was a direct consequence of the Earth's average warming temperatures. That would be a speculative claim. No, it’s because of the social crisis created by this weather emergency and what it illustrates about the challenges that are markedly facing human society in a new and warming world.
More than a million homes and businesses in the two countries lost electricity for many days in freezing, winter temperatures. That meant no home heating, no reliable refrigeration for food and, for most, no way to cook meals. More than a week later, tens of thousands of households are still without power.
In Toronto, the number of people affected was three times those affected by the massive flooding in Calgary last June.
In Maine and southern New Brunswick, the situation remains very difficult. A new winter storm brought winds and new, large snowfall yesterday. This will spark a whole new round of electricity supply and other emergencies.
The storm moved from west to east. In Michigan where it began, more than half a million households were cut off. As of Saturday, more than 30,000 are still in the dark.
Approximately 300,000 households lost power in Toronto and another 150,000 in the surrounding region. Tens of thousands were cut off in Quebec and New Brunswick, and some 130,000 in Maine. As of Sunday morning, 30,000 remain cut off in Canada as do some 4,000 in Maine.
In Toronto, the pace of power restoration slowed markedly once reconnections of large networks were completed and work shifted to block-by-block, house-by-house reconnection or to hard-to-reach rural residences. A Toronto Hydro utility official compared the work to “hand to hand combat”. As of Sunday morning, there are still some 5,000 households to reconnect in the city.
In New Brunswick and Maine, repair crews needed chainsaws to clear fallen, ice-laden trees just to gain access to electricity wires and connections. An additional complication in all areas is that many of the short pipes on roofs or exterior walls of houses where electrical service connects are damaged and must be repaired by certified electricians before utility workers can make reconnections.
Toronto will see strong winds today. Overnight temperatures will drop sharply and sit in the minus-double digits Celcius this week.
The crisis prompted by the Ice Storm of 2013 should serve as another warning of the perilous course of human society as the extraction and burning of fossil fuels continues apace and global temperatures rise in consequence.
The storm follows by less than two months a record, monster typhoon in the Philippines. Fourteen months ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. Two and a half years ago, the Fukushima earthquake struck Japan and dealt a harsh humanitarian, economic and ecological blow. Four years ago, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti and revealed how perilous life remains for hundreds of millions of people in the countries looted by colonialism and imperialism over the centuries.
Rising global temperatures are causing rising ocean levels and more frequent and stronger weather events that are already threatening human populations. Meanwhile, rising air pollution levels caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels are causing their own category of social crisis. This year, Chinese cities are suffering their worst air pollution in memory. Due to the frenetic pace of capitalist development there and ever-rising demand for electricity, the air pollution crisis appears intractable.
So how are the people threatened by all this faring? Not well.
In the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and displaced more than four million. UN officials recently issued a new appeal for relief funds--$800 million. Shockingly, the Jubilee USA debt relief campaign has reported that since the typhoon, the Philippines has paid more money ($1 billion) in loan repayments to international lending institutions than it has received in relief aid ($350 million). Many of the loans were contracted during the 21-year Marcos dictatorship/kleptocracy,