I believe the Alberta floods were driven by climate change
Early Thursday morning, my dad texted me to say he fled his home in Canmore, Alberta shortly before the town declared a state of emergency. By noon, my brother was told to evacuate his home in Calgary’s Mission District, near the Elbow River.
Later, friends near the Calgary Stampede grounds were told to leave their apartment, bringing enough supplies for a week away. As the day went on text messages, and Facebook and Twitter updates chronicled a province in chaos. I watched their videos and updates, feeling helpless here in Vancouver as my hometown was inundated by floodwaters.
By the start of the weekend, at least 100,000 Albertans were displaced and a wide area of Calgary’s central core were evacuated. At least three people have lost their lives near the town of High River and cities and towns across the province remain in states of emergency.
Growing up in Calgary, I remember many floods, heavy rains, hail and tornadoes. But today, these events are more frequent and intense–as climate change models have long said they would be. The world’s biggest insurance company Munich RE told us three years ago: “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.” Experts areurging journalists to incorporate climate change in their coverage of floods and say any uncertainties about its impact must not delay adapting our communities to a warmer world.
In 2011, climate activist Bill McKibben wrote about severe flooding in Missouri, noting that the disaster wasn’t just about the power of nature but about the power of man. McKibben was referring to our extraordinary experiment combusting fossilized energy stored in oil, gas and coal. Combusting these fuels is overheating the planet and affecting our weather. For years, climatologists have warned that warmer air holds more water than cold air. As our planet warms, the result is more snow, winter runoff, and rain. In other words, these Alberta floods are what climate change looks like.
Global warming didn’t cause these floods. We can’t attribute any single weather event to one factor like our hotter, wetter atmosphere. Instead, man-made climate change is intensifying precipitation and our land use and development practices are worsening its impact. Knowing this, it is deeply irresponsible to diminish climate change factors in urban and emergency planning–doing so puts lives and communities at risk.
The reasons may be familiar to you, but it is important for even more people to understand how climate impacts extreme weather events like these floods. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are emitted from burning fossil fuels and these gases keep more energy from the sun in our atmosphere. Adding this energy is like putting the planet on steroids.