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Don’t Blame Climate Change For The British Columbia Floods

british columbia floods

Canadians may be slowly coming around to the idea that the British Columbia flood crisis cannot be solely chalked up to climate change, no matter how frequently the media write that script.

The doubtful science behind the alleged link between atmospheric rivers and the flooding of the Sumas Prairie is usually glossed over by claiming that while the floods are maybe not a direct consequence of climate change, they are nevertheless consistent with the extreme events that are forecast to be routine by the end of the century under a climate-changed future.

As I tried to outline in my most recent column, there are many factors behind the B.C. flood disaster other than climate change.

The British Columbia flood crisis, in fact, is an opportunity to begin a real policy discussion with a view to rethinking the current Canadian and international drive to net-zero carbon.

This is not a cynical call to never let a crisis go to waste. In a perverse way, the flood damage that will cost billions to repair demonstrates the high risks associated with political and economic plans imposed from on high.

Also on the line is the irrefutable evidence that governments and politicians failed to act on mountains of evidence that massive flooding of the Sumas Valley was predicted and inevitable and unprepared for.

The more Canadians learn of the failure of governments and other agencies to prepare for the floods that continue today, the more they are likely to take a fresh view of climate issues, whether carbon-related or not.

And there is so much to learn. Hundreds of reports, studies, agencies, councils, and commissions provide documentary evidence of the colossal breakdown in the governance system.

Even the CBC, which rarely sees a crisis that cannot be linked to climate change, seemed set to open a new window on the flood story Thursday night on The Fifth Estate.

A tweeted promo for the new episode said “We’re in B.C. after catastrophic flooding devastated parts of the province and investigating how the provincial government should have seen this coming.”

But that is actually the wrong question. The government of British Columbia and federal officials did see this coming. It was a known, uncontested, and scientifically solid prediction.

The 100-year-old system of dikes and networks that protected the areas, while frequently updated and improved over the decades, would inevitably fail, and likely in a catastrophic manner.

They knew the floods were coming — and climate change had nothing to do with it.

Another indicator that “they knew” was identified the other day by Tyler Olsen, an intrepid B.C. journalist with the Fraser Valley Current. “A doomed Sumas dike failed as predicted.

Many other levees could be next,” said the headline on Olsen’s report on a five-year-old engineers’ inspection of the Sumas dike.

They warned “the dike was two feet lower than it should be” and would be unable to stop floodwaters if and when the Nooksack River breached its banks.

The dike, said the engineers, was “substandard,” and needed to be updated. Dike overflow “is expected during the Nooksack River overflow.” And so it did overflow.

Olsen asks the logical question: “Why was the Sumas dike never fixed?” One reason is that “its inadequacy is incredibly common across the lower Mainland.”

But these stories and reports just tickle the surface of an underground vault filled with warnings about the total inadequacy of the entire Sumas Valley water-control system, which stretches down into the State of Washington.

That makes the B.C. flood crisis part of an international problem that dates back to the origins of the elaborate water-control infrastructure that was imposed by governments a century ago.

As historian Chad Reimer documents in his 2018 book Before We Lost the Lake (Amazon), the human attempt to micromanage the vast geography was an act of hubris that did not turn out as planned.

The real connection between the 2021 floods and climate change is not in the flow of water but in the flow of ideas.

In 1924, engineers and political operators had a grand vision that they believed would allow them to assert control over a vast natural system without fully understanding the nature of the system and the risks.

The same can be said today of the global effort — an ideological river — to control the weather and the climate by imposing a massive economic restructuring on the way to net-zero carbon emissions.

Read more at Financial Post

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