As the city enters climate change action month, local extreme weather bills are piling up, and there’s dramatic confirmation that impacts ahead will be sooner and more severe than predictions. There’s also newly exposed evidence that the Harper government is ignoring the warnings of its own staff on the national costs of climate disruption.
This year the polar ice cap melted 18% more than ever, reduced to a volume one–quarter of the average for 1979–2000 – a decline 50% more rapid than anticipated that scientists are now linking to extreme weather across North America. Average temperatures in northern Canada have climbed by 2.1 celsius degrees in the last six decades, according to Environment Canada, compared to a national average rise of 1.6 degrees, and a Hamilton increase of just 0.7.
Those figures are in a report uncovered last week that was given to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent in March as climate change ‘talking points’ that the minister has made no use of. The report list numerous multi–billion dollar climate change impacts already suffered by Canadians from droughts, forest fires, dropping levels in the Great Lakes, and retreating permafrost that is playing havoc with northern infrastructure.
Last month, Hamilton councillors approved a $900,000 plan to reduce storm flooding on just two short residential streets. It calls for construction next year of a stormwater pond in Gage Park to help prevent basement flooding on nine blocks along Rothsay and Kensington avenues between Lawrence Road and King Street.
The study encourages affected homeowners to disconnect their downspouts and install backflow valves at their own expense. The area has been subjected to sewer backups since at least 2005 – a period during which the city has endured 18 storms severe enough to flood homes.
The most recent deluge was on July 22 – a rainstorm that the Insurance Bureau of Canada says generated at least $80 million in claims primarily from Hamilton and Ottawa. In just three hours it dumped up to six inches on upper Stoney Creek and Glanbrook – a downfall that’s only supposed to occur once every thousand years.
Brad Clark pointed to “residents who have lost $40,000, $50,000, $100,000 worth of property in houses that are brand new” and demanded investigation before another 7000 homes are built there over the next five years. He asked how to “explain this [flooding] to these hundreds of residents that bought $400,000 homes and their basement is now an internal swimming pool.”
Brenda Johnson confirmed the storm severity and successfully moved that affected residents be eligible for compassionate grants of up to $1000 per home – a city program that has paid out over $5 million since 2005. Applications can be submitted until December 20, and as of mid–September nearly 700 had been received.
Despite that storm, it’s been a very dry year in Hamilton and the conservation authority is still registering local watersheds at stage two drought levels. That’s hurt local farmers but pales beside the abnormal dryness that still covers 76% of the US (65% in official drought conditions) in the ‘dust bowl of 2012’. Weather extremes are also afflicting many other parts of the planet, including a third straight year of catastrophic flooding in Pakistan affecting nearly four and a half million people.
Local events this month include a a student conference and continuing promotion of the city’s climate change action charter pledging voluntary emission reductions. The city’s targets for its own corporate activities, adopted in 2008 and currently on track, mirror those of the federal Conservative government – a 10% cut from 2005 emission levels by the end of this year, and a 20% reduction by 2020. V