The debate is over – climate adaptation needs to happen now

By Jamie Carroll — National Newswatch — 

Dec 10 2021 

Despite years of debate and gallons of ink, while the world has developed a near consensus on the need to mitigate climate change, what we don’t seem to be talking about is how we adapt to the increasingly severe weather it is too late to stop. 

Let’s start with something fundamental to the climate debate: no one weather event is a sign of climate change in and of itself. So, a cold day in February is no more a sign the climate isn’t changing than an Atlantic hurricane in the fall is a sign it is. 

However, one of the most noticeable impacts of climate change is absolutely an increase in the frequency and severity of those bad weather days. Flooded subways in New York; floods and droughts in the same year in the UK; and yes, severe, disruptive flooding in British Columbia are all undoubtedly manifestations of a changing climate. 

And while there’s no one event, industry or even country that can be blamed for these disasters – no matter what some of the most vocal environmental groups would like you to think. The causes of climate change are global – not limited to just clear cutting or oil pipes – and now Canadians have front row seats for the consequences. 

When I was at Environment Canada with Stéphane Dion 15 years ago the experts told us addressing climate change necessarily had two sides: adaptation and mitigation. Over the last decade or so mitigation has been the clear focus of global climate discussions and efforts. 

And that’s important. But the conclusion governments must draw from the force and frequency of these “once in a generation” events is that adaption can no longer be ignored. 

Put another way, while all possible efforts must continue to be made to stem the global tide of climate change, we need to accept this is no longer a future problem and get serious about adapting our lives – especially our infrastructure – to the literal tide of floods, fires and other disasters. Like, right frigging now. 

What does adaptation look like? Let’s start in BC: the port of Vancouver – the largest in the country – has been effectively cut off from the rest of Canada since about the 15th of November: that is to say, except for a handful of CP trains last week, almost no rail or road access from Vancouver to Alberta and points east has been possible. 

Now, someone is going to spend millions of dollars getting those roads and rails open ASAFP – almost certainly a combination of government and the railways. And so they should. 

But… If we agree this is almost certainly going to happen again (and we should), are we going to build back better, so to speak? Are we going to prioritize building infrastructure that can (better) withstand this increasingly likely events? 

In an apparent acknowledgment of this need, last month’s Speech from the Throne delivered by Canada’s new Governor General Mary Simon committed the Trudeau Government to “the development of Canada’s first-ever National Adaptation Strategy.” Having been around the drafting of a few of these things I’d bet good money this was added to the text relatively late, shall we say. 

But as a long-time Inuit activist, Her Excellency is all too familiar with the need for adaptation: the melting of the permafrost in Canada’s north has already many buildings have already shifted, cracked or entirely collapsed. 

But while the Inuit people have been living in the north for thousands of years, some of us further south have made far more recent choices with impending consequences. 

For example, the Sumas Prairie around Abbotsford? The home of so many of those farms in the Fraser Valley? It used to be a lake. It was drained about a hundred years ago. Turns out that, given the choice, it would like to be a lake again. 

This is hardly an isolated decision: lots of Canadian communities are built on flood plains, shore lines, near raging rivers, etc. While they didn’t seem crazy when they were made, the cost of those decisions look ready to balloon. 

Someone is going to pay for that. The insurance industry has known for years this is coming – and while they’re pleas have gone largely ignored, that dog ain’t gonna hunt anymore. 

For decades we’ve heard complaints about the cost of climate action. For thousands of Canadians this year has been an object lesson in the costs of climate inaction. 

Failing to prepare for more of the same would be nothing short of catastrophic idiocy. 

Jamie Carroll is a former National Director of the Liberal Party of Canada who now lives and works as an entrepreneur in Vancouver, BC. The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers


  1. This article certainly does show the time to get involved is Now I hope Mary Simon will continue to have a voice and not be worn down during her term.


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