No deny­ing cli­mate change any­more

We can’t leave it to gov­ern­ments alone, in­di­vid­u­als must also make ma­jor changes

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - AL­LI­SON HANES

The havoc Hur­ri­cane Har­vey has wrought on Houston may seem like a dis­tant catas­tro­phe to Mon­treal­ers, but it should be a wake-up call that the long-pre­dicted haz­ards of cli­mate change are now on our doorstep.

Here at home, the spring flood­ing in Que­bec, in­clud­ing parts of the is­land of Mon­treal, the mi­croburst that rav­aged Notre-Dame-de-Grâce a week ago, the tor­na­does that touched down in Lachute and the crummy sum­mer weather that fea­tured fre­quent heavy thun­der­storms are far less ex­treme, but no less alarm­ing.

They must be con­sid­ered along­side the heat waves fry­ing the West Coast, the smoul­der­ing forests of Bri­tish Columbia, the in­ferno that en­gulfed Fort McMur­ray, the ill-ex­plained deaths of en­dan­gered right whales, the near monthly shat­ter­ing of world tem­per­a­ture records, the bleach­ing of co­ral reefs, the heat­ing of oceans suf­fo­cated by plas­tics, the col­lapse of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarc­tica and the mass ex­tinc­tion event that some sci­en­tists say is now un­der­way.

These events are no longer fore­shad­ow­ing some far-off dystopian fu­ture, this is cli­mate change in ac­tion. The hur­ri­canes and wild­fires are our omi­nous wel­come to a dan­ger­ously warm­ing planet.

And we have no one to blame but our­selves for the in­creas­ingly in­hos­pitable con­di­tions we are now con­fronting.

Har­vey is a harbinger of the new ur­gency with which we must put aside our dif­fer­ences and act, even as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump pulls the U.S. out of the Paris Ac­cord, guts the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and un­rav­els the kind of flood stan­dards for fed­eral in­fra­struc­ture projects that might mit­i­gate the im­pact of fu­ture hur­ri­canes.

Cities like Mon­treal have promised to take the lead. And so they must, work­ing both in uni­son with other lev­els of gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try, as well as alone to re­duce emis­sions and help ci­ti­zens live greener lives.

First we must learn from the mis­takes of Houston: lax zon­ing, ram­pant con­struc­tion on flood plains, min­i­mal in­fra­struc­ture to stem the risk, vast urban sprawl, a deeply en­trenched car cul­ture.

All of this cer­tainly con­trib­uted to the un­prece­dented de­struc­tion, although noth­ing could have fully con­tained the bib­li­cal rains that poured from the heav­ens.

We in Que­bec have no lessons to give.

We learned af­ter the ter­ri­ble flood­ing in river­side com­mu­ni­ties this spring that our own flood maps are hope­lessly out of date, use­less or non-ex­is­tent. The Que­bec gov­ern­ment, which is dol­ing out aid, will not let home­own­ers re­build in flood­prone areas, which is cer­tainly wise. But de­ci­sion-mak­ing is in­hu­manely slow.

Mean­while, Mon­treal is si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­ter­tain­ing a pro­posal to build 5,000 homes in the l’Anse-à-l’Orme area of Pier­re­fonds. This is pris­tine wet­land, a stone’s throw from the flood zone, that acts as a sponge when rivers rise and rains fall. If the city al­lows it to be paved over, even in part, it will defy all com­mon sense.

But wet­lands across the re­gion are un­der threat as Mon­treal sprawls. De­spite zon­ing laws and a plethora of agen­cies like the Bu­reau d’au­di­ences publiques sur l’en­vi­ron­nement, wet­lands, farms, for­est and fields con­tinue to be de­voured by boom­ing car­centric ex­urbs that are dif­fi­cult to ser­vice by public tran­sit.

Mon­treal is in­vest­ing heav­ily to up­date its ar­chaic wa­ter and sewer in­fra­struc­ture, a ne­ces­sity. It is den­si­fy­ing, as it must, but it is not set­ting aside enough new green space to let a more tightly packed city breathe. Boroughs like the Plateau-Mont-Royal and Rose­mont-La-Petite-Pa­trie are at­tempt­ing to re­duce the heat is­land ef­fect, one ru­elle verte, one white roof at a time. But green ini­tia­tives and not big box stores need to be the norm on a city scale.

Plans to di­vert waste and build com­post fa­cil­i­ties are way be­hind sched­ule in Mon­treal. Re­cy­cling pro­grams are not be­ing op­ti­mized. Ma­ture trees be­ing lost to pests or storms are not be­ing re­planted quickly enough to ex­pand the tree canopy. City streets are jammed with cars, our high­ways are per­pet­u­ally clogged, am­ple park­ing con­tin­ues to make driv­ing the most con­ve­nient trans­porta­tion op­tion.

Que­bec ex­tols the virtues of its “clean” hy­dro power while Que­be­cers re­main among the most glut­tonous per capita con­sumers of en­ergy in the world.

We can’t just leave it to gov­ern­ment to stave off the worst ef­fects of global warm­ing, we also have to act our­selves. Walk, ride a bike, take tran­sit. Retro­fit your house, kick that bot­tled wa­ter habit, drink out of a re­us­able mug, eat less meat.

Any­one who con­tin­ues to deny global warm­ing is a fool. Any­one who isn’t fo­cus­ing on what we can do — col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally — to change course is liv­ing in de­nial.

This is the mo­ment we need to re­al­ize it can’t just be busi­ness as usual any­more — that any of us could soon have to flee for our lives as ris­ing wa­ters del­uge our homes.

As the ed­i­tor of the Houston Chron­i­cle wrote, our best hope is that the devastation of Har­vey be­comes a turn­ing point in the fight against the rav­ages of cli­mate change, which leaves right and left, rich and poor, urban dwellers and sub­ur­ban­ites, politi­cians and or­di­nary peo­ple equally vul­ner­a­ble.


Res­i­dents of an apart­ment com­plex in Houston could only wait and watch on Wed­nes­day as flood wa­ters per­sist across much of the city. Hur­ri­cane Har­vey roared into Texas five days ago and has dumped nearly 50 inches of rain in and around Houston since.


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