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  • Writer's pictureThe Low Down

We can’t afford to delay managed retreat

It’s been a long catastrophic summer, which saw many Canadians evacuated from their communities and abandoning their homes.


The bill is coming due. The city of Halifax is asking Nova Scotia to pay for the managed retreat from frequently flooded areas of the city. Regionally, we are already familiar with managed retreat: Quebec bought out Gatineau homeowners whose homes flooded in 2019. A great deal more property will need managed retreat; the city of Halifax only had the courage to ask for financial support for managed retreat for the worst affected properties.


A hotter atmosphere holds more moisture. Climate science was pretty clear long ago that drought, heavier deluge and severe flooding would be the outcome if governments did not decarbonize their economies. Climate scientist James Hansen made that clear in U.S. congressional testimony in 1988. The heating his model anticipated is now observable. We are now into an El Niño weather pattern. Each new arrival of El Niño marks the ratcheting up of global temperatures. In a recent paper, Hansen and colleagues state: “Global temperature in the first few months of the El Niño is so extreme it is now almost certain that the 12-month running mean temperature will exceed 1.5 Celsius by May 2024 or earlier.”


The goal of the Paris agreement, ratified by Canada, was to stay below 1.5 Celsius. Scientists showed years ago that meeting the 1.5-degree goal meant halving emissions by 2030. We are six years away from 2030 and emissions have not gone down.


Solar and wind are now the least expensive ways to generate electricity. Electric vehicles (EVs) are thousands of dollars a year cheaper to operate. Heat pumps are way more efficient than furnaces. Decarbonizing the Canadian economy isn’t going to happen if these solutions are not deployed. However, staving off economic instability is not going to happen by only substituting petroleum-fueled vehicles with EVs and furnaces with heat pumps. Broader solutions and immediate transformative action are required. During the initial stages of the energy transition, we will remain dependent on the petroleum energy system. This means that there is no room in the carbon budget for the inessential or for luxuries.


Yet, here we are: global heating is destabilizing the global economy and food security. The list of agricultural catastrophes is long. Global wheat stockpiles are plunging to lows not seen in more than a decade, and there will be fewer calves to slaughter as ranchers cull cows in desperation.


Drought and increased evaporation have reduced barge traffic considerably on the Rhine, Mississippi, and Mackenzie rivers. The Panama Canal Authority, a linchpin of global trade, has reduced bookings through the canal by 40 per cent and requires ships to be 40 per cent lighter.


Our best outcome is a least worst-case scenario. As the climate scientist Kevin Anderson puts it, “There are no non-radical futures.” We either rapidly decarbonize, or we find out how expensive inaction was and then attempt rapid decarbonization in a destabilized world.


Andrew Henry is resident of Chelsea.


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