Get Ready For The Next Billion Dollar Bite In The Pocketbook
A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted July 21st, 2016 on Niagara At Large
I recently had a chance to see Jaws again on a big screen where the full impact of that mouth full of razor sharp teeth lunging to the surface from the shadowy depths of the sea belongs.
The theatrical return of this 1970s horror flick was a reminder of how often, during my earlier years as an environment reporter, I used lines from its story about a shark devouring bathers off the shores of Cape Cod as a metaphor for warnings of danger we humans too often choose to ignore.
One line from the movie came immediately to mind a few weeks back when I read a story in The Globe and Mail about how much this spring’s wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta will cost insurance companies, and the line goes like this – “You are going to ignore this problem until it swims right up and bites you in the ass.”
It was a line that a shark expert played by Richard Dreyfuss aimed at the mayor of a small seaside town afraid that any news of the danger lurking in the waters offshore would scare away the summer visitors the town folk depended on for their livelihood.
In the July 8th story in The Globe about the Fort McMurray wildfire – a blaze that now goes down, by the way, as one of the worst catastrophes of its kind Canadian history – an Insurance Bureau of Canada executive, Bill Adams, was quoted saying that “ultimately, what we are seeing is that our climate is changing. And the long-term trends are directly a result of some of those dynamics.”
As for the massive amount of destruction resulting from this wildfire and from other recent severe weather happenings, including the relentless rains and floods that ravaged thousands of residential and commercial properties in the Calgary, Alberta area a few years ago, “we have not done that well in Canada, and perhaps less so in Alberta (in protecting properties in fire- and flood-prone areas) and unfortunately we are living with the consequences.”
Living with the consequences of not doing well, indeed!
For the past 10 years, in particular, we had a federal Conservative government locked in the jaws of Stephen Harper who cancelled Canada’s partnership in the 1992 United Nations-sponsored Kyoto protocol for addressing climate change and who systematically gutted rule and regulations and resources for protecting the environment.
Most of all, wanted nothing to do with reducing carbon emissions (to the extent he believed carbon emissions played a role in climate change at all) getting in the way of the dirty oil refined from the bitumen mined out of the tar sands in the Fort McMurray regions of northern Alberta. That would place too much of a cost on an oil-producing industry he was hoping to make the single, most-important driver of Canada’s economy.
“Stephen Harper, Canada’s own blue-eyed sheik, has become an able spokesman for bitumen,” Andrew Nikiforuk, an Alberta-based journalist and award-winning environmental writer, wrote in his 2008 book ‘Tar Sands – Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent. “Harper’s best friends include a bevy of climate change deniers such as petroleum geologist John Weissenberger and University of Calgary academic Barry Cooper.”
“These connections,” Nikiforuk continued, “partly explain why the prime minister dismissed Canada’s international obligations under Kyoto to reduce carbon emissions with all the flair of a Hugo Chevez violating legal agreements with multinational companies. To successfully stall any real action on energy or carbon conservation, Harper appointed Rona Ambrose, the daughter of an oil executive [and now the interim leader of the federal Conservative Party), as his first environment minister.”
Now here we are with $3.6 billion insured costs and counting, not to mention the billions of dollars more in losses to individual earnings and the country’s overall economy, from a fiery inferno many experts say had all the earmarks of a climate-related disaster.
We are living with the consequences of all those years of delay and denial alright, and they have swum right up and bit every Canadian who pays property insurance premiums or has any other stake in the economy for their standard of living right in the pocket book.
Scientists have been warning for more than 40 years now that if we continue treating the earth’s atmosphere like a garbage dump for fossil-fuel emissions, we will reach a tipping point where we can expect storms and other catastrophes on a scale once forecast for one a century on a far more frequent basis. So brace yourselves for many, many more.
“Beware of Sharks,” reads a sign I brought home from a recent trip to Cape Cod. And not just the ones with fins and swimming in the water. The chances of them getting bitten by the ones with fins is about 3.7 million to one.
I only wish that we could pass on all of the costs of the destructive floods, fires and wind storms to come to the climate change deniers and those who lobbied for years for less environmental protection.
Unfortunately, the costs are already being borne by all of us and will continue to be borne by future generations for decades to come.
We’ve entered waters that are so infested with sharks now that we are all going to need a bigger boat.
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