Hurricane Ralph

By Tooker Gomberg, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Tooker and Angela move to Halifax, Nova Scotia and a major hurricane moves in after them.

I was riding my bicycle across the Macdonald Bridge, high above the Halifax Harbour. Hobbling towards me was a pitiful sight – a seagull with a broken wing. A little further on a dead pigeon lay on the path, another victim of the hurricane that had just walloped Nova Scotia.

It’s not just birds that were hit by the hurricane. I sat in a Halifax café buzzing with caffeinated humans and dozens of homeless wasps. The wasps must have lost their nests when the hurricane blew them to smithereens.

Across the street from my Dartmouth apartment a sixty-foot aspen tree blocks traffic as it lies across the road and leans heavily on power lines. It’s one of the thousands of ancient oaks, maples and other trees that used to line the streets of this leafy Atlantic city. When Hurricane Juan arrived late on Sunday night, Sept. 30, it toppled trees like matchsticks and leaving devastation in its wake.

A neighbourhood convenience store owner wondered aloud if her insurance company would cover the damage caused to her car after it was hit by a tree. If the hurricane is considered an “act of God” would they pay out?

Maybe the squashed car and the electricity blackouts were acts of revenge, nature hitting back at humanity’s willfully negligent burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants.

Climate scientists have predicted that global temperatures will rise from our endless burning of coal, oil and natural gas and that will bring more hurricanes, droughts, forest fires and West Nile-like viruses.

This storm was an “act of humans”.

The insurance industry knows this all too well, as insurance claims due to “natural” disasters have shot up in recent decades. The largest insurance group in the United Kingdom, CGNU, has reported that by 2065 the costs associated with property damage caused by global warming could effectively bankrupt the world, as those costs could exceed the global GDP.

You can’t blame God; it’s our behaviour that is wreaking havoc on the global climate. We must take precautionary action. The lack of decisive action to date has been a political choice, and in Canada the oil, gas and coal interests have ensured that action moves more slowly than a snail’s pace.

In the political arena, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein has been industry’s front man. So why blame Juan? Let’s call it Hurricane Ralph, and place the blame squarely where it lies.

Or how about Hurricane Lorne? As Halifax struggled to come to grips with the worst storm in its history, Alberta Environment Minister Lorne Taylor was in Moscow urging Russia not to sign the Kyoto treaty, which would effectively kill the international agreement.

The tragedy is the missed opportunity to dramatically reduce our emissions and at the same time clean the air and improve our health. Energy efficiency alone would create thousands of jobs in Canada and save people money on their energy bills. That coupled with transfer of investment from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and we’d reach and exceed our Kyoto commitments.

As I cycle around Halifax and see the broken glass, the roofs blown off, and the hardship people have suffered from the hurricane I savour the thought: why not send Premier Klein a bill for a portion of the cleanup costs, for the costs of re-planting trees and repairing power lines?

If the pace of action doesn’t pick up we’re likely to see more hurricanes and wilder weather. Perhaps Lorne Taylor and Ralph Klein think they’ll be able to get away from it all and hide out in their summer cabins, while the rest of us live with the results of their deception.

The legend of King Canute tells of a king who sat in his throne on the beach commanding the tide to stop coming in. Of course, the tide rose and he was powerless to change that.

The virtual consensus of the world’s climate scientists tells us that to protect the world’s climate we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases by 60-80% or suffer the consequences.

Ralph, Lorne and Exxon can claim they know better. But as every ecologist knows: nature bats last.