Responses to Climate change-related weather disasters in 2017

Photo from B.C. Wildfire Service

The summer of 2017 has seen unprecedented forest fires, heat waves, floods and hurricanes around the world, with flooding and forest fires in Canada.  In response, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the launch of an advisory Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience on August 29, to be chaired by Dr. Blair Feltmate, Head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo. The Expert Panel will be composed of  academic, private sector, government, non-government, and Indigenous representatives. CBC summarizes the initiative here .

On September 1, the Insurance Bureau of Canada issued a press release that estimated more than $223 million in insured damage from two storm and flooding events in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in May. An Internal Review of the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements, released in the Spring of 2017, states that the average annual federal share of provincial/territorial response and recovery costs has increased from C$10 million from 1970 to 1995, to $100 million from 1996 to 2010, to $360 million from 2011 to 2016, with the majority of costs caused by flooding.

Before either Hurricanes Harvey or Irma, the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration (NOAA) stated, “In 2017 (as of July 7), there have been 9 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, and 6 severe storm events. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 57 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.”

At the end of August, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce released a report which states:  “The average natural disaster costs the economy C$130 billion and lowers GDP by approximately 2%….. On average, it is estimated that natural disasters increase public budget deficits by 25%.”   Building Better: Setting the 2017 Ontario Infrastructure Plan up for success urges significant investment, stating:  “Research shows that investment in infrastructure, such as roads, transportation, communication, utilities and more, have resulted in lowered business costs and increased labour productivity. It is estimated that for every $1 billion in infrastructure spending, 16,700 jobs are supported for one year and the GDP sees a $1.14 billion increase.”

In June, the City of  Toronto appointed its first Chief Resilience Officer, whose job it is to prepare for catastrophic events and other stresses, with a focus on social issues such as housing and transit, building on existing programs under the city’s climate resilience and TransformTO initiatives.  The Chief Resilience Officer position is funded by  100 Resilient Cities, an international network whose website houses a collection of Urban Resilience plans from around the world.

And for the last word on this catastrophic summer, read Bill McKibben’s opinion in The Guardian, “Stop Talking Right Now about the threat of Climate Change. It’s Here; It’s Happening“.

Climate change, Natural Disasters, and Mental Health

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate presents a depressing catalogue of statistics, including that 2015 was the  hottest year on record, with CO2 concentrations breaching the symbolic benchmark of 400 ppm. The Global Footprint Network released the 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts  , reveals that the global Carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated.    The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Catholic University of Louvain Brussels, and the U.S.  Agency for International Development released analysis of the human cost of disasters , showing that  98.6 million people worldwide were affected in 2015, and that climate was a factor in 92% of those events.  Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office estimates  that over the next five years, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program can expect claims of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms and $673 million for floods, for a total of $902 million in Canada. To this litany of bad  news, add another cost: the mental health cost of climate change.

The issue is addressed in a recent three-part series of articles in the Toronto Star and raises the profile of the effects of climate change on the mental health of those most exposed and affected by it.  “Climate change is Wreaking Havoc on our Mental Health, Experts say”  (Feb. 28), discusses the mental health toll on environmental scientists and activists, provides links to studies, and applauds the American Psychological Association (APA) for taking the issue seriously (unlike the Canadian association). “For Normally Stoic Farmers, The Stress of Climate Change can be too much to bear”   (Feb. 28) highlights the plight of farmers, already recognized as having one of  the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, and expected to worsen with increased frequency of  weather disasters of flooding and drought.    “Aboriginal Leaders are Warning of the Mental Health Cost of Climate Change in the North”   (Feb 29) portrays Northerners as front line victims of climate change .  The author of the series, Tyler Hamilton, calls on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association to acknowledge the issue and develop a position on the grounds that climate change stress is  both a public health concern and a factor in economic productivity.