FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Amidst the Whirlwind of Climate Science Denial

by ROGER ANNIS

The ice storm that struck central and eastern Canada and northeastern United States, on Dec. 20-22 should be viewed not only an important news event but also a big climate change story. Not because the storm was a direct consequence of the Earth’s average warming temperatures. That would be a speculative claim. No, it’s because of the social crisis created by this weather emergency and what it illustrates about the challenges that are markedly facing human society in a new and warming world.

More than a million homes and businesses in the two countries lost electricity for many days in freezing, winter temperatures. That meant no home heating, no reliable refrigeration for food and, for most, no way to cook meals. More than a week later, tens of thousands of households are still without power.

In Toronto, the number of people affected was three times those affected by the massive flooding in Calgary last June.

In Maine and southern New Brunswick, the situation remains very difficult. A new winter storm brought winds and new, large snowfall yesterday. This will spark a whole new round of electricity supply and other emergencies.

The storm moved from west to east. In Michigan where it began, more than half a million households were cut off. As of Saturday, more than 30,000 are still in the dark.

Approximately 300,000 households lost power in Toronto and another 150,000 in the surrounding region. Tens of thousands were cut off in Quebec and New Brunswick, and some 130,000 in Maine. As of Sunday morning, 30,000 remain cut off in Canada as do some 4,000 in Maine.

In Toronto, the pace of power restoration slowed markedly once reconnections of large networks were completed and work shifted to block-by-block, house-by-house reconnection or to hard-to-reach rural residences. A Toronto Hydro utility official compared the work to “hand to hand combat”. As of Sunday morning, there are still some 5,000 households to reconnect in the city.

In New Brunswick and Maine, repair crews needed chainsaws to clear fallen, ice-laden trees just to gain access to electricity wires and connections. An additional complication in all areas is that many of the short pipes on roofs or exterior walls of houses where electrical service connects are damaged and must be repaired by certified electricians before utility workers can make reconnections.

Toronto will see strong winds today. Overnight temperatures will drop sharply and sit in the minus-double digits Celcius this week.

The crisis prompted by the Ice Storm of 2013 should serve as another warning of the perilous course of human society as the extraction and burning of fossil fuels continues apace and global temperatures rise in consequence.

The storm follows by less than two months a record, monster typhoon in the Philippines. Fourteen months ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. Two and a half years ago, the Fukushima earthquake struck Japan and dealt a harsh humanitarian, economic and ecological blow. Four years ago, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti and revealed how perilous life remains for hundreds of millions of people in the countries looted by colonialism and imperialism over the centuries.

Rising global temperatures are causing rising ocean levels and more frequent and stronger weather events that are already threatening human populations. Meanwhile, rising air pollution levels caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels are causing their own category of social crisis. This year, Chinese cities are suffering their worst air pollution in memory. Due to the frenetic pace of capitalist development there and ever-rising demand for electricity, the air pollution crisis appears intractable.

So how are the people threatened by all this faring? Not well.

In the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 6,000 people and displaced more than four million. UN officials recently issued a new appeal for relief funds–$800 million. Shockingly, the Jubilee USA debt relief campaign has reported that since the typhoon, the Philippines has paid more money ($1 billion) in loan repayments to international lending institutions than it has received in relief aid ($350 million). Many of the loans were contracted during the 21-year Marcos dictatorship/kleptocracy,

In Haiti, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tent camps or in dangerous and dilapidated housing, while the promised rebuilding and renewal of the country through reconstruction aid has never materialized.

In Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford has refused to declare a state of emergency, notwithstanding compelling reasons to do so. Seemingly, the selfish political interests of him and of his backers have taken priority. Last month, Toronto City Council deliberately reduced the disgraced mayor’s powers should a crisis arise and a state of emergency be declared.

Ford is frequently presented in media as a spokesperson of the city’s emergency response, but he is not. He does not sit on the Toronto Emergency Management Program Committee, and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne does not communicate with him.

A key question being discussed once again as a result of the storm is why electrical service in Canada is so vulnerable to weather disruptions. For years, officials of Toronto Hydro, Ontario Hydro and Quebec Hydro have rebuffed arguments in favour of moving overhead electrical service cables and wires in urban areas underground. This was one of the recommendations of the Quebec government commission of inquiry following the January 1998 ice storm that knocked out electricity and threatened transportation and water supply in Montreal for many days during very harsh winter weather conditions. “Too expensive” say the officials.

According to Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines, about one third of Toronto’s electrical service is delivered via underground. Recent figures for Montreal aren’t available; in 2006, the corresponding figure was 26 per cent.

One reader of the National Post in Toronto last year foretellingly wrote to the newspaper, “When are they going to bury the huge high tension transmission wires that scar our city–even along our waterfront!–and open up the billions of dollars of land these monstrosities sit on? And while they are at it, they should also be burying all our above ground wire system – it’s CHEAPER in the long run!”

It turns out that an unforeseen victim of decisions to keep electricity lines overhead in urban areas is their forests. Trees must be constantly cut back to free space for hydro lines. Through the present crisis in Toronto, many were cut or trimmed as part of power restoration. Municipal officials say the city has lost 20 percent of its trees to the ice storm and its aftermath.

A glaring observation that emerges from this ice storm is the vulnerability of human populations when their electrical service is dependent on complex and capital-intense electricity grids transporting electricity over large distances. This underscores what advocates for science and the humans are increasingly arguing–human society urgently needs to rapidly reduce its energy consumption and waste, end the burning of fossil fuels, switch to renewable energy sources, and localize energy production and distribution to the maximum extent possible.

This is an inconvenient message for fossil fuel advocates and other climate deniers. It’s best left unspoken. Indeed, media analysis of the broader lessons of the crisis has been scant. Outside of the storm regions, news reporting has been perfunctory. Vancouver’s leading, daily newspaper and a fossil fuel industry advocate in its own right–Postmedia’s Vancouver Sun—has not reported on the ice storm at all in its print editions.

For his part, the prime minister of the country has been silent and missing in action.

The complexity of the subject—how to reliably provide electricity in a world requiring simultaneous, massive reduction of energy use and waste—works in favour of the deniers. All the more reason for serious citizens to get engaged in asserting reason and science and fighting for an alternative and ecological path for human development.

Store owner Mark Carline in Titusville, New Brunswick told the CBC that the ice storm has caused him to reflect on life and society. “I think we were all reminded and humbled by the fact that at any given time, we could be set back to this state, where we’re scrambling [to get] the basic necessities.”

Roger Annis is a writer in Vancouver, Canada. He was born in Toronto and has lived a part of his adult life there.

Roger Annis is a retired aerospace worker in Vancouver BC. He writes regularly for Counterpunch and compiles his writings on a ‘A Socialist in Canada’. He is an editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond. He can be reached at rogerannis@hotmail.com.

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail