Retreating From Fire

Posted on January 17, 2013


fire earthSurrendering the beaches in the era of climate change.

A couple of years ago, after the Canadian Prairies and adjacent regions of the United States had suffered its third “100 year flood” event in about 15 years, there were grumblings in the comment pages of newspapers about how the “taxpayers” shouldn’t have to continue subsidizing rebuilding and flood relief for people who insist on living in flood zones.  Yeah, well, it seemed more reasonable to stay there when “100 year floods” were actually 100 or so years apart, like they used to be.

Last year in British Columbia we had some homes swept away by landslides, some of which were homes that no one thought were in danger from landslides.  But climate change puts more water vapour in the air which translates as more rainfall, especially here on the raincoast.  When too much water falls on mountainsides, the soil gets heavy and destabilizes.  Landslides result where nobody was looking for them.  Oops, I guess moving to the mountains of British Columbia won’t shelter you from climate change, either.

Recently in Colorado, they had a bad fire season, especially traumatic because it struck inhabited territories, in fact, burning out an entire suburban neighbourhood.  They say it’s because they built that neighbourhood too close to the woods, and with the woods all burning down nowadays, as a building policy that’s no longer wise or cool.

In fact, this year in Australia the government bought out 100 homes in lieu of the cost of constantly protecting the people living there from wildfires.  And you need special permission to build now in the State of Victoria for the same reason.

And of course, we’ve also heard about the poorer victims of Superstorm Sandy who can no longer afford to rebuild their homes along the shore, given our new climatic conditions and the certainty of more Sandys.  Relocate, I guess.  Not much use to stay there anyway with sea level rise predicted to be at least a metre by century’s end.

SuperstormSandyRetreat.  Move away.  Move back from the shoreline.  Move away from the river’s edge.  Move away from the forest’s edge.  Move out of the dry grassy outback.  Move away from that mountain.

This is not a civilization adapting to climate change.  This is a civilization retreating from it.  This is a civilization shrinking into a corner.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  This is humanity losing.

Fighting back, really fighting back, means fighting climate change itself, means fighting the cause of climate change.  It means putting a price on carbon fuels.  It means protecting our forests.  It means funding alternative energy sources.  It means funding a change in our ways of doing things.

It means a carbon tax and ridiculously cheap urban transit.

It means no fracking, and keeping coal and the tar sands in the ground.  It means keeping oil companies from drilling in the Arctic.

Punching back is the only way we can get control of this problem.  There is only so far humanity can retreat, and retreat was never a solution anyway.  Merely a fact of life against changes to the climate which it is sheer insanity for us to ignore.

The longer we wait, the higher a price we will have to pay.  And there’s even a time limit on that.  If the climate passes certain limits, no price we are capable of paying will ever buy back the world our civilization was born in.

And it will be mighty crowded and hot in those last corners we retreat to.

See Australian inferno previews fire-prone future – New Scientist