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The context is climate change

Written by Sherwin, published on June 23, 2013

A car in a flood in 1927 in Mississippi

Journalists claim that it’s their duty to give context to important events. The floods in Alberta are important. And an important context is climate change.

I’m not saying that climate change is the cause of the floods. Maybe it was a contributing factor. But it wouldn’t be prudent to say so. Although the data may indeed eventually tell us this.

These floods are caused, in part, by weather. And weather is shaped by climate. And our climate is being changed by human behaviour. And Alberta just happens to be a political and economic jurisdiction driving the behaviour that is changing the climate. I might even argue that Alberta is the jurisdiction. Calgary seems to be the de facto capital of Canada right now. The people of this jurisdiction also just happen to be the people in Canada that are the most ignorant about climate change. 1 Canadians, generally, myself included, don’t really understand these issues very well.

We could use some context.

The media silence is weird

By Sunday night, at least four days since the flooding began, there is still almost nothing in the major news outlets about climate change in relation to the floods in Alberta. The Globe and Mail has published over 50 articles since Thursday about the floods in Alberta. Not a single article mentions climate change or global warming. How is that possible?

CTV published an article this morning which did mentioned climate change. But then they deleted the portion about climate change. A tweep, KRJBR, managed to get a screenshot of the original article which I was able to corroborate with Google search histories. This is the deleted portion:

When asked if the floods were caused in part of climate change, kenney said “no.”

“This is a once in a century event,” Kenney told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday.

“We had some rain for three days and a heavy run off that lead to this situation. The stuff that I read from scientists, there’s not a connection between weather events of this nature and broader climate issues.”

Just for your information, saying absolutely that climate change played no part in the floods is as wrong as saying that climate change was the sole cause. But really I’m just stoked that someone brought it up at all and that Kenney had an opinion and was willing to say it out loud.

There has been nothing serious in the National Post about climate change or global warming in relation to the floods in Alberta. Same goes for the CBC.

Same too for the Calgary Herald. i suppose that they could be forgiven since they were in the epicentre and were perhaps the least able to give context. The Herald did, however, publish an article on June 18th noting that the TD Bank chief was on record saying that our society is failing to respond quickly to climate change. And even more interestingly, on the 16th, the Herald published an article on ten places around the world that were being forced to adapt to climate change, in particular, by dealing with huge influxes of water and flooding. This article would be helpful context: they should just republish it.

Even more interestingly, on May 29th, the Calgary Herald published an article by Matt McClure where he points out that insurance companies believe there is a statistical probability of increased extreme weather and, yes, flooding in Calgary as a result of global warming. Unfortunately, these article received little attention and the Herald has published nothing on Climate change since the flooding.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Here’s the Calgary Herald agreeing that climate change is not the problem after posting a photo of a flood in 1915.

Some media to help you assess the relationship between climate change and flooding in Calgary

  1. All of these issues are really important context. But really, Canadians generally are very ignorant about climate change. We don’t understand statistics and probabilities. We don’t understand what the effects of climate change on the hydrologic cycle are. We don’t understand the relationship between climate change and severe weather. I would argue, though not here, that this is the fault of two decades of public relations and failed journalism. But setting that argument aside, given the ignorance of Canadians in general, and Albertans in particular, on climate change, wouldn’t you think that journalist would steel their courage and attempt to help us understand how or whether climate change relates to these floods?
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