Editorial: Time for talk about environmental sustainability

Published on July 10, 2014

While residents of the Maritimes were bracing for the approach of torrential rains and heavy winds generated by the remnants of hurricane Arthur, other parts of Canada were already suffering at the hands of Mother Nature.

In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, over a week of heavy rain created flooding conditions. Rainfall across much of southern Manitoba has resulted in record water levels on 13 southern Manitoba rivers and streams, washed-out roads and forced some localized evacuations. Many communities located along the Assiniboine River network have been forced to declare states of emergency to cope with water that refused to stop coming.

Meanwhile, beyond the prairies in the North West Territories, wildfires were raging out of control due to conditions that are drier and hotter than they have been in the past 20 to 30 years. As of July 4, 137 forest fires had broken out in the NWT and 110 still weren’t out. That number of fires represents a 30 per cent increase from what is considered normal at this time of year. All are attributable to lightning strikes and dry weather conditions.

The common denominator with each of these dramatic weather scenarios is the unusual timing. Hurricane season may have officially begun June 1, but most Maritimers are in agreement that the arrival of post tropical storm Arthur seemed very early. Hurricanes in the region are usually associated with the months of August to October.

Conversely, this latest round of flooding in the prairies appears to be coming later than normal. Springtime flooding is common in the region. And in the NWT, regular summer drought conditions have come early, wreaking devastating results.

Another commonality between these severe weather events is the impact on the population. From power shortages to property damage and evacuations, each demonstrates the changes in our climate and have the potential to create pressing health and social issues for all Canadians.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer for Nova Scotia, called climate change “probably the biggest societal issue we should be having a conversation around.” 

He added, “There’s been lots of focus on environmental sustainability; I’m not sure we’re having the robust dialogue around what the health implications are today and in the future.”

Given the country-wide weather events of the past weeks, the time is most certainly now for this conversation to begin.