Island Voices: The emergency of climate change is upon us

Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada, is undoubtedly correct when he says: “A dramatic rise in funding for disaster relief and community tragedies” is threatening “the short and long-term viability of Canada’s 170,000 charities and non-profits” (“Disaster relief, rising need will squeeze our charities,” comment, Dec. 30).

Imagine Canada projects that by 2026, Canada’s charities and non-profits “will need an additional $25 billion to meet demand.” This is over and above current funding of $18.3 billion, consisting of $14.3 billion in individual donations and $4 billion in corporate donations.

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MacDonald makes several sensible recommendations to meet this challenge, adding: “We will all need to dig a bit deeper to ensure Peter isn’t robbed to pay Paul.”

He also observes “that climate change will escalate the frequency and ferocity of natural disasters in 2019 and beyond,” which brings me to my point: Our global community has entered a period of extended, if under-appreciated, emergency.

Consider three items related to the insurance industry.

First, in July 2016, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney pointed out that extreme climate events have tripled “in the last few decades while the cost of claims paid out as a result has risen fivefold.”

Second, last March, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said she spends a lot of time with insurers. She added that the federal government is spending $100 billion on the effects of forest fires, flooding and droughts. Compare that to the $50 billion in government revenue she says will be gained by twinning the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Third, last summer, Allstate released its “500-Year Storm” commercial, which notes that there have been 26 500-year storms in the past decade.

The effects of climate change are reverberating across the globe and throughout society. They are increasingly evident. The great question is: What will emerge during and after the extended period of emergency we are now in? The answer, of course, is in large part a function of how we respond.

Even if the response to date of most national governments has been to flounder badly, the examples of Imagine Canada and Allstate tell us that other parts of society are responding more effectively. Like Imagine Canada, we have to be planning to ensure short and long-term viability. We have to be thinking ahead seven generations and beyond. We have to be more responsible stewards of our global inheritance.

I am sensitive to Alberta’s difficult economic dilemma, but the cheery, flag-waving television ads its government is running touting the benefits to Canada of an expanded Trans Mountain pipeline represent a doubling down on the status quo. The merits of that argument must be weighed carefully in the light of what Imagine Canada and the insurance industry are telling us.

Patrick Wolfe is an author and historian.

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