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Here Come the Climate Refugees

Coming to a town near you:

Another wave of Canadian climate refugees is in the news. This time it is 40,000 British Columbians fleeing forest fires. In May it was Quebecers driven out of their homes by floods. The May before that it was the Fort McMurray fire. In 2013 Alberta has the worst flood in the province’s history and the most costly natural disaster in Canadian History. In 2011 the Slave lake fire burned 4,700 hectares and destroyed 1/3 of the town and the RichardsonĀ fire, (also in Alberta) burned 700,000 hectares (Price Edward Island covers 566,000 Hectares).b-c-wildfire-2017

These are all climate related.

In most cases there are precipitating causes. The Fort McMurray fire may have been set by humans. Strong winds and unusually high temperatures and unusually low humidity made it much worse. El Nino contributed a dry fall and winter. So climate change pushed the region close to to the edge of the cliff and these other factors tipped the region over. Of course climate change contributed to the winds, the temperature and El Nino. If you are squeamish about ascribing all these disaster to human-caused climate change, you can just count 80% or even 50% of these disasters.

The point is that there are more disasters coming. Some of those will hit Northern Ontario. It isn’t a question of whether, it is a question of when. There will be climate refugees in Northern Ontario. Climate models suggest that by the end of the century the climate will have warmed and dried so much that a tongue of land extending from the Manitoba border all the way to James Bay will be turning into grassland – into Prairie.

Turning into prairie involves forests first drying out and catching fire. That’s how natures changes the guard. Normally fire in the boreal forest clears the ground for a new growth of boreal forest. In the drier, hotter 21st century we can expect bigger, hotter fires and and forests that don’t regrow naturally.

We have had giant fires before. The Great Fire of 1922 in Temiskaming and the Matheson fire in 1916 killed more people than all the other forest fires in the last century and a half in Canada. More fires are coming. What we know about climate change tells us that they are likely to be both bigger and more frequent than in the last century. We don’t know when the first of the big fires will come but we do know there will be refugees.

So are we getting ready? You had better ask your MPP. Forest management, fire control and emergency services across the north are 100 percent provincial responsibilities.

Meanwhile, think about what we are going to do with the growing number of climate refugees from the rest of Canada. Think about how will pay for the relief services, the temporary housing, the cost of rebuilding. Think about whether you have an escape plan and insurance.

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