Some day, Terrace just may need an ark

Climate change around the world brings on rising waters

Back when I was in high school, and long before the allegations of his sexual assaults, Bill Cosby was one of the most admired comedians around. His humorous piece on the Genesis story of Noah and his building of an ark was particularly amusing.

When Noah first had the temerity to ask God what a cubit was, and later why it was even necessary to build the ark, God cryptically replied, “I’ll give you a hint. How long can you tread water, Noah?”

Various archeological finds and research have tried to explain scientifically the great flood. Around the year 2000 well-preserved structures were detected and outlined about 300 feet down on the seabed of today’s Black Sea, and one popular theory suggested that sea level rise due to ongoing glacier melt from the last great ice age finally overwhelmed a natural dam in the Bosphorus, allowing sea waters to flow east into the low-lying inhabited areas with the force of 200 Niagara Falls.

Even if this theory may be somewhat suspect, it’s likely that the great flood submerged about 2,000 sq. km along the shores of what was then a considerably smaller, freshwater sea.

The contemporary world still struggles to cope with various water-related disasters. It would not be impossible for Terrace to endure one of them. Only ten years ago the Skeena’s flooding caused numerous evacuations and considerable damage. That year we proverbially ‘dodged a bullet,’ for ‘Goldilocks’ weather (cloud cover that slowed the mountain snow melt, and much less rain than might have occurred) prevented the worst.

As global weather has become increasingly erratic due to climate change, terrible flooding events have proliferated.

On July 20 of 2013 about 100 mm of rain (that’s roughly four inches) fell in torrents on southern Alberta. The resulting flooding resulted in between five and six billion dollars in damage.

And just this year, residents of B.C.’s Okanagan Valley nervously watched water levels for potentially disastrous flooding.

When Al Gore first presented his film An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, predictions of flooding in New York City were pooh-poohed by critics as an exaggeration. But 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history, featured flood waters pouring down Manhattan subway tunnels.

New York State has now begun incorporating climate science into proposed developments’ permitting and funding decisions and has mandated the development of ‘Guidance on Natural Resiliency Measures,’ especially for the construction of critical infrastructure.

On the Pacific Coast, which will be dramatically affected if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet should collapse (a potential event being closely monitored by climate scientists), a previously anticipated one metre of sea level rise by the year 2100 now seems wildly optimistic.

According to West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL) research on these issues, British Columbia is still basing its projections and associated considerations for policy on figures first proposed in 2008, figures that are considerably out of date.

WCEL argues that it seems fair to ask when B.C. will be updating its sea level rise guidance for local coastal communities, many of which will be largely on their own to supply resources and planning for any rising waters or flood events that might affect them.

Of course, we could always stuff our heads into the blinkered masks that characterize so much of United States policy on these issues. Wisconsin (home state of that Koch brothers’ stooge, Governor Scott Walker), Florida, and South Carolina have all initiated legislation to prevent government workers from even using the words climate change or global warming in their reports. Coastal erosion? Flooding? Rising sea levels? Don’t worry! Just legislate them out of existence. Hurrah! Problem solved.

As history students we used to laugh at the story of medieval King Cnut of England commanding the tide not to rise, never imagining in our wildest dreams that elected officials of contemporary democracies might in future seriously attempt the same foolishness.

Several years ago members of the Yacht Club, a discussion and social group, enjoyed an evening chatting with former mayor Jack Talstra. We asked him what long-term problems he envisioned Terrace grappling with. One of them was Skeena flooding. Thanks, Jack. Metaphorically, we may just need an ark.