Flying ice sheets crashing onto the Gardiner Expressway last week.
It's enough to give weather forecasters whiplash. Since this wackiness is here to stay for a bit, climatologists may need to buy neck braces as a climate change adaptation measure.
Regardless of whether we meet Kyoto standards, get used to more days like the one in August 05 when a chunk of Finch Avenue floated away. Get used to more extreme heat days and sewage overflows.
And if you are wondering how you missed the public discussion about adapting our infrastructure to climate change in the just-passed capital budget, you didn't. The discussion hasn't happened yet.
It's a mind-twister. We need to fight global warming and adapt to it at the same time. We're not used to that kind of duality. Enviro policy wonks don't like a discussion that frames the issue as an either/or choice between reducing carbon emissions or dealing with the effects. But money is tight and choices do get made.
Take Toronto Water for example. City council approved a rate hike this year that will see residential and commercial water bills rise 9 per cent annually for the next five years, in part so the system can begin to clear the eight-year backlog of repairs on its 50-year-old and in some places 100-year-old infrastructure. (The utility is financed exclusively by consumers.)
If weather patterns hadn't been disrupted by heat-trapping gases, the water system would simply be a basket case. But extreme weather turns infrastructure basket cases into cases of dangerous neglect. A fact I find too uncomfortable to dwell on is that 30 to 50 times a year the system (20 per cent of whose pipes combine both sewage and storm runoff) can't handle the capacity and dumps raw sewage into the lake. Imagine more storms like August 05, when 103 millimetres of water fell in an hour.
"Combined sewage overflows are a very big adaptation issue," says Elaine MacDonald, a scientist at Sierra Legal Defence Fund. She says the answer isn't simply building bigger pipes; there also needs to be a plan to capture runoff by increasing Toronto's tree canopy. "The city isn't dealing with the problems it has now. How will it deal with adaptation?" she asks.
So in budgeting $800 million over 10 years to fix the water infrastructure, as it did last week, did Toronto Water make room for global warming implications? Nope. "Climate change is in our mindset," says Water's Andrea Gonsalves, "but adaptation was not a factor in the budget." She says Toronto Water needs direction from council before such measures would factor into planning. "I expect that to be coming soon," she says.
So does Councillor Paula Fletcher, chair of the parks and enviro committee, which has just delivered a report to the city exec that will form the basis of Mayor David Miller's promised climate change plan, expected within six months. "It has only been recently that we've had consensus that climate change is real," Fletcher says. "Adaptation hasn't been front and centre yet, but it will be.'
She says she isn't worried that Toronto Water is going ahead with repairs without climate change benchmarks. "We'll see adaptation dealt with in the mayor's plan," she says.
Fletcher's sanguine approach contrasts with that of her political cousin Peter Tabuns, NDP MPP for Toronto Danforth and the provincial party's environment critic. He's been railing of late that the province is going ahead with billions of dollars of infrastructure renewal projects without proper adaptation guidelines.
Indeed, Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller slams the Minister of the Environment in his most recent annual report for "a lack of leadership" in coordination of Ontario's response to climate change." He also notes that provincial water resource publications "revealed virtually no mention of the need for precautions.'
All anyone from the enviro ministry will say is, stay tuned for the new McGuinty plan. Until then, I think I'll start boiling my drinking water.