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Terence Corcoran: We Are Wasting Money Trying To Fight Climate Change Instead Of Adapting To It

Terence Corcoran, National Post

Adaptation to weather events is nothing new. The objective of individuals, corporations and governments should be preparedness in the face of events that seem predictable and inevitable, rather than on trying to pull giant strings to change the forces that may or may not be causing the events.

How on Earth are we going to fight this apparently new scourge? Rainstorms bring floods in Toronto that cause electricity system blackouts, transit shutdowns and major financial havoc. Floods in Alberta do the same to the Calgary region. The instant reaction, in some circles, is to pin the blame on climate change and use the events as a launch pad for new calls for action on carbon emissions.

There are two reasons why this response to these dramatic weather events is mistaken. One is that the science does not support the claim that today’s local weather extremes are a function of man-made climate change. Even David Suzuki, one of the grandfathers of climate alarmism, concedes as much. “Can we say the recent flooding and extreme weather in Southern Alberta and B.C. were caused by global warming? Maybe not,” he wrote recently in response to the Alberta floods.

But it doesn’t matter whether you think killer weather is or is not caused by global warming. The more important question is what we do about it, and here is where the policy agenda has been hijacked. Instead of spending billions of dollars chasing carbon emission reductions at home and around the world, why not spend money making Toronto and other cities less vulnerable to floods, heat waves and other events.

Here’s a pointed way to put the issue. If in recent years Ontario had spent billions of dollars bringing electricity system infrastructure in Toronto up to higher standards, instead of sinking billions into wind and solar farms off in the countryside, maybe the Greater Toronto Area electricity system would not have been as shaken by this week’s flood events.

There is no way to prove this, of course. But if we know bad weather is coming, and that Toronto’s transit, water drainage systems and power infrastructures are severely compromised and inadequate due to lack of investment in the past, the obvious option is to change policy. A focus on investment aimed at adapting to changing weather patterns might have saved Etobicoke from its power crisis, the subways might have been running, and some of the flooding might have been avoided.

It might surprise Canadians to know that there is a solid economic policy case in favour of abandoning the idea of mitigating climate change by trying to control carbon emissions — and the weather — in favour of doing something about the effects of the weather, whatever the cause of the floods and hurricanes.

“Right now in Canada, 98% of all discussions are always on mitigation, mitigation, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and almost next to nothing on adaptation,” said Blair Feltmate, an associate professor and chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Project at the University of Waterloo. “We should be putting an awful lot more effort, time and money into adaptation.” The main reason, says Mr. Feltmate in an interview, is that the benefits of adaptation are local and attainable while the impact of mitigation via carbon reduction are global and unattainable. “It’s effectively lost money,” said Mr. Feltmate. He recently told an Ontario renewable energy group that their massive investments in wind and solar power will serve no purpose.

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Peter J. Thompson/National PostCars attempt to make their way south on the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto as rain ponds impeding their route, Monday July 8, 2013

No matter how may windmills are built, fossil fuels — oil, gas, coal — are going to be the dominant source of energy around the world for decades to come. That’s true no matter how much Canadians do to reduce emissions. Renewables account for about 13.5% of world energy production today, unchanged from more than two decades. Recent international forecasts say renewables –including nuclear—will never make it much above 13% of world output for decades to come.

Spending vast amounts of money to reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change therefore “is just a waste of money,” said Mr. Feltmate. If fossil fuels are here to stay, the only sound objective is to prepare for the future by adapting to reasonable expectations of future weather systems and events. One can argue over the cause of the events, but not about the need to spend money to adapt to the events.

The cost of adaptation, moreover, need not be that great.

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