Mounting costs of climate change

PM Harper likes to say that it will be costly to fight climate change, but he conveniently ignores the costs that climate change itself is reaping (or has the potential to reap). A year-end report from Environment Canada points at some of the current financial costs associated with climate change. The top story is the shrinking arctic ice cap, and there are many other tales of climate oddities, with their own associated costs that were not tallied, but it is the references to hard numbers that caught my attention.

On BC’s narrowly-averted Spring flooding:

The Fraser Valley avoided a catastrophe when cooler temperatures returned and a soppy storm diverted away at the last moment, sparing thousands of hectares of farm and residential land, avoiding the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents and saving an estimated cost-loss of $6 billion.

To benchmark that, $6 billion is equivalent to about 4% of the BC economy.

On extreme weather and agriculture in the Prairies:

Residents on the Prairies witnessed a record number of severe summer weather warnings, with tornadoes, intense rainfalls, wind storms and hail storms. August’s destructive hailstorm in Dauphin, Manitoba, for example, was only one of 279 hailers that affected the Prairies in 2007. Crop-hail losses approached $200 million and, for the first time, exceeded premiums.

… Abundant spring rains followed by excessive heat and humidity and an active jet stream was the perfect recipe for violent weather. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the most number of summer severe weather events ever (410 in total) eclipsing the previous high of 297 set only last year. Especially frequent were the number of hail events, setting record numbers for all three provinces.

It was a “hail” of a summer for the insurance sector. Summer storms pulverized crops, battered homes and businesses and pockmarked vehicles at a rate not seen in more than a decade. According to the Canadian Crop Hail Association, Albertans filed over 4,700 crop-related hail claims – the highest ever by far, exceeding $60 million or 27 per cent more than that collected from premiums. Saskatchewan counted nearly 14,000 crop-damaged hail claims, exceeding the five-year average but lower than the total recorded in 2006. Total payouts were estimated at $115 million for an 87 per cent loss-to-premium ratio. Hail storms were so frequent in Saskatchewan that many farmers reported multiple hits, especially in the Kindersley and Biggar area. In some instances, the first claim was still being settled when hailers struck a second or third time. The frequency of storms was up and so was the severity. In places, crops were totaled and property damage was extensive to homes, vehicles and farm equipment. Next door in Manitoba, crop claims topped $14 million, shattering the previous record of $10.6 million in 2002. Total claims were just shy of 5,000, which was very close to the record in 2000.

The most spectacular hailer occurred on August 9 in Dauphin, Manitoba and nearby communities. The 30-minute storm featured a multitude of lightning flashes, intense rain, screaming winds and enormous hailstones – some the size of grapefruits. Around Grandview, Roblin and Ste. Rose, it took only minutes to destroy healthy crops only days from harvest. In Dauphin, the storm triggered about 13,000 claims to Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) with an estimated loss of $53 million – one of the single largest catastrophic events in MPI history. More than 60 per cent of damaged vehicles in town were total write-offs.

On June 5, a one-hour severe thunderstorm centred on Calgary generated instant flooding, swamping vehicles and inundating homes. Several people paddled in rubber rafts along downtown streets as waves swirled in flooded intersections. Emergency crews waded into waist-deep waters to rescue motorists trying to float vehicles. At a cemetery, flood waters damaged 200 graves and washed away a number of precious mementos. Estimated losses totaled $10 million to flooded basements and roadways. Rainfall intensities approached 100 mm in 18 hours, nearing 100 year-returns.

On January 10, the most intense blizzard in half a century struck Saskatoon and region, claiming four lives and marooning the entire city in a humongous whiteout. Officially, Saskatoon received only 17 cm of snow with some surrounding areas getting 28 cm. However, it was the powerful winds that blew snow into monstrous waist-high drifts and lowered visibility to zero for hours that created such dire conditions. Many residents said it was the most frightening time of their lives. Total cleanup costs approached $1 million. On the heels of the blizzard, frigid Arctic winds pushed temperatures into the -30°s with a windchill of -46 causing scores of frostbitten patients to show up at hospital emergency departments.

On a freak storm in PEI:

Repair costs to electricity lines and towers in Prince Edward Island exceeded $1.5 million and were expected to take months to complete. Maritime Electric said it was by far the worst storm the utility has seen since the 1970s, if not the worst ever.

8 comments

  • I thought climate scientists from the I.P.C.C. had advised us not to confuse weather anomalies with climate change.

  • Even if oil and coal run out someday, in the meantime we must do all that can to reduce carbon emissions, the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the cost of forcing people to toe the line and reduce consumption. Even if the AGW hypotheiss turns out to be a hoax, we still will have forced the world to adopt greener technology and that will be a good thing.

  • Doug, while it is true that no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the incidence of so many extreme weather events does indeed fit the pattern.

  • I’m volunteering the concept of a global “Strategic Wheat Reserve (SWR)”.
    It is a trillion dollar project far more expensive than Kyoto-style GHG reduction costs. Assuring food supplies doesn’t secure water supplies (desalination or novel mega-aquifers may cost 10X-1000X a SWR), nor dam the coastlines of the world’s cities long-term, nor cost expensive migration geopolitical “solutions”.

    Wheat stores indefinitely at low temps (within about 6C of 10C I think) and low air temperature humidity. It may be cheap novel grain varieties that store at high humidity or a wider temperature range, will be developed. If not, wheat is the only low oil content cereal.
    Our crops don’t fail en masse now. Models go screwy when considering future precipitation patterns…I would think the earliest time period in which mass starvation threatens is when novel climate feedbacks occur. The arctic may be ice-free by 2015; this is the earliest a SWR will be needed.
    I’m envisioning if a given regional seasonal weather system fails, wheat be shipped from the SWR to prevent starvation. I think Indian Monsoons supply rain to farmers in East Africa, India, SE Asia and China. I think if these Monsoons fail/move/intensify, they will do so over half of a 3-4 year El Nino cycle. So I think it would be prudent to store enough wheat to feed half the world for two growing seasons, starting 2015-ish. This is somewhere around $700-900 billion worth of grain.
    It is very hard to keep moisture out of grain. It may be possible to line (cheap) packages suitable for crane transfer onto regular railcars, with a resin designed to keep out air-moisture. If such a resin were cheap it could render 7 billion person/yrs of wheat moisture-free indefinitely.
    Soil and rocks act as insulation. A cubic kilometre of wheat packages could be kept in one or more caves, used up oil reservoirs, or other geological volume types. A crane, railcars and tracks, could be connected to a large continental rail grid. At the time of massive crop failures, existing engines from around the continent could travel to the SWR to ferry wheat to a port perhaps 20-200km away.
    Winter air temperatures in the rural Lower Fraser Valley (LFV) are within wheat’s comfort range. Summer air temperatures of the LFV, circulated through the cave interior, could be lowered by using heat pipes. Maybe some sort of geothermal heating/cooling could be improvised more easily? The goal is to minimize storage/operating costs of running the SWR. Grain Elevators annually cost 2-5% the grain price to store. This must be brought as close to 0% as possible to store a hundred billion $ value of wheat.

    I don’t know the capital cost of building a cubic kilometer SWR, but it should be less than the price of the wheat itself. The operating costs must be $billions$ annually or hopefully less. I think it should be politically easy to drop wheat tariffs and *raise* subsidies. This project may not be feasible now, but after a single AGW-enabled famine, it should have no problem attracting funding.
    These are the kinds of expensive mitigation strategies that are needed since the cheaper GHG-reduction strategies are being blocked directly (Canada and USA not meeting Kyoto), or indirectly (complexity of tech-tranfer solutions). Desalination technologies may require trillions *or more* in annual investments. Perhaps nations will need to cost their own self interested future losses, and issue long-term 50-yr bonds to fund desalination/aquifer research or issue 75-yr bonds dyke construction?

    It seems so much easier to immediately reduce GHGs (by raising taxes such as the GST from 5-6% and by undoing every fiscal GW.Bush initiative), offer every assistance (rapid tech transfer) to the developing world to do the same, and then trade war the laggards. Big oil and Conservative think-tanks are the enemy here through their successful-to-date lobby efforts.
    People who die of Global Warming or who can’t join the mental middle class in a warmed poorer world, won’t be able to program consumer technologies, industrial equipment, or research medical innovations. The good part of capitalism; ensuing hyperglobalization, is about to be aborted by the dark side of capitalism; wealthy self-interests.

  • This is a thread I’ll add to as I learn more. Oh the fun of learning about grain storage.
    A necessary imput is to know the self-interested economic value of relatively poor (at risk) citizen’s in the hyperglobalized world of the future. That is, the GDP value of the relatively poor 2050 trading partners of wealthy 2008 nations. About 50% of Canada’s GDP is presently utilized servicing the American market, so some function of this might be a good estimate as to 2050 Bangladesh correspondence educated citizens; how much of their GDP directly impacts rich 2050 Canada as 2050 computer/tech programmers (I’m less certain how “mobile” health research and industrial innovation workforces will be).
    Err, you have to estimate the odds wealthy near future actors will make additional investments/aid (standard UN Millenium Development Goals for example) to a Strategic Wheat Reserve. Something like a 1/3 the world’s poor will make $80000 a yr/person in 2050, applied to the rich at present with some sort of time-dicounting formula, means the rich today should be spending lots on both a strategic wheat reserve and development aid.

    Also, good computer models will be key…still trying to break this down. The world’s fleet of ships is just large enough to deliver enough grain to feed 3 billion in a worst case scenario, assuming a Hemispheric drought didn’t last long enough to render the store useless. There is also the “problem” agriculture advances might render a store obsolete. The shipping time between Vancouver and Shanghai is 16 days, so the store could theoretically be mobilized in time. The equation for an optimal store is likely to have many variables. Intuitively, as stated I’d think the earliest a severe drought could even remotely occur would be as a result of an unlikely tipping-point global weather pattern changes as a result of melted summer polar icecaps (2015?). I’ve no climate expertise to base this on and a nuclear winter may even be more likely…
    Gotta love the interdisciplinary tangents unleashed by a rabid demand for oil and coal.

  • The patent titled “Strategic Wheat Reserve” spells out using N2 or CO2 within a salt cavern to kill *practically* all molds and all insects. Apparently salt caverns can be tested to ensure they are airtight. A column is hollowed out within the cavern and filled with N2/CO2 and wheat, and sealed. A surface heat exchange pump transports cold air in winter to the bulk of the wheat (an excellent insulator). Hopefully as the salt warms in the summer it won’t conduct enough heat to the bulk of the wheat to warm it to the point of spoilage before the next winter. Concentric heating of wheat (outside to inside) induces moisture variations and vice-versa, bad for storage.
    It is unknown how well CO2/N2 retards mold over decadal lengths.
    Operating a heat exchange pump should be incredibly cheap compared to keeping grain cool/dry in an elevator.
    Using pneumatic pumps to remove the wheat is superior to the cavern interior rail based system I mentioned earlier.
    Much better than figuring the biggest needed SWR is to discover the smallest: a famine that neither slaughtering livestock, eating animal feed, rationing, starving (if it still happens where there is no political interference), drawing down stores; if these coping mechanisms aren’t sufficient and/or if a given population (say, one’s own nation) is to be covered by a SWR for a given period of time, this wheat volume is the basis for an actual funding proposal.

  • Dear Sirs:

    Half the steel roof got blown away on a new construction early this year (January or early February). The insurance company will not help me unless I give them an exact date of the WINDSTORM. Can you please help me to find out the date of the worst windstorm we had in 2008?

    Thank you in advance.

    REspectfully

    Emily

  • Emily, Environment Canada maintains a daily wind speed database of average windspeeds and max gust for many weather stations. Very unwieldy to search through it.
    The SWR above is anthropomorphic to the “Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust”: http://www.fas.usda.gov/excredits/foodAid/emersontrust.asp and a 1980’s UK programme called Intervnetion Storage that filled empty aircraft hangars with grain. The SWR would be on a bigger scale and utilize cheaper storage costs than existing 2-3% per year grain storage bins.
    There are railroad lines to Churchill, Whitehorse and Great Slave Lake. Of these, Churchill is best from a shipping PoV. Though only presently open waters a few weeks a year each fall. There are many small ports in Canada’s arctic archipalego. These ports have better permafrost than Churchill, but presumably a SWR would be transportable. The Svalbaard Seed Vault utilizes permafrost to keep cooling costs down. Presumably a SWR could do the same.
    Presumably the SWR would be for a mass event like a Monsoon failure, so there should be plenty of up-down wheat price cycles to add to it in the meantime…it might be better to utilize a port with year round functionalities.

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