Saturday, January 30, 2010
Catherine Solyom from Cleo Paskal's hometown paper, the Montreal Gazette, just ran an extensive interview with Cleo, making her parents very proud, and confusing old high school classmates who thought she had died sometime in the mid-1990s on Butaritari atoll (a rumour started after she filed a story on Butaritari for the CBC mentioning how sick she got there -- though the fact she filed the story should have been an indicator that she survived). An excerpt:
In your book, you talk about the developed world's mistaken belief that it won't be significantly affected by climate change. What do you see happening in Quebec?
One question will be what happens with the St. Lawrence Seaway. If we see big reductions in the levels of the Great Lakes, then the St. Lawrence Seaway may reduce in level. That could mean a few things - one, that the big ships can't get up into the Great Lakes anymore and Montreal can become a bigger port, another might be the salt-water front in the St. Lawrence could move and we'd have to push back our water filtration plants. And with more mild winters and increasing winter precipitation, it's possible there will be more ice storms.
You mention the ice storm of 1998 in your book. What are the lessons to be learned from the ice storm here and Hurricane Katrina in the U.S.?
The developed world is heavily reliant on network-provided power, and when that power goes, we lose everything we consider to be normal components of modern life - our communications systems, our banking systems, our refrigeration, our heating, all goes. So what is sustaining the way we live is actually very narrow and potentially very fragile. I was lucky enough to be able to travel with the Canadian military during the ice storm and they did a phenomenal job - that really drove home the importance of having trained professionals who are capable of dealing with emergency situations, something that was visibly lacking in New Orleans.
There we saw that environmental change can create its own problems, but it can exacerbate existing problems. So if you have a society that is already fragmented, where the resources are already stretched, where the emergency services are understaffed and under-equipped, if you have a disruption, everything gets very bad very quickly. It's not just that the environment is changing, it's our reaction to that changing environment that really determines how bad the situation will be.
What is your analysis of what's happening in Haiti?
What's happening in Haiti is heartbreaking and tragic. There's not much that can be said. But what's interesting is that many of the houses were built to withstand hurricanes so they had concrete roofs that became a death trap in an earthquake. So when we're looking at how to build resilience, it's important to take into account the range of threats. The other thing is to see who is good at responding to these disasters. Which nations have been able to get people in in order to help quickly? It will take a few weeks to figure out who's done it successfully. But I would hope that the countries that didn't would take a look at their emergency services and see how they can be bolstered. Because unfortunately we will be dealing with many more national disasters in the years to come.
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