It was just a regular Monday in early July and we had gone to see the movie ”White House Down” at a large theater in a city just west of Toronto. The movie was an entertaining summer flick, albeit with an implausible plot about a right wing conspiracy to take over the U.S. government.
We emerged from the screening to find the theater lobby flooded. Initially puzzled, we soon found out that while engrossed in both popcorn and the latest Hollywood fantasy, torrential rains soaked a large area around Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Nearly four inches of rain fell in just a few hours, smashing all previous records.
We were In nearby Mississauga and needed to get back downtown Toronto. Traffic, however, was a mess. The storm had laid waste to the city’s power grid and traffic lights were down.
We started crawling along a major artery that would get us to the freeway. With growing horror we listened to reports on the radio. The announcers were running down a list of woes: traffic was snarled everywhere, cars were seen floating on a stretch of a highway in which we were headed, subways were shutdown and a major commuter train was marooned in water with commuters still inside. (See picture above)
Might be best to find a hotel room and stay the night, we reasoned. But a nearby Novotel adjacent to the mammoth Square One shopping center had lost power, along with the entire shopping mall. The hotel staff had put out water for the dozens of stranded people in the lobby but they couldn’t check people in with their crippled systems. Sometimes our technology traps us.
So we decided to brave the drive home using alternative routes to the major highways. Using an ipad, the much maligned Apple maps Ap and cellular connectivity, we slogged along jammed roads, traversing across intersections without the aid of those rather necessary green and red lights. It took us four hours to get home in a journey that would normally take about 40 minutes in decent traffic.
Hundreds of thousands of people in a wide area around Toronto lost power that night. The next day storms threatened the region again and there were rolling blackouts. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford asked people to cut back on power consumption, saying the grid was hanging by a thread.
Was this remarkable event? For us it was. But compared to Calgary, Alberta and its devastating floods in June, Toronto go off lightly. But it’s not a competition, it’s about how climate disasters from flooding to drought are only getting worse globally.
And what are we doing about it? Our governments are moving slowly to come to grips with climate change. Besides the over arching battle to reduce emissions, cities need action plans to deal with the growing natural threats to its citizenry.
Calgary, Toronto and other cities internationally should follow the example of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After Hurricane Sandy, Bloomberg drew up a $20 billion plan to help defend against climate change in the Big Apple.
Bloomberg wants to build his house out of brick, while the rest our leaders are content with a straw and wood for our life-dependent infrastructures. Some further thoughts on that here.
A big, vexing wall that stands in the way of charting a more sensible course is the fossil fuel industry and its cabal of climate denying supporters. They have too much invested and too many payoffs to come to give up on the cash cow now. Oil magnates are pouring millions into so-called think tanks and buying up politicians so we can all live the dangerous status quo. Check out this appalling info graphic on U.S. lawmakers and their ties to the oil industry.
Hmmm, it’s like a fossil fuel conspiracy against the planet. They should make a movie. Let’s call it “Earth Ship Down.” But will it have a happy ending?