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Alberta floods more than a natural disaster: Hurtig

Vancouver-based, Alberta-born author Mel Hurtig is adding his voice to a chorus of authors and scientists who are connecting the floods in Alberta to climate change.

Hurtig released a statement yesterday which read in part:

"I know it may not be a popular position to take when there has been loss of life and so many people are still struggling to come to terms with the devastation, but the warnings that have been sounded for decades now have largely fallen on deaf ears. This is a huge wake-up call that the environmental disasters that have been predicted are not just predictions -- they are very real and they are happening with increasing frequency and ferocity."

Last week David Suzuki wrote an op-ed, 'Is Alberta Flooding a Sign of Climate Change?', in which he assured readers that we can expect more severe weather events like this, more frequently. "As many scientists warn, climate change isn't coming; it's here," wrote Suzuki.

Hurtig linked the floods directly to the tar sands, which he called "an environmental wound" and the reason why Canada has "scuttled every international climate change conference" and failed to meet greenhouse gas emission targets.

In 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol on climate change, abandoning the UN's legally binding plan to tackle global warming by reducing carbon emissions.

Given Prime Minister Stephen Harper's foreign policy concerning the tar sands, it seems unlikely that this federal government will heed Hurtig's call to recognize the unprecedented flooding as a man-made catastrophe and take a leadership role in arresting climate change.

When asked if he thought the floods were caused by climate change on CTV's Question Period, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said: "Well no, this is a once in a century event, and there was no one talking about man-made climate change in 1892 when we saw the last flood of this nature. We haven't had a warm spring here, we had some rain for three days and a heavy run off that lead to this situation and the stuff that I've read and commentary from scientists says that there is not a connection between weather events of this nature and broader climate issues."

However, the floods could change popular opinion around climate change, suggests David McLaughlin, former head of the now-defunct National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

McLaughlin, in an interview with Maclean's magazine this week, said that it's undeniable that a warming planet is setting off more severe weather events more frequently. While changes usually happen so slowly that we don't pay much attention to them, said McLaughlin, incredible events like the Albertan floods "may really mark a change in how people view climate, the issues of climate."

Hurtig hopes so.

"As a fellow Albertan, I know it's hard to accept that the major source of the province's economic success is also the source of so much suffering and economic devastation. But it is a fact that we must come to terms with before the costs of climate change escalate even further," he stated.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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