'Global weirding' to blame for west coast flooding, says MUN research scientist

A Memorial University fisheries scientist and conservation biologist says last weekend's flooding shows why people should prepare for more frequent weather disasters.

Brett Favaro argues people need to be better prepared to withstand extreme weather

Floodwaters surround homes and other buildings Jan.14 in Trout River, on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula. (Twitter/@cormier_keith)

A Memorial University fisheries scientist and conservation biologist says the recent flooding shows why people should prepare for more frequent weather disasters.

"I feel like we're seeing a window into our future. The world is changing, the climate is changing, and it's changing because of human activities," Brett Favaro, told CBC's St. John's Morning Show on Friday.

"What we do in response to that change is really important, and what we're seeing now is all this infrastructure being destroyed and damaged by disasters that are related to weather events, and we know that with climate change, as it gets worse, the weather is going to get crazier as well."

'Global weirding'

Favaro calls it "global weirding" — a term he credits to Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, referring to an increase in weather phenomena that residents of an area haven't seen before, as with the west coast's flash-flooding due to high temperatures combined with frozen ground.

These things are going to happen over and over again, and we're seeing this all across the world in terms of really damaging hurricanes, wildfires, and all sorts of other disasters.- Brett Favaro

"I think this is a great example of it, of how you get these events that just don't make sense in the context of people's experiences."

What it means is that people need to make decisions about how we rebuild, he said.

"Nothing in preparation makes sense except in light of climate change. You have to look at this stuff through a climate change lens," he said.

Climate-change rapid response

"What used to be a one-in-100-year flood is now likely to be a one-in-10, or one-in-five-year flood. These things are going to happen over and over again, and we're seeing this all across the world in terms of really damaging hurricanes, wildfires, and all sorts of other disasters."

The province should have a climate change rapid-response plan, he said. And instead of putting in the same types of roads and culverts, more resilient infrastructure needs to be put in place, he added.

MUN researcher Brett Favaro says last weekend's flooding shows people should get used to more extreme weather events. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

"We should review every piece of infrastructure in the province, and say to ourselves, if this thing gets wiped out by weather, or severely damaged by weather, or really any disaster, what are we going to put in its place? And how are we going to be reasonably sure that it'll be able to take what nature's going to throw at it over the next number of years?"

Pay now or pay later

Something that can make climate change preparation a tough sell — literally — is the cost of more durable infrastructure, he said. But, he added, we'll wind up paying one way or another.

"We can pay now. We can spend a little bit more on these infrastructure projects that we put in and make them resilient to climate change," he said. "Or we can pay later. We can just have the disasters happen and just keep rebuilding it over and over again."

With files from St. John's Morning Show