Nova Scotia·Q&A

Coping with extreme weather calls for new thinking, climate researcher says

Climate researcher Stephanie Sodero has written a book on the need to find alternate ways to get around after severe storms damage roads and make cars useless.

Storms in Atlantic Canada show the need for alternate transport including ATVs, boats

Destruction from post-tropical storm Fiona on Big Island in Pictou County, N.S. The causeway to the island was cut off in the wake of the storm. (Robert Short/CBC)

A researcher from Nova Scotia says the province can learn lessons from past hurricanes to minimize the widespread disruption of transportation caused by extreme weather.

Stephanie Sodero is a lecturer in climate crises at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester in the U.K.  She has written a new book called Under the Weather that urges an environmental approach to weather resiliency.

Sodero spoke with Information Morning Nova Scotia host Portia Clark about the need to look at alternate ways of coping after major storms which are becoming more common with climate change.

This is a condensed version of their conversation that has been edited for clarity and length.

What can we learn from hurricanes on our coasts? In her new book Under the Weather, Nova Scotian researcher Stephanie Sodero has been studying ways of reducing the chaos and disruption that extreme weather brings, and the lessons from hurricanes like Dorian and Fiona.

One of your key points in this book is that we need to prepare more for these kinds of storms with a focus on our mobility. Why is looking at mobility so key to our preparedness?

I was undertaking research on Hurricane Igor which hit Newfoundland [in 2010] and there were widespread road and bridge washouts which may sound very familiar to people in Nova Scotia.

As a result of those washouts, people could not get to critical medical appointments like chemotherapy and dialysis and medical goods such as insulin or methadone or even non-medical goods such as infant formula couldn't get into communities.

There's this vital need to look at how we move things and people and services and are they subject to disruption in the case of severe weather.

A woman wearing pink framed glasses holds up a book with the title Under the Weather.
Stephanie Sodero is a lecturer in climate crises at the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute at the University of Manchester and author of the book Under the Weather. (Stephanie Sodero)

Is this a case of looking at how we need to become less reliant on mobility and more self-sufficient?

In the book I describe mobility, transport, the way we move things and people, is built into the DNA of our society. So accessing health care, accessing education, supply chains, they all rely on mobility of various scales. Some are international and some are local.

These mobilities are often powered by fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, and then in turn severe weather events disrupt these mobilities that we rely upon.

It is important to look at how we can avoid and prepare for disruption in the future.

We're talking a lot now about zero-emission vehicles to adjust the climate end of things, but then they rely on electricity. Here in Nova Scotia, as you know, when we have storms, the power goes out. How much of a problem does that pose?

Electric vehicles are part of the solution. We need to get off fossil fuels and moving to electric vehicles is definitely part of that picture but unfortunately it's not the whole picture.

With electric vehicles we have all the same problems we have with gas powered cars, traffic congestion, parking, inequities in terms of who is able to access transport.

In terms of my book, the focus is on disruption. So if the electricity grid is down, then electric vehicles are limited in their ability to help you. If the road is washed out, then an electric vehicle is not going to get you or a loved one to a hospital if needed. And likewise, if a tree falls on your vehicle during a hurricane season, that's going to impede your mobility.

So we need to look beyond electric vehicles to ask how can we meet our needs in different ways.

Are we talking about fleets of quads being part of of some emergency response even if they are electric or even if they rely on fossil fuels?

It's thinking outside of the box and the box being the vehicle, the four-wheeled cars that dominate our mobility landscape.

What was really neat about Hurricane Igor and the response in Newfoundland is that when the road network went down, there were these massive road and bridge washouts isolating 100 communities for up to 10 days — in the absence of the regular way of getting around all of these alternate ways emerged. Whether it was someone hiking through the woods to get medication to someone seconding ferries or skiffs. Also, part of that landscape was quads or off-highway vehicles or ATV's.

It's important to have diversity in terms of having backups and thinking about moving things and people and services in a different way.

What other ways do you see opportunities in disaster?

Acknowledging that events like hurricanes Dorian or Fiona are devastating for certain households and communities, that there is this potential to do things differently. That disruption can shake things up and show that actually we can move differently. Different routes, different ways of getting around, different paces of getting around. It might be a slower way of getting around, but different ways are possible.

I think in a bigger picture, it's really exciting to think about ... how we make our communities more equitable and increase access for children, for senior citizens, for people with disabilities.

I think there's a tremendous possibility and I think that's why I've been able to stay in this field for so long is that I see that the possibilities for wonderful new ways of being and doing and moving.

Where is your research going next?

I'm quite excited because my research is taking me back to Halifax, hopefully for six months from July to January, where I'm going to be looking at the impacts of severe weather events on medical supply chains, a very specific facet of mobility.

So if there are any listeners who are interested in this issue in Nova Scotia, then I'm up for a conversation.


With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia