Time is now to build climate change-era infrastructure: Hume - The Star

Already, climate change costs us dearly. That hasn’t stopped us from delaying steps to ensure Toronto is prepared for a post-climate-change world.

By Christopher Hume

The Star, Nov 26th 2015


As Toronto's 2013 flooding makes clear, the cost of extreme weather events has already hit the stratosphere.

The cost of action will be huge, but nothing compared to the cost of inaction. Canada's environmental bill, long past due, will be staggering. It will run into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

But doing nothing will be even more expensive.

Already, climate change costs us dearly. Everyone here remembers the deluge that swamped Toronto in July 2013, and the ice storm that plunged thousands into darkness in December that same year. Those two extreme weather events alone led to $147 million in public sector costs — mostly overtime — and $1.1 billion in insurance claims. To raise that much, the city would have had to increase property taxes by 51 per cent.

Many more such episodes are predicted and, in fact, already happening. As these examples make clear, the price of same old, same old, has already hit the stratosphere, and will only get worse.

That hasn’t stopped us from delaying, prevaricating, putting off or even cancelling steps to ensure that Canada, let alone Toronto, are prepared for our post-climate-change world. As scary as the prospect may be, we have no choice but to construct the infrastructure we need even to pretend we have a viable future.

That means transit, more efficient building stock and a vastly expanded renewable energy network. All these will enable us to reduce fossil fuel dependency.

But these are big-ticket items. The province has stepped up with cash for some transit, but not enough to meet demand. And the city, still several decades behind the times, made its position clear when it decided it would rather spend $1.4 billion rebuilding the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway than give the TTC the budget it needs to deploy existing assets to maximum benefit. Despite the inevitable annual fare hike, the commission will end the year with a $41-million operating deficit.

“We nickel and dime the TTC at the very time when it could make a huge contribution to improving air quality, cutting greenhouse gases and reducing congestion,” says Toronto Environmental Alliance executive director, Franz Hartmann. “And I’m not sure politicians are willing to make the huge investments that are needed. All you hear is the constant refrain that ‘We can’t afford it. We can’t afford it.’”

Money, of course, is the real test of commitment. The rest is talk and good intentions. As this year reminds us yet again, little has changed. The TTC continues underfunded, its potential unrealized and always beyond reach. We’d rather expand the Gardiner than transit.

“People don’t understand,” Hartmann argues. “The cost of inaction is huge. We don’t think about things that will happen down the road. Maybe we’re in one of those transformative moments when we realize there’s a better way. But it’s easy to meet and set targets. It’s not a challenge to introduce carbon taxing; we’re playing catch-up. The question is whether governments are prepared to invest the huge amounts of money needed to truly make a difference. Way too many people drive cars; they’ve got to have options.”

Hartmann also points to the quality of new buildings, especially condo towers, going up downtown. As he says, developers tend to use cheap materials. Already, poorly manufactured glass cladding is a major problem. And why are so many condo towers without recycling facilities.

“Government regulation is one of our most powerful tools,” Hartmann argues, “but there’s a strong lobby fighting against change.

“What we really need is a study that lays out the cost of environmental inaction for homeowners, businesses, governments and so on. Until that’s done, we can’t make valid decisions.”

Until then, it’s anyone’s guess which is stronger, greed or fear. Much depends on the answer.


See the original article at: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/11/26/time-is-now-to-build-climate-change-era-infrastructure-hume.html