Fire and Rain
On climate change, flooding, and atmospheric rivers
Welcome to the midweek issue of Sift. Shift. Lift. Today, I am reflecting on the state of emergency in my home province of British Columbia. The third state of emergency proclaimed here in 2021.
Families still recovering from a devastating fire season now face evacuation. An animal welfare crisis looms as farmers are forced to flee their farms, leaving horses, cattle, and chickens behind. Lives are lost to mudslides. And, for the first time since the Trans Canada Highway was constructed, western communities are completely cut off from the rest of Canada, raising questions about our food supply.
In this issue, we consider the impact of atmospheric rivers—from beneficial to catastrophic—and revisit the connection between mental health and climate change. As always, we turn to academics, artists, and activists for insight.
Sift through research and data to better understand the effects of climate change on atmospheric rivers
This morning, I stumbled across this brief overview of the classification system used to express the level of threat posed by an atmospheric river. It is similar to the classification system used for hurricanes but much less familiar to most of us. (Thanks to climate change, that may not be the case for long.)
What is an atmospheric river? According to the website of the American Meteorological Society, an atmospheric river is:
A long, narrow, and transient corridor of strong horizontal water vapor transport that is typically associated with a low-level jet stream ahead of the cold front of an extratropical cyclone. The water vapor in atmospheric rivers is supplied by tropical and/or extratropical moisture sources. Atmospheric rivers frequently lead to heavy precipitation where they are forced upward—for example, by mountains or by ascent in the warm conveyor belt. Horizontal water vapor transport in the midlatitudes occurs primarily in atmospheric rivers and is focused in the lower troposphere. Atmospheric rivers are the largest "rivers" of fresh water on Earth, transporting on average more than double the flow of the Amazon River.
Want to learn more? This article by Tom Corringham from the University of California San Diego is a good starting point.
“Atmospheric river storms can drive costly flooding – and climate change is making them stronger,” The Conversation (January 27, 2020).
Let music speak truth to power
We have long referred to floods as “acts of God” but this is disingenuous. There is a clear causal relationship between human activity and climate change—and between climate change and extreme flooding caused by atmospheric rivers that have grown wilder, wider, and wetter in recent years.
I have had Randy Newman’s song Louisiana 1927 running through my mind (and now my speakers) this morning. Through his lyrics, Newman evokes the tragedy of that devastating flood and calls to task those who brought it about by reshaping the land, and diverting the flow of water to poor neighbourhoods, in the interest of profits.
Want to know the story behind the song?
Read “Behind the Song: Randy Newman, ‘Louisiana 1927’” by Jim Beviglia, American Songwriter (2019)
Support mental health and well-being amidst climate change
On September 1st, I wrote about climate change and anxiety in the wake of the fires that ravaged much of the world throughout 2021. Today, I am reposting what I wrote in the “Lift” section as it seems especially relevant.
As governments, non-profit organizations, and businesses focus on how to feed and shelter communities, generate power, fix infrastructure, and try to get things “back to normal” as soon as possible, people’s psychological health and safety needs to be tended as well.
For more information, read:
“Focus on climate change and mental health",” Nature (2018).
In recent years, some individuals and organizations have begun to rally around this issue and a growing body of therapists are promoting “climate-aware” support. You can find out more by visiting the website of the Climate Psychiatry Alliance.
You can read the whole issue from September 1, 2021 here:
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