Charting the rise in natural catastrophes

The number of “significant” natural catastrophes in North America causing more than $1 billion in losses of more than 50 deaths, 1950-2012:

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Number of natural catastrophes in North America, 1980-2011:

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For the climate change skeptics in the audience, these charts come not the Ecology Action Centre, the Natural Resources Defence Council, or the Pembina Institute, but from Munich Re, a $265-billion company that is one of the world’s leading reinsurance brokers. (A reinsurer is an outfit that re-sells insurance liabilities when the risk becomes too great for a single retail firm, so it is on the front lines when catastrophic events loom.)

Bear in mind, this is what has already happened, when the sea level rise and ocean warming forecast by climate scientists has barely begun.

Both charts originated in Severe weather in North America: Perils · Risks · Insurance, a 260-page report Munich Re produced on the rise in major natural events. Perhaps because our coastlines are so built up, the rise is occurring faster in North American than in other parts of the world. The top chart is reproduced in a 44-page report of a forum hosted by the Washington DC-baseed Urban Land Institute: Risk & Resilience in Coastal Regions: A ULI Global Policy and Practice Forum Report [PDF]. The bottom chart appears in a 12-page executive summary [PDF] Munich Re’s report, the full version of which is available from the company for $100.

Take a walk along the shoreline of any city in Atlantic Canada. The Gabarus Sea Wall ain’t the only thing we need to be worried about.

H/T: Richard Stephenson

How HRM’s anti-sprawl policies foster more sprawl

Richard Stevenson, one of the province’s top water and sewer engineers, spends a lot of time thinking about how the province can cope with its crumbling municipal infrastructure. He has come to the conclusion HRM’s stringent regulations governing development actually work against the stated goals of the city’s planning department.

HRM espouses a policy of increasing the density of the urban core, but its own planning regulations result in lower population densities.

  • R-1 single family zoning limits population density to 20 persons per acre, or 45 persons per hectare (to protect us against barrio-like overcrowding, I presume).
  • The city also requires that we design the number of single family serviced lots based on a minimum housing density of 3.35 persons per household.
  • The math is simple and leads to a maximum house count of about six houses per acre.

Census Canada’s records show the actual R-1 housing occupancy in the Halifax Census Metropolitan Area is less than 2.8 persons per single family lot, or 16.8 persons per acre—only 83.8% of their intended density.

The same problem applies to duplex, townhouse, and multi-unit  developments within HRM. Actual housing unit occupancies are all significantly lower than the design numbers.  This may seem like a small matter, but it results in fewer occupants per acre, less taxation per acre for HRM, less revenue from water and wastewater rates, lower utilization rates for all infrastructure systems, and larger infrastructure systems, which are all based on the prescribed planning occupancies.

It also results in more expensive building lots for the residents and larger mortgages per home. The developer of the residential subdivision is limited in the number of lots or units he can build, and therefore the cost per unit must increase.

If we want higher densities in our urban neighborhoods, we should adopt housing occupancy design targets that more closely approximate our falling census figures, especially since the size of the family unit appears to be falling as the baby boomers retreat to smaller residential arrangement, and their descendants stagger under the costs of maintaining the municipal infrastructure they are inheriting.

We have come to understand that we are unabl

;e to afford to expand our municipal trunk infrastructure or to fix what we have currently. Perhaps a more realistic set of population design densities would be a good first step toward increasing the density of our urban communities and making more efficient use of our expensive municipal services.

[Disclosure: Richard and I are old friends; that is, we’re both old, and we’re good friends.]

Seen over Halifax

What’s that ghostly visage cruising over Halifax on an overcast Fourth of July, 1936. Hint: take a closer look at the logo emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

It’s Luftschiff Zeppelin #129, better known as the Hindenburg, on a transatlantic flight just 10 months before its catastrophic docking at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.

The photo is one of many fascinating images on a Nova Scotia Archives web display called An East Coast Port: Halifax in Wartime, 1939-1945.

The Hindenburg overflew the city at about 1000 feet, causing the Halifax Herald to fret two days later over the possibility “those aboard the Hindenburg were taking pictures of Halifax and other places, for the files of the German air ministry.”

The same Nova Scotia Archives web feature includes film clips from the period, including this riveting footage of a German U-Boat crew surrending to US and Canadian vessels off Shelburne in 1945. Note especially the crewmen being patted down at the 0:50 second mark, and the sullen faces of the hapless submariners assembled on an unidentified wharf at the 1:30 mark. This is not how they expected their war to turn out.

UPDATE: Reader Derek Andrews points out that a dirigible—one of ours, presumably—appears in this video as well.

The Nova Scotia Archives also makes its videos available in a more user-friendly format on YouTube.

H/T: Iain Grant and Richard Stephenson, and thanks to the Archives’ social marketing whirlwind Lauren Oostveen.

That Layton surge in Quebec

What to make of the Layton’s remarkable late-campaign surge in Quebec? Contrarian friend Richard Stephenson suggests an explanation:

We have been told repeatedly that the voters are tired of these frequent (and expensive) elections. I suspect many are tired of the stories the Bloq and the Liberals have been telling. Having voted consistently for the Bloq over the past decade, maybe the people of Quebec are tired of the story they’ve been sold, and are now looking for a Federalist party they can trust….

[T]he Liberal Party in Quebec is in disgrace because of the sponsorship scandal and the ongoing scandals in the construction industry. [Quebecers] cannot vote PC (too far right, too Alberta) and they do not want to vote Liberal or Bloq, so they have only the NDP and Layton left. It’s by no means certain that the voter in Quebec would recoil from supporting a small left wing party that has no hope of becoming the government. After all this describes the Bloq, doesn’t it?

The triumph of taxophobia

Writing in Democracy, Jonathan Chait plumbs American right’s aversion to taxes:

The conservative movement’s embrace of taxophobia is probably the most important development in American political life over the last three decades. It is the one quality that most distinguishes American conservative elites from conservative elites in other countries. They’re more likely to question climate science, more sanguine about people dying for lack of health insurance, and less xenophobic (which is rather nice). But above all—far above all—they hate taxes.

Understanding the American Right is critical for Canadians, because if voters make the mistake of giving Stephen Harper a majority on May 2, we will see the same bizarre ideology shape our country in ways many Canadians have not stopped to think about.

H/T: Richard Stephenson

Visual data: land surveying in 2011

Google’s ability to produce its Street View images still leaves me gobsmacked. Now see what the land survey industry has been up to in the digital technology department: Using a portable, eye-safe, laser scanner, and traveling at posted speeds, this vehicle collects data and imagery with survey grade accuracy:

Yes, they need a better video, but still…

H/T: Richard Stephenson

The nation that pees together

Here’s a curious Olympic postscript: a printout of Halifax water consumption on the afternoon of the Olympic gold medal hockey game:

Halifax Water Flow-550

The spikes correspond with the three intermissions, and with the immediate aftermath of Crosby’s sudden-death goal and the medal ceremony. Epcor, the company that runs Edmonton’s water system, produced a similar graph for that city on the same afternoon, with the previous day’s spikeless consumption superimposed in green:

Edmonton Water Flow-550

Hat tip: R.S.

A blues anniversary

Thirty-nine years ago last night, Jimi Hendrix died in a London, England, apartment. He was 27 years old. Halifax bluesman Roger Howse honored the anniversary with an all-Hendrix third set at Bearly’s House of Blues & Ribs on Barrington Street. Contrarian friend Richard Stephenson writes:

Roger Howse 3CA fixture at Bearly’s over the last decade, the Roger Howse Band draws praise for the power of its music and the precision of Roger’s guitar work. About 12:30 this morning, following a longer than usual break, the band returned to the stage and, without fanfare, charged headlong into a ninety-minute set featuring nine Hendrix songs. The hand-written play list, now in my possession, included:

  • Stone Free
  • Drivin’ South
  • Little Wing
  • Hey Joe
  • Villa Nova Junction
  • Red House
  • Killin’ Floor
  • Voodoo Chile
  • All Along the Watchtower (encore)

The band played with energy and confidence, wasting no time between songs. The music was loud and hard-edged, the guitar work passionate and accurate. Howse attracts a knowledgeable audience, and last night’s crowd, aware of the evening’s significance, listened intently, cheering the end of each song and the opening chords of the next.

jimi-hendrix-3aCBearly’s staffers Megan McMullin, Dan Falvi, and Mimi Andriopoulos, who have seen just about everything, understood the importance of the night. Younger members of the audience pressed forward onto the dance floor in wonder at the avalanche of sound. Time flew away and we all felt the joy of hearing Hendrix again.

“I have been influenced by all of the great blues guitar players,” Roger told the crowd. “By Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B.King, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Roy Buchanan. But the man who had the biggest impact on me was Jimi Hendrix.”

I suspect there were small gatherings of fans all around the world last night, listening to his recordings and raising glasses to his memory. I doubt, however, that anyone felt closer to the spirit of the genius than the patrons at Bearly’s early this morning. We have blues guitarist Roger Howse, bassist Morrow Scott Brown, and drummer Steve Tomarelli to thank for this special occasion.

Saturday,  September 18, 2010, will be the 40th anniversary of Hendrix’s death. Perhaps the Roger Howse Band will play one more tribute to the greatest guitar player in the history of rock and roll. Thank you, Roger!