by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
In the wake of an unprecedented number of extreme weather events in the last several years, Weather Gone Wild explores the significance of these events as well as strategies we could employ in order to mitigate them. Although each weather event taken alone could be chalked up to a “hundred year storm” or an anomaly, the sheer number of major storms, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and other extreme weather at scales larger than have been previously seen and in locations where these events were not previously normative indicates a global stage of climate change that can reach each of our homes. Preparing well for these events is now a role of utmost importance for each city planner and resource manager, as well as each individual.
Created in partnership with Dreamfilm and CBC-TV in Canada, Weather Gone Wild focuses attention on extreme flooding events in 2013 in Toronto, Ontario; Manitoba; and Calgary, Alberta, as well as drought conditions across Canada’s farm belt. To make the case for the importance of mitigation strategies, the filmmakers point out that extreme weather events cost Canada about $1 billion/year from 2010-2012, and jumped to $8 billion in 2013. They point out that homeowners also bore the brunt of many of the costs, since insurance policies generally did not cover floods coming overland, but only floods due to sewer system failures. They ask the question, “How do we get ahead of the curve so we’re not just responding to a crisis?” By showing the expected and actual floodplains, the failure of aging city infrastructure, and the results on real families who in some cases did not get to move back into their homes, the filmmakers make a strong case for pre-planned mitigation strategies.
The film includes information and video footage from Superstorm Sandy in New York, communities in southern Florida threatened by rising seas, overpopulation in Bangladesh due to extreme weather in other areas of the South Pacific, let alone its own threat due to rising seas, and mitigation strategies in the Netherlands’ famously below sea level communities. Throughout the film, viewers are introduced to individuals struggling to rebuild after catastrophic events, city planners and government officials working on mitigation strategies and changes to city infrastructure, and activists seeking climate justice.
While the film is, perhaps, a bit overdramatic in parts, it holds a decent balance of showing the true severity of these events, coupled with their impact on normal individuals around the world. For the most part, it refrains from using fear as an attempted motivational tactic, instead focusing on information and preparation. The film communicates many practical examples for mitigation strategies to deal more proactively with floods and drought. These include planting hardier perennial plants instead of annuals, spreading out and slowing down water through floodplains, thinking of water as a resource rather than something to get rid of through concrete flow ways, and creating natural and human-made storm surge barriers (walls, oyster reefs, natural edges and parks rather than concrete, dykes, berms, and restoration of areas such as the Everglades), and creating novel ways to situate our homes, such as floating communities. They also suggest architectural strategies such as placing electricity hubs closer to the top of buildings rather than in basements, so even if the city floods, it is not as catastrophic and difficult to recover.
I appreciate the various scales of mitigation strategies suggested by the filmmakers. Individuals can enact strategies in their homes such as installing sump pumps, window flashing, and backwater valves for situations of flooding, and planting more drought-resistant plants and crops. Businesses in charge of building and infrastructure design can develop awareness of flooding and implement design strategies to ease the impact of flooding. Cities and states or even countries can prepare through creating natural spaces as buffers and ecological cyclers, resisting the tantalizing urge to develop in floodplains, and creating larger infrastructure fixes with the capacity to save many lives in the event of sudden weather events. They call this “granular resilience”: building protection in small pieces that, taken together, can help mitigate the problems. This layering of systems from small to large, ecological to technological, can absorb the impact of climate change in different ways. Some of them even help reduce the threat of climate change.
This film would be helpful in a college or masters level classroom to help students understand the climate change problems facing us and their very real threat to each of our lives, and to not just leave it there, but to also focus on solutions at a multitude of scales. The film is only about 45 minutes long, so could be shown in a 50-minute class period. Each section fades to black, so it could be shown a little bit at a time and discussed in small chunks. Weather Gone Wild could also be shown by community groups or presented to government agencies looking for mitigation strategies. Though it has a strong focus on Canada, it is also accessible and useful for city planners in the United States or elsewhere, especially for those looking for urban planning solutions. The filmmakers include a helpful fact sheet with information about the impacts of extreme weather events and predicting their severity in coming years. This could be useful in a classroom or in convincing groups about the need to implement mitigation strategies.