Reality check—there’s no ‘climate emergency’ in Vancouver

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Appeared in the Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2019
Reality check—there’s no ‘climate emergency’ in Vancouver

Recently, city councils in North Vancouver and West Vancouver declared a “climate emergency.” In doing so—unanimously, no less—they are the latest cities to jump on one of the most bizarre bandwagons of modern times.

The whole movement is an abuse of language and common sense. An emergency is something you call 9-1-1 about. And you call when it’s happening, not when you get a vague inkling that it might happen a decade from now.

Those who defend these gestures insist that a climate emergency is, in fact, happening all around us, and to prove it they rattle off unsubstantiated slogans about the weather getting worse and more extreme. But is this really happening in Vancouver? Let’s find out.

Temperature records for Vancouver begin in 1896. Looking at the 100 years from 1918 to 2018, February and September average daytime highs rose slightly, at about 1.5 degrees per century, while the other 10 months did not exhibit a statistically significant trend. Looking at the interval from 1938 forward, no month exhibits a significant upward trend in average daytime highs, in fact four months went down slightly. Looking at 1958 to the present, four months warmed slightly, but the annual average daytime high did not exhibit a significant trend.

Once we get past the 1940s, a lot more measures are available. The website disseminates everything available in the modern records from Environment and Climate Change Canada. Go to their website, and when you have called up the Vancouver page, click on the “Charts” button.

Since 1942 Vancouver has rarely had days with average temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius. The decade with the most was the 1960s, with seven. In the 2000s there were six. The present decade so far has only had one. The most in a single year was 2009 with four—1960 and 1942 are tied for second with three.

The record for the highest humidex level (reaching 38 degrees C) is a tie between 2009, 1998 and 1961. So far this decade the average has bounced around within the historical range but hasn’t trended up.

In sum, no sign of a heatwave emergency.

Total annual precipitation records for Vancouver begin in 1937. The wettest year was 1997—more than 20 years ago. Second place is 1983, even further back. On average, the last two decades have been a bit wetter, but less variable, than the 1980s and ’90s. Looking at the annual number of very wet days, where more than an inch of rain falls in 24 hours, the record was set in 1996 with 13 downpour days. Tied for second place (with 11 days) are 2017, 1984, 1983 and 1980.

So I’m not seeing a precipitation emergency. It’s true that precipitation tends to fall more now as rain than snow. The 1950s through the 1970s were snowier. But it’s still variable. Years with less than five centimetres of snow include 2015, 1999, 1951 and 1937.

Are Vancouver windstorms getting worse? Windspeed records begin in 1953. The highest gusts (89 kilometres per hour) were recorded in 1960 and 1961. Second place is 82 km/h in both 2001 and 2003. Other than those two years, maximum gusts have stayed within their historical range of between 60 and 80 km/h so far this century. The hourly mean wind speed has been very steady since the 1990s at between 12 and 14 km/h. So, no windstorm emergency.

Clearly, there’s no climate emergency in the Vancouver area. Amid the ordinary variability of nature, today’s weather is about the same as it’s been for as far back as the records go. If you think Vancouver is an exception in this regard, go to and find a location with a supposed crisis. Lotsa luck.

Activists are convincing city councillors and parliamentarians around the world to, at best, waste time on meaningless symbolic declarations, and at worst, lay the groundwork for even more extreme and ill-advised climate policy misadventures. That’s the real emergency.

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