New Green Party leader knows the trauma of environmental damage first-hand

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This week:

  • New Green Party leader knows the trauma of environmental damage first-hand
  • What goes in circles and reduces carbon emissions?
  • Lake Manitoba shows off rare ice formations

New Green Party leader knows the trauma of environmental damage first-hand

(Submitted by Amita Kuttner)

What On Earth52:57River above, trouble below: A What On Earth special report

A “river in the sky” triggered landslides and floods that brought the climate crisis home. In this special report, hear what happened in B.C., and how to chart a path forward with solutions, strength, and hope. 52:57

Like many people, new interim Green Party Leader Amita Kuttner has watched the aftermath of the storm that claimed several lives and caused untold damage to livelihoods and infrastructure in B.C. with concern and dismay. But for Kuttner, it hits harder. Their mother was killed and father severely injured in January 2005 when their house was crushed in a landslide in North Vancouver — triggered by what Kuttner later learned was an atmospheric river

Kuttner runs the Moonlight Institute, a non-profit that explores ways to adapt to the climate crisis, and spoke with What On Earth host Laura Lynch last week, before announcing their new political role. 

Q: What happened in January of 2005?

A: I was away at boarding school in California, which is the only reason I survived. It was about 3:30 in the morning on Jan. 19, after days and days of rain, which I found out years later was an atmospheric river. And I had gotten an email from my mother the night before that actually said that the basement was flooding. And at 3:30 in the morning, the hillside came crashing down onto my house, through my parents’ bedroom, and killed my mother.… My dad happened to be in the bathtub at the time, because he’d been up late cleaning the basement. They’d fallen asleep. He managed to stand up, and so he got transported down the hill and stayed alive, amazingly, [though] smashed to pieces. But alive. What had caused the mudslide was a bit complicated. There was an illegal pond, I believe, installed at the property above, and fill had been added, which exacerbated the mudslide risk. But there was actually a known risk of mudslides for that slope, and technically … there shouldn’t have been a development there in the first place. 

Q: What has gone through your mind as you what’s unfolded in B.C.? 

A: I’m angry. I’m frustrated because these sorts of things are predictable. Perhaps not in perfect detail. You don’t know exactly what the flooding is going to be like. You don’t know exactly which [hillside] is going to come down, but we know we have mudslide risk. We know … when atmospheric rivers are coming, we know when we’re going to have a huge amount of rainfall. 

So I’m looking for: Where was the preparation? Where was the mobilization beforehand? And then in the aftermath as well, I’m looking at the same thing: everybody going about their business, like nothing is going on, being swept off roadways, being trapped over and over … some sort of personal awareness that this was possibly coming would have made a huge difference. 

Q: It seems there’s an opportunity now, in the wake of this, to try to do something differently. What would you like to see municipal, provincial and federal governments do to prevent this kind of loss of life and damage?

A: I would like to see a strategy combining all levels of government working together for both adaptation and mitigation. So, talking about what can we do beforehand, where and how are we mapping risk for many different types of disasters. And also, so that we’re ready to alert people that something might be coming so that they themselves can get prepared — helping individuals, helping families, helping communities get ready for things. Understanding the risk. And then making sure that there is an actual, more real and detailed awareness of what the risks are and then having a co-ordinated response and adaptation methods and methodologies across every single level of government. Because on the ground, it’s going to often fall to municipalities to do the detailed work of how you actually prepare. But response comes from every level and has to be ready before you’re actually in the middle of a disaster. 

Q: You’ve spoken about how the events in British Columbia over the last several days have been triggering for you, and that causes you to relive the trauma. How do you cope? 

A: Good counselling.… I have PTSD and I’ve been working with therapists for years on trauma counselling, but it’s difficult and … you know, I’m listening to people tell the stories of watching their homes be swept away. And it hits very deeply. You know, it’s one thing to empathize with people whose experiences you don’t recognize, and another to know exactly how they feel.

Q: If you could offer advice to people who have been traumatized by such events, what would you say to them? 

A: More than anything else, give yourself space, time and patience to know that getting past this, getting through this, getting to a point where you feel comfortable again, you feel whole again, you feel safe again, is possible and it will happen. It will take time. The road will have ups and downs. And to not be afraid to seek community, to seek support and to also acknowledge that this is incredibly difficult and caring for oneself … is important. 

Manusha Janakiram

This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full interview, listen to What On Earth on CBC Radio One on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m in Newfoundland, or any time on podcast or CBC Listen.

Reader feedback

Terry McDonald: “Thank you for helping to dispel the myth of ‘overpopulation’ and climate change. While many consider Canada underpopulated, we are, in fact, overpopulated due to our consumption habits.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There’s also a radio show and podcast! In the wake of storms on both the East and West Coasts that washed out highways and caused flooding, What On Earth revisits the community of High River, Alta., to learn how people there coped with damage and trauma. What On Earth airs Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: Roundabouts

The global effort to reduce carbon emissions and stave off the most destructive impacts of climate change often circles back to the big strategies — phasing out fossil fuels, planting more trees, electrifying (pretty much) everything. But smaller initiatives also play a role, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Take roundabouts. They have long been a fixture in Europe, but they’re finding a greater foothold in North America. The New York Times recently published a story about Carmel, Ind., which has the distinction of having the most roundabouts in the U.S. This city of about 100,000 people has 140 roundabouts, and there are more to come. Roundabouts, as an alternative to intersections with lights, have not only been shown to improve traffic flow and reduce injuries, but they actually help reduce emissions, because cars aren’t stopping and starting as much — a process that emits a fair amount of carbon.

(Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

Lake Manitoba shows off rare ice formations

(Submitted by Peter Hofbauer)

Mother Nature has turned Lake Manitoba into a visual art project that has an ice expert in awe.

What would typically be a flat, frozen surface has been turned into something more resembling pebbles and stones, as far as the eye can see.

In another area, the water has crystallized into geometric lines that look like someone spilled a box of toothpicks or needles on the ground and they froze there.

Glaciologist Jeff Kavanaugh says it’s all due to supercooled water — water that remains liquid below its normal freezing point — being moved and rolled by wind as it begins to solidify.

The round, stone-like shapes are actually known as slush balls — “a very poetic name, I know,” he said with a chuckle. They are the rarer phenomenon of the two — so much so that Kavanaugh, an associate professor in earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Alberta, has never experienced them in person.

“It’s something I would definitely like to see,” he told host Marcy Markusa in an interview with CBC’s Information Radio on Tuesday.

The ice anomalies were spotted on the weekend by Peter Hofbauer, who owns Steep Rock Kayak and Canoe on the eastern shore of the lake, about 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

He took photos and posted them on Instagram with the simple question: “Have you ever seen the lake freeze like this?” 

The post has been liked and shared hundreds of times, with many people calling the formations beautiful, amazing and fascinating. “Nature is incredible and so are these pics,” another person posted.

Hofbauer told Markusa he was kayaking exactly seven days before he took the photos. After doing some research about the ice shapes, he found a certain set of conditions had to come together at the right time — rapidly cooling air temperature, open water close to being frozen and the right amount of wind.

“The water created these balls of ice and they just accumulated against the shore, and it seemed to just spread out over the lake as far as I could see,” he said.

According to Kavanaugh, that’s exactly right. There has to be a brief window where the water is open but also cold enough at the surface that these slush balls can form from wave action.

“If it’s windy enough to whip up the water, there can be droplets that pop into the air and freeze and fall back as ice,” he said. “And if there’s enough wave action from that wind, instead of forming the pancake ice, those pancakes are broken up, and they roll around in the waves and form these slush balls.”

Curious about the underside, Hofbauer went out Monday night and cut out a section to look at the bottom, which was much smoother. But he noted that shortly after they were removed from the mass, the balls turned into snow. 

“That’s why they call it slush balls,” said Kavanaugh. “They’re very much like if you took a snowball — a weakly compacted snowball … and put it in water. They’re pretty delicate.”

As for the stick-like formations, each of which was about eight centimetres long, Hofbauer found those along very thin ice at the shore.

Those are again formed by supercooled water, but with less wave influence, Kavanaugh said.

“In a calm condition, the water molecules can arrange themselves into these crystals and they tend to grow like needles. You’ll see this sometimes in puddles on the sidewalk after a rain and then the following cold snap,” he said.

Unaware of the less-than-scientific name for the round slush balls, Hofbauer created his own Latin name for the phenomenon: Cryolapidarius maritimus, which he says means “stone formations that are cold from the sea.”

“Yup, a much better name than slush balls,” said Kavanaugh.

Darren Bernhardt

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