Wildfire smoke

As Western Canada chokes on smoke, it’s time to get real about climate change

Each and everyone of us has a role to play in ensuring our governments take action

As I write this from my home office in Victoria, the air quality is 10+ or “very high risk” due to smoke from B.C.’s wildfires. I’m avoiding going outside at all due to asthma and am keeping all windows and doors shut.

As with many others, a sense of foreboding is settling in as I contemplate what summers will look like in 10, 20, 30 years from now.

The air quality in western Canada has been some of the worst in the world this past week. Flights and sporting events have been cancelled in the Okanagan and residents report near total darkness in the middle of the day in Prince George.

Already this summer, wildfires have killed at least 91 people in Greece, resulted in evacuations above the Arctic circle in Sweden and destroyed more than 1,000 homes in California.

None of this is a coincidence. The science is clear: heat-trapping greenhouse gases are warming the planet. More extreme heat, more severe droughts and more lightning strikes increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

While no single wildfire can be attributed to climate change, for years climate scientists have predicted hotter, longer wildfire seasons.

The number of wildfires sparked in Canada each year has doubled since 1970, according to Mike Flannigan, a professor in the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta.

“My colleagues and I attribute this to human-caused climate change,” he told The Narwhal. “I can’t be more clear on that. Human-caused climate change.”

While the media often fails to connect the dots between wildfires and climate change, could there be a more visceral reminder of what we’re doing to our planet than having to stay inside because the air is too dangerous to breathe?

Economic arguments shouldn’t only count when they’re promoting the expansion of fossil fuels. In 2017 alone, fighting B.C. fires cost nearly $560 million and some 65,000 people were forced to evacuate.

A healthy economic future can only exist with a healthy planet. Now — more than ever —  is the time to do everything in our power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization released its 25th annual Statement on the State of the Global Climate, noting that the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 were warmer than any years on record prior to 2015.

The latest projections indicate the world is heading for a temperature increase of 3.2 C by 2100. Scientists estimate that 275 million people worldwide live in areas that will be flooded at 3 Celsius of global warming.

“[We] still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” Erik Solheim, the UN environment chief, told The Guardian for this article featuring jaw-dropping maps of the flood zones.

You may not be alive in 2100, but chances are your children or grandchildren will be. What will you tell them you did in 2018, when there was still a chance of averting the worst of the climate catastrophe?

Let’s talk about what I mean when I say everything in our power. So often the argument is made that because we can’t solve the entire global climate crisis, we shouldn’t do anything. This is a race to the bottom. We couldn’t win the Second World War on our own either, but we still sent troops.

Each and everyone of us has a role to play in ensuring our own governments — local, provincial and federal — take action on climate change.

First and foremost, we can show support for governments who are sticking their necks out on climate change. At a time when many governments are backsliding on carbon taxes, this is more important than ever.

Here’s what you can do:

  • If you live in Alberta, send an email to your MLA letting them know you support the implementation of a carbon tax and phase-out of coal-fired power and encourage them to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Let them know they won’t have your vote in next year’s election without action on climate change.
  • If you live in B.C., contact your MLA and let them know you support increasing the carbon tax and want them to heed the warnings in the auditor general’s report on climate change.
  • If you live in Ontario, start organizing now to make sure a government receptive to taking action on climate change is elected next time around.
  • If you live in another province or territory, contact your local politicians and let them know you support immediate action on climate change.

Perhaps most important of all, don’t lose interest in this topic as soon as the smoke subsides.

As the climate crisis ramps up, environmental coverage in major publications is ramping down due to layoffs of reporters. The Narwhal exists solely to cover Canada’s natural world — stay informed on climate change and other pressing environmental issues by subscribing to our free weekly newsletter.

Lastly, if these wildfires have woken you up to the climate crisis, please, whatever you do, don’t stop now. Stay informed. Talk to friends and family about the wildfire-climate connection and encourage them to stay informed as well.

In 1987, the world came together to protect the ozone layer. More than 98 per cent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out and the hole in the Antarctic ozone is shrinking.

The world has worked together to solve big problems before. And we can do it again.

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