Spreading Like Wildfire

2 0
Read Time:6 Minute, 35 Second

A Breakdown of Canada’s 2023 Blazes

As wildfires raged across Canada, many Canadian cities were left paralyzed by the dangerous smoke in the air. 10.6 million acres have burned in 2023, which is already 15 times higher than the average burning in the country. In Nova Scotia, the record-setting fire burned down or damaged 250 buildings and evacuated 18,000 people. Air quality in Toronto was the fourth-worst in the world, with outside air being dangerous for even healthy people to breathe. Some could not work; others were forced to work in these hazardous conditions. Smoke spread into the United States, at one point giving New York City the worst air quality in the world. These wildfires’ destruction and health dangers cannot be understated, but why are they happening more often and more intensely?

Climate Change and Wildfires

Of course, the answer is our good friend, climate change. As the climate gets warmer, vegetation dries out more, becoming the perfect fuel to start wildfires and helping them spread more quickly, making them harder to get under control and ultimately extinguish. Climate change also increases temperature variability, which means more heat waves. It only takes a couple of hot days in a row to dry out the landscape and increase the risk and intensity of fire.

Climate change also increases the spread of dangerous diseases and pests which attack trees. Their spread can kill large swaths of forest, leaving a path where fire can more easily start and spread.

Weather is also changing as the world continues to pump out carbon. Firstly, more thunderstorms are forming in Canada, which leads to increased lightning strikes that can ignite the fuel mentioned above. Lightning strikes cause around 50% of forest fires and are predicted to almost double by 2100, leading to many more fires. Second, windy weather is more frequent, especially simultaneously with hot and dry conditions. This weather is also beginning to sit in the same place for longer, making droughts especially damaging and fire-inducing.

A dried out first ripe for fire

The World’s Wildfires

As these fires raged and smoke spread to the United States, many headlines read “Canadian Wildfires causing smoke,” “Health Risks from Canadian Wildfires,” etc. The fires were always belonging to Canada, shifting the blame to Canada. But this is not the case. The wildfires are not Canada’s, but the world’s. Climate change is the main culprit for the increase in fire frequency and intensity, and every country in the world contributes to it, including Canada. The whole world is responsible for reducing their carbon emissions to a) protect themselves from smoke burning in neighbouring forested countries and b) protect the citizens and biodiversity living in and near the world’s forests.

The use of language in the media shifts blame to countries or even provinces/states where fires are taking place, which can lead those who experience the effects of the travelling smoke to feel overly victimized, possibly causing tensions between nations, but more importantly, allowing them to feel complacent in their governments’, corporations’, and own role in the climate change which leads to the increased fires. Shifting blame to the countries where fires burn will only slow the response to climate change and cause increased international tensions.

Of course, countries like Canada, Brazil, and Russia have the added responsibility of properly managing their vast forests to protect them from large, anthropogenic fires. However, fires will happen; that is simply a fact of life on our planet. And they will continue to increase as the climate changes. It is unreasonable to assume these countries can out-manage fire; it is impossible. So, while some of the onus lies in their governments’ hands, this is only a portion of the problem.

The Need to Adapt

In most of Canada, especially as you travel more East, people are not used to the outside air being dangerous to breathe. Many companies do not have measures to protect their outdoor workers besides cancelling work, which includes cancelling wages. Outdoor workers in essential services such as grocery stores are forced to continue in dangerous conditions. Canada is not ready for smoke which will soon become frequent. Governmental regulations protecting workers are not yet sophisticated enough, and many of the decisions are left up to individuals who are not experts on public health. The government must quickly develop regulations to guide employers on when it is safe to work and how to protect their workers. Low air quality procedures will have to be included in employee training, and citizens must learn to exercise, get groceries, and stay sane while going outside as little as possible. Some issues have no solutions, such as walking a dog.

Masks can help with being outside in smoke, but they are not the perfect solution. First off, only N95 masks help protect against smoke. Even these do not offer complete protection, as incorrect sizing or wearing techniques can decrease protection. Even when worn perfectly, 5% of smoke still gets through. Finally, these masks do not protect against toxic gases which can come along with wildfire smoke. N95 masks are a big help to breathing during smokey periods, but society cannot rely on them and ignore the issues of the fires. These masks are not available to everyone worldwide and produce a lot of garbage. During especially fire-ridden seasons, there may be shortages.

A family protecting themselves against forest fire smoke

Some Good News

To brighten the end of this article, let’s highlight some of the international goodwill countries are extending towards Canada. Hundreds of firefighters from the United States, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France, Portugal, and Spain are travelling to Canada to help fight the widespread and simultaneous fires. It is reassuring to see that with this international issue, there is international support.

South African firefighters arriving in Edmonton

Works Cited

“2023 Nova Scotia Wildfires.” Wikipedia, 6 June 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_Nova_Scotia_wildfires.

Climate Atlas of Canada. “Forest Fires and Climate Change | Climate Atlas of Canada.” Climateatlas.ca, 2016, climateatlas.ca/forest-fires-and-climate-change.

https://www.facebook.com/134091736609333. “Dancing South African Fire Fighters Arrive in Canada to Help Fight the Blaze – Okayplayer.” Www.okayafrica.com, www.okayafrica.com/south-africa-viral-firemen-canada/. Accessed 15 June 2023.

https://www.facebook.com/jennifinkink. “Officials Recommend N95 Mask for Wildfire Smoke.” Newsweek, 16 Nov. 2018, www.newsweek.com/california-wildfire-smoke-n95-mask-how-long-does-it-last-how-do-you-use-it-1219963. Accessed 15 June 2023.

INFORM.KZ. “3,000 Hectares of Forests Dried out in Atyrau Region.” Казинформ, 23 Nov. 2018, www.inform.kz/en/3-000-hectares-of-forests-dried-out-in-atyrau-region_a3463935. Accessed 15 June 2023.

IQAir. “World Air Quality Index (AQI) Ranking | AirVisual.” Www.airvisual.com, 2023, www.iqair.com/ca/world-air-quality-ranking.

Lowrey, Annie. “New York Failed the Smoke Test.” The Atlantic, 9 June 2023, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/06/nyc-failed-smoke-test/674347/. Accessed 15 June 2023.

LUTHULI, Zama. “South Africa Sends Hundreds of Firefighters to Canada.” Www.barrons.com, 13 June 2023, www.barrons.com/news/south-africa-sends-hundreds-of-firefighters-to-canada-3da5742e. Accessed 14 June 2023.

Washington State Department of Health. Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks. July 2019, clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/dept/files/public-health/wildfire%20smoke/DOH_Wildfire_Smoke_Face_Masks_Factsheet.pdf.

Williams, Nia. “Wildfires Burn across Canada with Little Relief in Sight.” Reuters, 8 June 2023, www.reuters.com/world/americas/wildfires-burn-across-canada-with-little-relief-sight-2023-06-08/.

Williams, Nia, and Ismail Shakil. “International Help Rolls in to Fight Persistent Canadian Wildfires.” Reuters, 9 June 2023, www.reuters.com/world/americas/wildfires-burn-across-canada-with-little-relief-sight-2023-06-08. Accessed 14 June 2023.

About Post Author

Simon Lindsay-Stodart

Simon is currently studying sustainability at McGill University with a minor in Political Science. He is passionate about sustainable urban development, state-level action, and individual sustainable lifestyle changes. He has been a passionate advocate for climate change prevention since he was very young, and likes to present ways to solve the problems we face as a society and as individuals.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
100 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *