When a tragedy like the fire earlier this month in Fort McMurray strikes, we absolutely have to acknowledge the terrible loss of homes, the displacement of thousands of residents, and the devastation it leaves behind. But we also have to talk about the causes of the tragedy, and that includes climate change.
To ignore that the intensity of the fire in Fort McMurray is a result of increased temperatures, longer fire seasons, and hotter, drier weather would be to ignore an opportunity to illustrate what can happen in these conditions and what is likely to be more frequent as these conditions are only exacerbated by climate change.
Due to climate change and higher average temperatures, fire seasons are being extended and we are experiencing more frequent, intense fires. According to Natural Resources Canada, “recent years have seen more destructive fires in terms of area covered,” as the CBC reports. David Andison, an adjunct professor in the faculty of forestry at UBC, was quoted by the CBC as saying that “climate change models and research all point to the idea that fire season is going to be longer in the coming years, and the fires will be more severe.”
The question isn’t whether we should be talking about this reality, but how. There is no need to frame the dialogue as a kind of ‘I told you so’ message; but we do need to point out that there is more where that came from, and our wildfire seasons are going to become longer and more intense. Mentioning the link to climate change is not a negation of the suffering that the residents of Fort McMurray have experienced, and it is not meant to be insensitive. It is, in fact, only natural to question the cause of tragic events.
The question isn’t whether we should be talking about this reality, but how.
It’s a shame that climate change — a topic that affects us all and threatens our very survival — has become politicized and taboo. Green Party leader Elizabeth May was met with backlash when she stated that there is a link between forest fires and climate change, even though she was simply speaking the truth.
Justin Trudeau said, “What we are focussed on right now on [sic] is giving the people of Fort McMurray, and across Alberta, the kind of support that they need.” While saying that it’s not time to lay blame, he sidestepped the question of climate change and avoided angering those at either end of the political spectrum. By taking the ambivalent, balanced approach, Trudeau may have also made May look too reactionary — but ignoring the link is a detriment to us all.
It’s never too soon to talk about something that affects everyone, and we can’t ignore that climate change played a role in this devastation. With an unusually dry and warm winter, low precipitation, early snow melt, and a warmer than usual spring — all effects of climate change — the fire quickly grew out of control.
When it comes to the cause, we are all to blame. We are all users of oil. We are all responsible for acknowledging the connection to these extreme weather events and taking action to prevent the continued warming of our planet.