July 11th, 2017 .

Hot Enough For Ya? It’s time to recognize that climate change causes wildfires

Rob Morden


It’s hard to imagine the horror.

You wake up to someone pounding on your front door. They tell you that the fire is coming faster than expected. You only have time to grab your kids and your purse, and jump in the car. You drive hard, hearing the roar of the fire, and seeing the glow in your rear-view mirror.

The next time you see your home, it’s a smoldering ruin.

This scenario isn’t from a film. It’s the reality for many people in British Columbia right now, as more than 230 wildfires burn over hundreds of square kilometres of land.

You’ll hear a lot about this on the news, but you probably won’t hear why it’s happening. And you need to.

The causes of wildfires are complex, but one thing is clear: climate change plays a major role.

Professor Lori Daniels, a professor of forest ecology at UBC, minced her words very finely, saying to the CBC, “We are on the path that was projected related to climate change. And as we look to the future, the kinds of fire weather conditions we have now that we consider extreme, when we project forward based on climate change predictions, they become more like our average conditions.”

Come on, Lori, just say it – climate change will result in more and worse wildfires.

The Natural Resources Canada website is more straightforward. “Climate change during the 21st century is expected to result in more frequent fires in many boreal forests, with severe environmental and economic consequences. . . Fire-prone conditions are predicted to increase across Canada. This could potentially result in a doubling of the amount of area burned by the end of this century, compared with amounts burned in recent decades.”

Last year Canadians watched in horror and grief as wildfires ravaged Fort McMurray, Alberta. I can understand that no-one wanted to “blame the victims” by pointing out the irony of this tragedy in the heart of the tar sands development. (Alberta’s tar sands produce some of the world’s dirtiest oil – three to four times as much greenhouse gas emissions per barrel as regular crude oil. In fact, tar sands alone spew out more CO2 than all the cars in the country combined.)

But putting our heads in the, er, tar sands isn’t a good idea. We must face up to the impacts of climate change. If we don’t, people will die.

Yes, we must act decisively to slow the progress of climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The world (minus the U.S. administration) is committed to working on that. But we can’t turn back the clock. We must plan for more wildfires, for rising sea levels, for more drought, flooding and hurricanes. We must plan for the unexpected, because no model is perfect. And we have to face the unpleasant fact that we did this to ourselves.

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