Canadian Wildfires Are Spreading, What Should Be Done About It?

Published on:
by Eric Burdon
Image of beautiful orange skies in Seoul, South Korea
Bladerunner orange skies are an indicator of drastic particulate levels (Image by lifeforstock on Freepik).

In early June, we could describe the state of New York City like it was right out of the movie Bladerunner. As the sky tinted orange and there was dense smoke and particulate matter around the area, the source of this event was obvious. Canada was experiencing wildfires across the country, and with strong winds, the smoke travelled to particular parts of the United States.

Normally, this weather is relegated to the western side of the continent, with places like British Columbia and California experiencing wildfires year after year. But with the planet growing warmer (along with other particular conditions), wildfires are springing up left and right, and it’s important to figure out what can be done about it on a personal and broader level.

Being Smarter With Fire Protection

While the fires rage on and warming temperatures affect both cities and large areas of eastern Canada and northeast coastal regions of the US, people can start taking preventative measures. Newfoundland and Labrador have put together a Fire Smart programme that has some great pointers like avoiding stacking wood near your home, clearing out gutters, getting fire permits, and using screens for fire pits to keep fires contained. 

High levels of fine particulate matter in both rural areas and cities can result in adverse health effects, so as air pollution poses such an unknown risk, prevention from exposure in any simple form is the best first policy. 

At the end of the day, experts chalked up these wildfires to dryer winters in Canada this year. But what’s more surprising is the fact that these have occurred in other provinces that normally wouldn’t be dealing with these out-of-control fires. The answer to why they’re dealing with it now can amount to many things, including climate change.

Remember Your Masks

With this issue being a long-term problem, it’s fair to say more wildfires will occur, and it’s important for us to adapt to those changes. For starters, staying inside where possible is a good consideration, as is adopting a leave the house as necessary policy. And when you do leave the house, wearing a mask is a must.

Smoke, especially chemical smoke, affects the air quality we breathe, and it can result in the development of lung problems later down the road. A simple preventative measure is wearing a mask. As we learned from COVID-19, masks are able to catch particles in the air that can harm us. In the case of the pandemic, it was to prevent getting infected or spreading more of the virus, but in this case, it’s more about filtering the chemicals from getting into you.

Encouraging Controlled Burns

Beyond climate change, one of the other issues is that Canada doesn’t do as many controlled burns as it should. The argument for controlled burns is that forests go through a natural fire cycle. Naturally, forest fires are inevitable as branches and foliage fall to the ground. Human error or lightning storms would then ignite these areas. 

The wildfires that spiral out of control are a result of fewer controlled burns, allowing forests to build up leaves, branches, and other flammable material. Controlled burns would ensure more forests burned, but in more controlled circumstances so they wouldn’t endanger the public as they are doing now. 

The fact this isn’t happening stems from a lack of infrastructure in forest moderation, which encompasses performing controlled burns. This problem gets worse when governments decide not to fund these particular programmes, which are already struggling to cover costs.

A return to controlled burns that are more routinely done can ensure smaller fires that are far more manageable over time. This means appointing government officials who wouldn’t try to cut costs and instead advocate for controlled burns. That or encouraging current governments to adopt fire safety plans that spread beyond the general public.

Further Push To Fight Climate Change

The situation is bleaker than orange-ish smog, and government officials are making a point of saying this. New York City Mayor Eric Adams encouraged people to stay indoors and avoid going outside. Parks and flights were also cancelled.

But the loudest are, of course, activists. In a blunt article from CleanTechnica, the author makes a good point that the wildfires that are sparked now and are sending fumes across America are wake-up calls. These are worst-case scenarios that have been stressed time and again.

Part of the reason there was so much inaction is that only a few people really experienced this.

Only a small population in both countries experienced wildfires. In Canada, British Columbia experienced this a lot, along with western states in America like California. Wildfires and the smoke that comes with them were never much of a concern.

To see that now in your face, affecting your way of life, it’s clear the attitude has to change.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

On a broader level, it’s holding corporations more accountable and encouraging governments to tighten regulations when it comes to environmental initiatives, efforts, and regulations. Massive companies that dump a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, such as ExxonMobil and Shell, need to begin transitioning to cleaner energy sources much faster than they are, if at all.

To a lesser extent, there is also the issue of preventing chemical spills, which endanger our way of life. Norfolk Southern’s railroad crashes have shed more light on those issues.

Air Pollution Poses A Personal Threat

But on an individual level, it’s a lot more than just recycling or buying sustainable products. Some more significant changes that can make a big impact right now are:

  • Investing in green energy and encouraging other homeowners to invest in solar panels or other green energy sources.

  • Adopting a plant-based diet.

  • Reducing the number of one-round transatlantic trips you take every year

  • Going carless and biking from place to place. Alternatively, buying a hybrid vehicle is sensible too.

Takeaway

Of course, a lot of these decisions are tough and can cause a lot of inconvenience to our more convenient lifestyle. However, with the continued neglect of addressing these larger global problems, we’re at a point where these inconveniences have to be taken into account if we’re to see some more tangible change.

As human activity continues to result in temperature increases, as we push more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, our sense that average temperatures are rising may be, depending on our region, a 'frog in the boiling pot' scenario. Some regions will experience, and are now witnessing, rising temperatures due to global warming, whereas others will experience a lesser, yet still decisive shift over the mid-term. 

However, this is no cause for relief, and the more we understand the interlinking outcomes of forest fires, the more we can gather reliable data to inform future policy that benefits land use, forestry, ecosystems and community needs within the greater context of an international long term mitigation effort. Forest fires are here to stay, and Canada's recent fires provide yet another urgent sign that we must accept immediate change in our lives to build preventative habits and outlooks if we are to meet the challenge.

Follow more climate-related stores on KnowESG at our Environment News page.

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