Around the Web: The Fort McMurray wildfire and climate change

May 06 2016 Published by under around the web, Canada, climate change, environment

The town of Fort McMurray, Alberta and it's surrounding region are experiencing a horrific wildfire. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate.

The absolute most important thing in the short and medium term is to take care of the people of Fort McMurray. Yes, Fort McMurray is the hub of tar sands development in Canada. Yes, the tar sands and other fossil fuel development projects contribute to climate change. Yes, the tar sands in particular have been identified as a carbon source that needs to be left in the ground. But those aren't short and medium term considerations. Those are very clearly about making sure the people of Fort McMurray are safe and that they can re-start their lives in the wake of this tragedy. The issues around fossil fuel development that have gotten us into the trouble we're in are systemic and historic, not in any way directly the fault of the actual people who are caught in this situation.

But in the longer term we need to stop brushing aside what is constantly happening in the short and medium term. We need to stop saying, "This isn't the time to talk about this." We meed to stop focusing on how you can't pin each individual weather disaster on climate change. It's true but it can't be the only point we ever make.

Every time we forget about how the short and medium term turn into the long term, one day and month and year at a time, one climate-change-related disaster at a time, we are letting ourselves off the hook in using the focus and attention to build longer term solutions.

The Edmonton Journal website is a great one-stop news portal for what's happening.

The Canadian Red Cross is probably the best place to donate to the relief effort.

In the meantime, here are some of the articles and posts I've been reading, reflecting a diversity of opinion and analysis.

 

And some more-or-less dissenting views on whether or not we should be talking about climate change in relation to the wildfire right now.

 

 

If there's good commentary I've missed, please let me know in in the comments.

And you might also want to take a look at my recent posts on The Leap Manifesto and recent readings on climate change.

3 responses so far

  • lyle says:

    From Wikipedia on a similar fire in 2011 "Wildfires are common in Canada. Nearly 9,000 such fires occur every year across the country, and collectively burn two million hectares of land.[3] Such fires in Alberta usually occur in remote areas and rarely threaten populated settlements. The last fire to seriously affect a community in Alberta destroyed 59 buildings in the hamlet of Chisholm in 2001.[4] The Slave Lake area has been threatened by fires in the past. Communities on the eastern outskirts of town were evacuated in 2001 by an approaching fire,[5] while the town was saved from destruction by change in the winds in 1968.[6]

    The province faced unusually dry conditions and high winds throughout the spring, leading to extreme risk of fire across much of the province.[7] By mid-May, over 100 wildfires were burning across the province, including 23 that were considered out of control. Over 105,000 hectares (260,000 acres) had been burned, and the majority of the fires were in the Lesser Slave Lake area, where 15 fires were burning out of control.[8] Nearly 1100 firefighters were battling the blazes across the country.[8] As a consequence of the fire conditions, the provincial government enacted a complete fire ban across the entire province ahead of the Victoria Day long weekend; it was only the second time in history the government had issued such an order.[7]"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Slave_Lake_wildfire

    As the piece suggests big fires are common in northern Alberta but most burn nothing but the woods. A list of Canadian fires from Wikipedia : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fires_in_Canada
    Let alone talk about the biggest forest fire in US history that happend the same day as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 the one that killed 1200 people in Peshtigo Wi, This is near Green Bay and the Michigan Line. Fires also burned Holland Mi and Manistee MI and apparently burned accross the lower pennisula of Mi to Port Huron. It was the same sort of weather system of a strong wind following a long period of drought.
    Part of the source of this big fire was poor logging practices.
    The only reason the Fort McMurray fire gets so much attention is that it happened to hit a settled area. As noted big fires in the boreal woods in Canada are fairly common, and in general if they don't threaten settlements are just left to burn themselves out.

  • lyle says:

    Also if you read about the Hayden expedition in Co in the early 1870s it describes a situation where the visibility was very low due to smoke from numerous forest fires.

  • David Jones says:

    Big fires in the North Central part of the continent are nothing new. This one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hinckley_Fire was responsible for the founding of the US Forest Service. It killed over 400 folks in 1894.

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