Climate change is an indisputable fact.
Some people may see it as an ongoing debate, but it’s simply a reality and one that is only going to get worse before it gets better.
The wildfires ripping through northern Alberta, which have caused thousands to be evacuated, further exacerbate the impact climate change has and will have on communities.
Alberta Wildfire has also warned the worst may be yet to come this year, due to the hot and dry conditions as well as heat continuing to persist as many areas are seeing record highs for temperatures.
The wildfires this year are at risk of smashing the number of hectares burned in the last 10 years, with 2019 seeing 883,000 hectares burn. There have already been about 530,000 hectares burned this year.
A May article in The Globe and Mail highlighted smoke to the west of Edmonton hit 12 kilometres in height that was “literally stratospheric heights” and could be seen from satellites.
In the past, wildfire season began in Alberta April 1, but the start is now considered March 1 and it’s not uncommon for wildfires to burn throughout the winter months.
While wildfires are eventually put out, the scorched landscape is often ravaged for people and wildlife.
In a much-cited March report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the co-chair said “it’s now or never” to limit the impacts of global warming.
The report was the sternest warning by scientists who have been banging the drum for years – and all but tells people to change their ways or raise the white flag.
Climatologists, environmentalists and wildfire experts have long warned about the threat climate change has had on areas such as Alberta that have the risk of wildfires.
AirNow, the United States government’s air quality index, highlighted the risk wildfires have on provinces and states.
Smoke from the wildfires not only impacted the immediate communities of northern Alberta, but spread east into Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, northern Ontario and into northern Quebec for several days.
As of Wednesday (May 17), Edson and Grande Prairie had air quality of unhealthy, while the county areas of Grande Prairie reached rare very unhealthy levels that recommend people limit being outside. On a scale of 1-10, Environment Canada gave those communities 10+.
In British Columbia, Environment Canada issued its first heat warning of 2023 for the North Coast with temperatures expected to nearly double the average for this time of year.
Lovers of humidity can easily go to southwestern Ontario to experience 40 Celsius weather, but other areas have long avoided anywhere near the same heat until recent years.
The deadly 2021 North American heat wave was estimated to kill about 800 people in western Canada, including at least 66 in Alberta and more than 600 in B.C. The village of Lytton, B.C. saw a Canadian high of just under 50 Celsius and was evacuated when a wildfire swept through the community.
At the same time, the Bow Valley reached nearly 40 Celsius and the reality is warmer weather is a fact of life for a region better known for its winter conditions.
While the Canadian government has committed to have net-zero emissions by 2050 and to 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 emission levels by 2030, it has been criticized for not being aggressive enough and lacking teeth.
The government has pumped money into initiatives, but also missed opportunities in policies. The soon-to-be released national building codes show both a failure on the part of the federal and many provincial governments by not going far enough in pushing against climate change.
The more than 1,500-page national code is set to be released in 2025 and the next one isn’t likely to be out until 2030. In Alberta, the provincial government selected the lowest of energy efficient tiers as an option, signalling its low priority from a policy position and pushing the issue on municipalities and developers to work it out.
Climate change is largely in the hands of people and organizations.
For an actual decisive impact to be made, all levels of government and countries need to be rowing in the same direction. It can’t simply be a directionless boat floundering in the water.
What we do now and in the coming months and years will dictate the ramifications for future generations.