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Even with Maine’s proximity to Canada, we were only dimly aware of the devastation of this summer’s heat and wildfires. In the country’s western provinces, that devastation continued this weekend with more fires in British Columbia.
A recent article in Maclean’s magazine offered a description of a heatwave – and its consequences – in British Columbia that sounds like it came from a horror movie. Although this description is from a heat dome, a phenomenon where hot air is trapped under the atmosphere, in June 2021, it could very well be about recent events in western Canada, where wildfires raged in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories in recent days.
“Across the region, roads buckled, car windows cracked and power cables melted. The emerald fringes of conifers browned overnight, as if singed by flame. Entire cherry orchards were destroyed, the fruit stewed on the trees,” science journalist Anne Shibata Casselman wrote. “More than 650,000 farm animals died of heat stress. Hundreds of thousands of honeybees perished, their organs exploding outside their bodies. Billions of shoreline creatures, especially shellfish, simply baked to death, strewing beaches with empty shells and a fetid stench that lingered for weeks. Birds and insects went unnervingly silent. All the while the skies were hazy but clear, the air preternaturally still, not a cloud in sight. The air pressure was so high they’d all dissipated.”
“Then came the fires,” Casselman continued. “For three days in a row, the village of Lytton sustained temperatures more typical of the Sahara Desert or Death Valley, setting new Canadian records each day, before peaking at 49.6 degrees [celsius]. On the fourth day, the village burned to the ground.”
“The day of the inferno, the B.C. Wildfire Service’s Fire Weather Index, which usually tops out at around 30, hit 132. In the days that followed, smoke-fed thunderclouds formed over two conflagrations, generating 121,000 lightning strikes in a single evening, igniting more fires. Air pollution levels in some communities reached more than 40 times the safe limit,” she wrote.
After describing this reality, the article goes on to describe what Canada is likely to be like in 2060 without significant changes in carbon emissions to ease the planet’s warming. Simply put, it will be hotter and drier. That means more fires, crop failures and more drought, which will almost surely require water rationing. People’s health will likely deteriorate with heat waves, which stress our hearts and other organs. People displaced by fires, floods and other weather-related events may suffer PTSD. Thousands of people will likely be permanently displaced; the nation’s Inuit population will be especially vulnerable as their homelands are flooded or melt away.
And, dealing with the climate havoc will be expensive, costing the country $100 billion a year, every year, the magazine reported.
As we’re seeing more and more, these aren’t scare tactics. They are the reality of a planet that is rapidly warming. According to a University of Maine climate visualization tool, this summer’s average global temperatures have been much higher than last year’s and significantly above the mean from 1979 to 2000.
Data, and the reality of the devastation of wildfires in British Columbia, and Hawaii, should alarm us all. They should also spur more comprehensive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also building resilience to the environmental changes that we know are coming, and in some cases, are already here.