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The climate irony is inescapable as the Fort McMurray wildfire drama unfolds day by day. It has been termed the perfect fire storm leading to a new breed of wildfires. Experts believe that the Fort McMurray blaze could be the new norm for wildfires as global warming continues to heat up the planet.

David Andison, (professor with the faculty of forestry at UBC) says that:

Climate change models and research all point to the idea that fire season is going to be longer in the coming years, and the fires will be more severe. It will really just be the new normal.

Climate Irony is Inescapable

Photo credit: Pixabay

Many people will argue that now is not the time to discuss global warming and climate change. “The fact that the forest-fire season has arrived so early in northern Alberta is very likely a climate event,” Elizabeth May said to reporters in Ottawa. May went on to say “it’s a disaster. But it’s a disaster that is very related to the global climate crisis.” Prime Minister Trudeau criticized May for her comments but then went on to say at a press conference:

It’s well known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet.

I would argue that now is precisely the right time to make the link between epic wildfires and climate change. Once the fire is over it will be too late. People will move on with their lives and the Fort McMurray climate disaster will be remembered as just another freak of nature as were the 2013 floods in Calgary and the Great Slave Lake fires of 2014.

The bitter climate irony lies in the fact that Fort McMurray became the undisputed capital of the Tar Sands development during Alberta’s skyrocketing growth as an oil-producing province. Albertans have enjoyed a level of economic growth and personal income unequaled anywhere else in Canada.

Fort McMurray’s rapid growth is the direct result of mining the Tar Sands – one of the dirtiest oils in the world producing high levels of carbon emissions which have contributed to the global climate crisis.  Alberta has by far the largest portion of the Canadian emissions pie with levels increasing by 53 percent since 1990.

The climate irony of an intense fire fueled by global warming attacking the capital of Tar Sands production is just too much to ignore. One could say that Mother Nature is striking back. Some oil production operations have been cut back because of the fires.

Unfortunately some 88,000 people have been displaced or evacuated adding untold human suffering to the destruction of wild animals and ecosystems. All of Canada supports the victims of the Fort McMurray disaster whose lives have been broken by the events of the last few days.

In the following video Paul Beckwith talks about the 88,000 climate refugees of the raging wildfires in Northern Alberta and the obvious links to climate change.

Published on May 4, 2016
Standard YouTube Licence

Fort McMurray was incinerated in a wildfire creating 80,000 climate refugees overnight. As tragic as this fire was, it is just one more city being destroyed in our climate change casino. Every city on our planet is vulnerable. Governments must do the right thing and declare a global climate change emergency. (Paul Beckwith)

“This (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime,” Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta, said. According to Flannigan, the fire season starts earlier and lasts longer than it did a few decades ago.

To put it bluntly: Fort McMurray is the epicentre of Tar Sands production. Tar Sands are a dirty fuel producing high carbon emissions contributing to global warming and global climate change. Climate change makes extreme climate events such as wildfires more intense and severe like the blaze attacking Fort McMurray. The severity and intensity of the Fort McMurray wildfire is made worse because of carbon emissions produced in its own back yard. The circle is complete.

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  1. The Ironic last sentence says it all …’ The severity and intensity of the Fort McMurray wildfire is made worse because of carbon emissions produced in its own back yard. The circle is complete.’

    What comes around, goes around. Albertians are reaping the ‘seeds of the oil sands.’ Most sad!

    • I’ve been criticized about the apparent karmic undertone of the article. I’ve added a paragraph to the article about the human suffering of the 88,000 people displaced or evacuated because of the blaze.

      All of us use fossil fuels. At some point we will all be victimized by climate change, not always in as dramatic an event as a raging wildfire, but nevertheless we will be victims of our own abuse and over-exploitation of nature. So as you say, what comes around goes around.

  2. Yes, we had some pushback during bushfires in Australia that it wasn’t appropriate to raise the issue of climate change during the event, or it was politicising the issue.

    This is of course, an attempt to sidetrack and silence the debate about climate change impact and the necessity to start working on mitigation for rapidly reducing emissions. We need to discuss adaptation measures that are already necessary and will become more important the less we do with early mitigation effort. Ignoring climate change is no help at all.

    Wildfires – we call them bushfires here – are complex processes with multiple contributing causes revolving around ignition, fuel, weather, and human activity. Weather, fuel and to a lesser extent ignition, are all influenced by climate trends of rising temperatures, increase in the number of hot days, changes in precipitation, electrical storms (often a natural source of ignition), drought, soil moisture and humidity.

    Even the fact that CO2 aids in plant growth can be a factor, as this can increase fuel load when subject to drier conditions. And of course you also have the pine beetle infestation which is changing, multiplying the rate of reproduction due to increases in seasonal temperature and length of breeding season due to climate change adding more fuel.

    Like any extreme weather event, fire weather has multiple influences. As Kevin Trenbeth points out “All extreme weather events are now being influenced by climate change because they are occurring in a climate system that is hotter and moister than it was 50 years ago (Trenberth 2012).”

    And with the Tar sands mining nearby a cause of emissions and climate change, the irony certainly is complete.

    • Hello John and welcome to BoomerWarrior.

      I like your explanation of the complexities of wildfires or bushfires as you call them. I don’t think authorities are quite sure yet just how this blaze started but certainly the extreme heat and dryness, lack of moisture and a low snow-volume winter all contributed to the perfect storm of the Fort McMurray disaster.

      Towns surrounded by forests are particularly vulnerable to such events. We are now fully into the climate change era. This is only the beginning. Our adaptation strategies will require better urban and rural planning to mitigate against such events. But nature’s destructive power is much stronger than any measure we can take to control it.

      As I explained in my response to Colette’s comment, I’ve been criticized by many for the karmic undercurrent of the article but it’s unavoidable. We collectively reap what we sow. We have abused nature and now it’s answering back.

      Thank you for your comments – much appreciated.

  3. We are in a global climate emergency. The words Runaway Abrupt Climate Change should be used in every sentence ushered.
    This catastrophe will extinguish most if not all complex life on this planet.
    The time for measured tones and scientific conservatism has passed with the window of opportunity to prevent this now inevitable extinction event.

  4. Well said, Rolly. This colossal tragedy is indeed the joining of the circle. And Beckwith’s comments explain the inferno in the context of our proceeding destabilization of planetary systems. It is not surprising that so-called skeptics (those I call ‘hired liars’) would protest that this is not the time to talk about climate change and the need to address it. It is no different from what happens down here in the OK Corral otherwise known as the United States after a gun massacre. For gun wackos, it’s never a time to talk about gun safety. For oil-fueled hired liars and their disciples, it is never a time to talk about climate change. Pure diversion, and on and on it goes.

    • Hey Michael – nice to hear from you.

      If you’ve followed some of the Facebook discussions/comments on this article, you’ll have seen that there’s a lot of controversy surrounding it. Some have commented about the karmic undercurrent of the article. My goal is to point out the irony and not point the finger to residents of Fort McMurray. We are all users of fossil fuels. Global warming and climate change have increased our vulnerability to extreme events such as this wildfire. Now we have a collective responsibility to pressure our governments to make the transition to clean energy, not in 2050 or even worse the end of this century.

      Thanks for the comments.


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