How global warming set Canada on fire
A huge wildfire raged from the beginning of May to mid-June in the province of Alberta, Canada. While the media focused on the desperate battle the firefighters fought against the flames and the economic consequences of the fire for the oil industry, few dared to stress the obvious connection between global warming and this powerful wildfire. And yet, the changes in climate are making the wildfires more frequent and stronger, which makes the probability of extreme episodes like this one higher. Besides, the sand oils of Alberta may have suffered from the destructions caused by the fire, but the truth is that they are the ones to blame for it ! Indeed the sand oils of Alberta are one of the most polluting forms of oil extraction in the world, and they are responsible for huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
A massive wildfire in Alberta[edit | edit source]
Your usual climate skeptics tend to claim that climate change is nothing to worry about, that if anything, the few added degrees will only make the weather nicer, and that the scientists that predict cataclysmic consequences if global warming is not checked are just a bunch of loonies. They should take a good look at what happened in Alberta. Because global warming will have very real and tangible effects. Like the monstrous fire that raged for weeks and weeks in Canada. The fire was discovered on May 1st in the area of Fort McMurray. At 4PM it was two hectares big, but by 8PM it had already grown to 60 hectares. The width of the fire exceeded 1,000 hectares on May 2nd, 2,600 on May 3rd, and 10,000 hectares on May 4th. This frightfully fast expansion continued until May 21st when the fire reached its summit at around 500,000 hectares. The fire was finally stopped in mid-June, after six weeks of fierce fighting, thanks to the change in weather. The fire was rapidly nicknamed “The Beast” in reference to its deadly speed and to the path of destruction it carved in Alberta. The Beast was one of the biggest fires the province had ever know and it caused the biggest fire evacuation ever organised in Alberta. The danger that these people were exposed to, the homes that they had to leave and that were devoured by the fire... this reflects how dire the danger of global warming is, no matter what fossil fuel pundits try to make us believe.
That caused extensive damage and the biggest wildfire evacuation in Canadian history[edit | edit source]
Even if the “Beast” wasn't the biggest fire in the history of Alberta, it was the first time so much occupied area was threatened by a wildfire, and it lead to huge destructions and the biggest wildfire evacuation the country had ever known. The fire burned to the ground about 2,400 buildings and damaged several thousands more. This brought about the evacuation of 90,000 people living in the Fort McMurray area. The images of the evacuation are scary. Lines of cars stopped on a highway, only yards away from the inferno of the forest burning. And while the climate skeptics will say that events like this fire happen every now and then, the speed and violence of the fire's expansion is a clear sign that this wildfire is not normal. Indeed, firefighters pointed out that the decision to evacuate had been taken very late. Clearly the local authorities were taken by surprise and did not expect the fire to be so vicious. This hurried evacuation caused the death of two teens that were involved in a car accident while leaving the area. But the death toll could have been much higher... Furthermore, the financial cost of the disaster is going to be hefty. The cost of the first response has already been evaluated at over $600 by Alberta's Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee. And this cost does not include the money that will be needed to cleanup the area, to rebuild the areas destroyed by the fire and the money that was lost because the economy of the area stopped. According to the Bank of Montreal, the total cost of the wildfire could reach $9 billion, which would make it the most costly disaster in the history of Canada ! Even more importantly, the “Beast” has torched thousands of square kilometers of boreal forest. And according to Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher from the University of Alberta, the boreal forests are burning faster than ever in the last 10,000 years. The loss of this unique ecosystem is already a disaster per se, but it also had terrible consequences on the atmosphere. Indeed 30 percent of the world carbon that is stored on land lays within the boreal forests. When they are consumed in wildfires, this carbon is released and flies into the atmosphere where it worsens the greenhouse effect that is accelerating global warming. And this brings us back to the initial cause of the repetition of wildfires : global warming.
Global warming is the main cause of the fire[edit | edit source]
The media narrative around the wildfire has mostly focused on the courage of the firefighters and the ordeal of the victims and has overlooked one major aspect of the story : “the Beast” is a direct consequence of global warming. Paul Street analyses this very strange media angle and confronts it to the scientific truths that should have been summoned to understand this catastrophe. Indeed the climate changes caused by global warming is making wildfires more frequent and fiercer in Canada. If we look at the context of this spring, the weather had been exceptionally warm, above the Fahrenheit 90s, in other words about 40°F above the norm. And the winds had been unusually strong, which kindled the fire once it had started and helped it expand. And this spring is consistent with the weather trend of the past decades. The temperatures have been rising very fast in the Northern hemisphere, and this has enhanced the risk of wildfires in Canada. According to Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher from the University of Alberta, “this (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime”. These changes are making the wildfire seasons longer and longer. In neighbouring Alaska, it is now 40 % longer than it was 65 years ago. In Canada, the season now starts one month earlier than in 1970 and the annual burned area has doubled. That this huge fire started on the very first day of the wildfire season is a telling sign that the season keeps getting bigger and bigger. I'd like to see the climate skeptics come explain to the inhabitants of these ravaged areas that global warming is only the ravings of a bunch of lunatics in white coats.
And the area affected by the fire is actually responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions[edit | edit source]
A big part of the media coverage of the disaster discussed the impact of the fire on the fossil fuel industry of Alberta. Indeed the energy sector represents a big part of the economy of the province and the fire disrupted the extraction of oil from some oil sands. For example, the media have covered the likely losses of around $1 billion of Canadian oil giant Suncor. However, here again, Paul Street stresses the insanity of the mainstream media narrative. Instead of explaining how this natural disaster stopped the production of oil, how about describing the horrific consequences of the oil sands for the environment and explaining that the extraction of oil in Alberta actually has a huge impact on global warming. When companies like Suncor drill the tar sands of Alberta, it is extremely disruptive for the environment and leads to massive pollution. For instance, in 1997 Suncor recognized that the tailing ponds of their open pits had leaked 1,600 cubic meters of toxic water into Athabasca river every day. Furthermore, since tar sands oil is less pure than conventional oil it needs to be processed before it can be sold and that makes it a very carbon intensive source of energy. Indeed, when one adds the carbon emissions from the natural gas burned in order to process the oil, to the carbon emissions released when the oil is finally used by the consumer, the result is that tar sands oil emits about 20 % more greenhouse gas than conventional oil. In other words, tar sands oil is even more polluting than conventional oil, and is an even bigger contributor to global warming. There is really no other way to see it, Suncor, and the other Canadian oil giants are far from victims of “the Beast”, they are the one that have fed it, year after year, by drilling for oil and causing the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gas. Paul Street has the perfect title for that story : “Nearly 100,000 Flee Planet-Warming Oil Town – Mother Nature Uses Raging Inferno to Tell Canada and Humanity to Break Free From Fossil Fuels.”