As the dense orange apocalyptic haze lay heavy on northern Alberta last week, someone on Premier Jason Kenney’s team must have realized the photo opportunity scheduled for him to celebrate the repeal of the carbon tax at a local gas station would convey irony more than victory.
The cancellation of the event – officially – was so the premier could be updated on the wildfire situation in the province, as thousands of people were evacuated and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land was on fire. Pressed about the connection between wildfires fuelled by a changing climate and his cancelled event, he quipped a carbon tax won’t stop a forest fire.
It begs the question, however: what is it exactly that Kenney and the United Conservative Party thinks connects successive years of record-breaking wildfires in western Canada and climate change? Even more important for us to understand is: what do they plan to do about it, because it is only going to get worse.
Even with all the smartest computers, models and scientists – predicting how climate change will unfold in our lifetimes is almost impossible. One thing is certain – a hotter planet Earth means more wildfires.
The premier correctly observed that wildfire is a natural part of the ecosystem and had not been seen in that northern forested region for 80 to 90 years. Yet he failed in his dismissal of the issue to acknowledge that one of the reasons climate change is a huge concern when it comes to wildfires is their increasing frequency and intensity and their affect on our communities.
Some of those effects have been unexpected. Like climate grief and how living with the real and negative presence of wildfire smoke in the air has really changed many parts of western Canada, including the Bow Valley. Instead of being able to enjoy the summer outdoors, we are cramped inside looking out at the gloomy smoky skies wondering if we’re next to burn.
There is real sadness for many in watching the slow demise of glaciers in our mountain ranges, and valid concern for how droughts and water shortages in the future might come home to roost for residents along the watersheds sourced from the Rocky Mountains. The anxiety over how climate change will affect us into the future may soon be a diagnosed mental illness.
The provincial carbon tax may be gone, but a federal one is on the docket for Albertans as a result. There seems to be more interest in fighting each other as Canadians than in taking aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How is this leadership?
As a deflection technique, it will get old pretty quick. Alberta can’t hide or pretend extreme weather isn’t already happening to us. As the premier and his cabinet spend the next four years either in front of cameras during extreme weather events, or avoiding real action on climate change – perhaps they will learn a thing or two about the damage that inaction can cause.
Three of the five most expensive natural disasters in Canadian history occurred in Alberta. Another four provincial natural disasters round out the top 10.
Wild Rose Country, more like wild weather country.
When it comes to wildfire, as humans whose actions are changing the climate, we are doubly at fault. Since Europeans arrived in North America, we have suppressed wildfire on the landscape and are staring down a loaded double barrel shotgun of risk. Not only is the climate hotter, drier and more unpredictable - but we have a lot of fuel for wildfires. All that is needed is ignition.
It could be anything. Lightning - like the last two wildfires in Kootenay National Park that blanketed the valley in smoke the past two summers. Old electricity infrastructure - like it was in Celebration in California which killed 86 people. Or human negligence. It is negligence at this stage of the game that will only contribute toward making the situation worse in the future.
Our premier should save his rhetoric in the face of a natural disaster, because it won’t put out a forest fire.