Canada’s record wildfire season continues to escalate at a staggering rate. As of July 12, the fires had consumed nearly 10 million hectares (100,000 km2), a combined area that far exceeds the province of New Brunswick (72,908 km2) or, for an American comparison, the state of Maine (79,883 km2). With more than two months left in the country’s wildfire season, the area burned has already surpassed the 1989 wildfire season, the previous worst on record, when 7.5 million hectares burned. were consumed by the flames.
As of July 5, there were 432 active fires in Canada, 80 of which were considered out of control. Campfires have been banned in the province of British Columbia since Monday, when fires broke out in the central Cariboo region.
The fires have been raging across the country since early May, about two months before the usual start of the wildfire season. Unusually dry weather sparked fires in Nova Scotia in late May, destroying several rural suburbs of Halifax. Firefighters from around the world have been mobilized to battle the blazes, along with members of the Canadian Armed Forces, including those that erupted across Alberta in early June, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The 2023 wildfire season, which is expected to continue to rage from Quebec to British Columbia and across the typically mild north of the country, is fueled by the impacts of capitalism-induced climate change. These consequences include extremely high temperatures and drier than average conditions, which create favorable conditions for lightning to start more fires and make it easier for anthropogenic fires to spread out of control.
Record temperatures in Canada’s northern Northwest Territories create the best conditions for fires to start in the subarctic region. During the first nine days of July, 17 territorial temperature records were broken. Saturday saw the highest temperature on record in the Western Hemisphere above the 65th parallel where the mercury in Norman Wells reached 37.9C (100.2 Fahrenheit).
Huge fires started by lightning in central Quebec have belched toxic smoke across Canada and into the United States, affecting the health of tens of millions of people, including in densely populated cities like Toronto , Montreal, New York, Chicago and other major cities. As governments advised the elderly and medically vulnerable to stay indoors on the worst days, workers suffered in smoky factories, forced to breathe extremely unhealthy air in outdoor workplaces.
A recent assessment from the Stanford Environmental Change and Human Outcomes (ECHO) Laboratory found that 2023 is already the worst year on record for cumulative fine particulate (PM2.5) smoke exposure, with the average American experiencing cumulative 400 micrograms per cubic meter. of air. What’s unusual is that most of this exposure now comes from wildfires in Canada, as the US wildfire season hasn’t really started yet. ECHO Lab has recorded a significant increase in smoke exposure since 2019, where the rate more than doubled.
A quarter of Canadians said in late June they had been affected by wildfires, either directly through the flames or indirectly through the smoke.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that indoor and outdoor air pollution is one of the leading annual causes of death worldwide, contributing to the premature death of 4.2 million people in 2019.
With Canada’s Parliament dissolved until September, the past few weeks have seen little reaction from the political establishment to the devastating wildfire season and the manifest impact of climate change on the lives of millions of people. Other than the possibility of establishing a national fire service, nothing has been done to address the root causes of the record wildfire season.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has put climate change at the center of his election campaigns, was nonchalant when asked about his government’s response to the fires in early June. “With the projections given, it is expected that we will have enough resources to cover the summer,” Trudeau told reporters. “If things get worse, we’re making contingency plans and of course we want to make sure we’re there…to make sure all Canadians are protected through this summer.”
Meanwhile, Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Conservative opposition party, has dismissed discussions of bushfires and climate change as a distraction. Instead, he continued to advocate scrapping the so-called “carbon tax” to allow oil companies and big business to pollute with impunity. The carbon tax was introduced by the Trudeau government in 2018, with the promise that the measure would reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, but the Trudeau government has repeatedly failed to meet its targets already insufficient.
As the world experiences record high temperatures this year from North America to Asia and Europe, and other consequences such as increasingly frequent floods, it is clear that climate change is a global problem, and that there will therefore be no solution at the national level, or within the framework of the capitalist nation-state system. Only a working class movement, united internationally and armed with the latest scientific advances, can confront the growing catastrophe caused by climate change in Canada and around the world.
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