A couple of days spent indoors during our summer vacation is often all wildfires signify to us in the Lower Mainland. When the scorched trees are literally floating through the air, the problem is too present to avoid. But when the smoke clears and we are free to go outside again, our worries vanish and we forget about the environmental crisis we are living in.
Forest fires are a natural phenomenon and have been occurring since the creation of Earth.
The blaze helps woodlands with new growth and recycles key nutrients as they are broken down and returned back to the soil. The dense forest canopies thin, allowing sunlight through for new growth, debris littering the forest floor is cleared and many species of trees reproduce.
While forest fires are natural, the rate at which our forests are burning is not. It is unprecedented and unsustainable.
Fire can be incredibly damaging to buildings, habitats, animal populations and the air we breathe. Inhalation of smoke can cause irritation in the respiratory tract, minimized lung functions, heart failure, bronchitis, worsening asthma, and early death. In addition, huge amounts of carbon dioxide are released from the burning and this alone makes it far more problematic than just forcing us to cancel outdoor plans.
There are approximately 8,000 wildfires per year in Canada alone, and about 2.5 million hectares are burned in the process. B.C. forest fire CO2 emissions quadrupled between 2003 and 2017, which were both record breaking years.
To make the matters worse, humans are responsible for the majority of forest fire ignitions, and the rest are sparked by lightning.
Fires caused by lightning are damaging as they are often in remote locations and therefore harder to extinguish, but if these fires were the only ones that we had to fight, our job would be much easier.
On average, it costs B.C. over $265 million to combat the raging flames each summer, with that figure exceeding $650 million in the most damaging year. This amount of money spent on preventing unnecessary wildfires is not as costly as their environmental impact.
British Columbia’s majestic forests are some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world due to the incredible old growth trees.
Because of this, the province that we call home has emitted more planet-warming carbon dioxide than all other provinces combined, according to the Sierra Club. In the past, B.C.’s forests have cleaned more CO2 out of the air than they emitted, but due to the rising summer temperatures, sadly this is no longer the case. Now, our forests are dying faster than they are growing back.
As the climate crisis continues, climate scientists have warned that crucial ecosystems will be pushed past their tipping point, including our forests, with no hope of healing.
In the Paris Agreement, a global attempt to avert the climate change crisis, Canada has committed to reducing the 730 million tonnes of harmful greenhouse gasses released in 2005 to 511 million tonnes by 2030. In BC specifically, in 2017, we emitted 68 million tonnes of CO2 or so we claimed.
The problem is that this number did not include the 176 million tonnes of CO2 that BC forest fires contributed.
We are leaving the pollution created from burning forests out of this number so we can meet our targets, but it does not accurately reflect the amount of CO2 entering our atmosphere.
The urgency of the climate crisis is being hidden by false information and therefore our leaders can make decisions disregarding our dying ecosystems rather than saving them, without any contradiction.
You are probably wondering what you can do to help fight this atrocious problem.
First, don’t forget about the wildfire crisis as soon as the season has passed. Second, educate yourself. Question the data biases that exist and research global events yourself.
The BC Forest Service does an amazing job fighting the fires during the summer season, but for a more successful approach, wildfires prevention should be done year-round.
Luckily, the B.C. government has recently promised exactly that for 2022.
Cabrinha Clark writes on environmental issues for the Peace Arch News.