May 17, 2016

Fort McMurray and Climate Change: A Tough Conversation

Cody Hartsburg

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of talk to not politicize the Fort McMurray fire. And the people saying this are 100% correct. There have been people on both sides of the political spectrum who have made some pretty off-hand comments, and any snarky attitudes of this sort should absolutely be condemned. But silencing talk about climate change right now is not helping anybody. With the short winter and little snowfall, higher than average temperatures, dry conditions, a fire season that is lengthening, and the increasing frequency of forest fires, it’s hard to ignore the role that climate change plays here. Yes, it would be ridiculous to claim that the Fort Mac fire was undoubtedly, 100%, only caused by global warming. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t play a role, a significant one at that. Climate change is linked with the increase of severity and frequency of extreme weather events around the globe. These types of disasters are only going to happen more often, and on a larger scale. The reason I feel the need to talk about this is that it’s not an isolated event, this is a symptom of disgusting disease. If we continue on with business-as-usual, disasters like the Fort Mac fire will slowly become the norm.

In regards to the insensitivity displayed by some people, particularly those on the Left who are saying that this fire is karma for the oil sands, that is totally offside and we should give people shit for saying something like that. The people of Fort McMurray did not deserve this. It’s not just oil workers that live in the city, there are children, teachers, doctors, service workers, etc. who live there too. But even for the workers in the oil sands, these people are doing what they believe is best to support themselves and/or their families, and that is something to be commended. Even the stalwart defense of the Albertan oil industry is a respectable argument. Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of the Albertan, and to a lesser extent Canadian, economy. Divesting away from these resources would have immediate economic consequences, we all know this. However, this perspective lacks vision and scope. The short-term hardships that we would suffer from switching to a carbon-free economy as fast as possible are insignificant compared to the irreparable damage that will be done by climate change.

This is a global event that has the potential to be truly apocalyptic. If action is not taken, we could all within our lifetimes be living in a nightmare world like the movie The Road. When will the breaking point be? When will we say, okay, this is getting out of hand. When world wars start over water and food shortages? When the world’s forests have been desecrated and we suddenly inhabit a dustbowl? When we have to live underground because of scorching heat, high speed winds, and uncontrollable fires? That is not a world I, and I would say it’s safe to guess you too, would want to live in. But every minute, we inch closer and closer to that reality by increasing the amount of greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals we pump into the air, water, and ground. It’s getting to the point where we are starting to see real world effects, real damage done to people, infrastructure, and the environment.

In public discourse, climate change deniers are given plenty of room to effect policy. We need to stop giving credibility to these people. Climate change denial is not only ignorant, but it is becoming more and more dangerous. We need to demand the switch to a sustainable, carbon-free economy NOW. Radical societal mobilizations have happened in the past, this is not something far-fetched. When World War II started, every country involved switched to a war economy, which meant that all available means of production were geared towards the war effort. This time, instead of mobilizing for mass destruction and killing, it will be to save the human race.

We need to bring democracy, justice, and equality to the frontlines of decision-making. Human need has to come to mind instead of corporate profits. If we want to show compassion and solidarity with the people of Fort McMurray, along with opening our homes and hearts for those affected, we must have a broad perspective, realizing why this happened, and we must work to prevent disasters like this from happening in the future. We need to take action and transform society so that we live in harmony with our planet, before more towns and cities around the world suffer the same fate as Fort McMurray.

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