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VIDEO: What Canada’s historic wildfires mean for us all

June 15, 2023

The Week in Sustainability – June 12–16, 2023

The story dominating climate news the past couple of weeks has been the record-breaking Canadian wildfires. The fires started in British Columbia and Alberta in late April, then spread extensively in May and June. The culprit? An unusually hot, dry spring combined with lightning in some areas and human error in others. Half of wildfires are ignited by lightning, with the rest caused by human activities ranging from discarded cigarette butts and unattended campfires to equipment malfunctions. But these events only spark the fires; their severity is largely due to climate change. Canada experienced a warmer and drier spring than usual, creating conditions ripe for fires to spread more rapidly and extensively.

But there’s an underlying story beyond the immediate damage caused by the wildfires. The East Coast of the U.S. experienced detrimental effects on air quality due to the fires. Prevailing winds carried the smoke from the fires, resulting in a noticeable deterioration of air quality in places like New York City and Washington D.C. Because the fires affected such populated cities in areas not used to these conditions, they prompted conversations around the personal impact of climate change. But as the particulate matter—and proverbial dust—settles, will the fires have any noticeable effect in shifting public sentiment when it comes to the climate crisis? 

Let’s not downplay the immediate victims, though. Thousands of  Canadians have been displaced, and there’s massive damage to infrastructure by what is, in all likelihood, the worst fire season on record for the country. 

Some striking statistics: 

– More than 400 blazes were burning across Canada as of last Wednesday
– This year’s fire season has started earlier than usual—and it’s more aggressive, with this year’s fires already surpassing 4 million hectares in the first month 
– The United Nations predicts wildfires globally will increase in intensity by 57% by 2090, signaling a perilous new norm

Scientists correlate intensifying fire seasons with the climate crisis—studies show anthropogenic climate change has significantly increased the area of wildfires—which means global action is imperative.

If you’d like to help those affected by the Canadian wildfires, donate directly to organizations like The Canadian Red Cross and Firefighters without Borders.

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1. BBC, “Canada wildfires: Will they change how people think about climate change?,” Accessed June 15, 2023

2. The Guardian, “Canada’s wildfires are part of our new climate reality, experts and officials say,” Accessed June 15, 2023

3. PNAS, “Anthropogenic climate change impacts exacerbate summer forest fires in California,” Accessed June 15, 2023

Editorial statement
At Sustain.Life, our goal is to provide the most up-to-date, objective, and research-based information to help readers make informed decisions. Written by practitioners and experts, articles are grounded in research and experience-based practices. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by our team of sustainability professionals to ensure content is accurate and aligns with current industry standards. Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.
Constanze Duke
Constanze Duke is a director of sustainability at Sustain.Life and leads the company’s technical practice. She began working in sustainability in 2007 and has worked through sustainability’s dramatic evolution into a multi-faceted discipline.
Hannah Asofsky
Hannah Asofsky is a sustainability data analyst at Sustain.Life.
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