On a recent trip to Seattle, my sister and her fiancé reluctantly decided not to waste their money experiencing one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Space Needle. Despite their burning desire to visit the top of the pointy observation tower, they weren’t interested in dropping forty bucks to look at a city blurred by smog. In early August, Seattle was covered in a blanket, the air hazy and thick with smoke. A Seattle native told my sister that in all of her years of living, she had never seen the city so clouded. The cause: record setting wildfires sweeping through Western Canada.
Now, forest fires are not a new phenomenon in British Columbia. In fact, according to NASA, they are quite normal at this time of year due to rising summer temperatures and lower seasonal rainfall. However, this year’s fire season, and the two before it, have been terrifyingly different. A deadly combination of severe drought and soaring temperatures have quite literally created a recipe for disaster. Record amounts of destruction have occurred, thousands of residents have been evacuated, and the end is not yet in sight. To be blunt, things are serious.
Smokey the Bear warns us all about the dangers of not properly extinguishing your campfire, yet he fails to discuss one of the most important factors of forest fires: climate change. No, wildfires and other natural disasters are not new or directly caused by global warming. There have always been hurricanes, forest fires, floods, and earthquakes. However, it is not a coincidence that the intensity and frequency of natural disasters is rising as our Earth continues to warm. So, ladies and gentleman, without further ado, let me briefly educate you the way that our beloved Smokey Bear should. First and foremost, I would like to affirm that global warming is a very real, research-backed phenomenon, and those who deny its existence are, no offense, uneducated buffoons. With that being said, let’s continue.
Climate is typically defined as the weather conditions prevailing in an area over a long period of time. For instance, the climate of Illinois is often described as “humid continental,” meaning that it is characterized by moderate precipitation, hot, often humid summers, and cold winters. Climates are incredibly complex and critical to the functioning of a region’s ecosystem, but as the globe continues to warm, they are becoming increasingly unpredictable. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean currents play a huge role in weather patterns and the earth’s distribution of solar radiation. The heat trapped in our atmosphere has caused ocean levels to rise, water temperatures to fluctuate, and currents to shift. It is no wonder that climates across the globe are becoming more and more inconsistent. Wet seasons are becoming droughts, mild temperatures are soaring to record highs. The result? Vegetation dries out, and entire forests essentially become kindling, just waiting for a spark or a lightning strike to ignite their expanses. I’m not saying that driving your car instead of biking to the store will immediately ignite a wildfire in some part of the world. However, unsustainable behaviors (such as excessive burning of fossil fuels) contribute to global warming, which consequently dominoes into more frequent and powerful natural disasters. Boo!
To some, environmentally friendly behavior is unbearably inconvenient. Yes, sipping on a disposable water bottle and eventually throwing it away is much less “laborious” than using a reusable bottle and washing it afterward. However, there are more inconvenient things in this world than having to drink from a reusable bottle. For example: having to flee your home and leave all of your belongings behind because they’re in the path of a wildfire. Check your privileges people. We are all affected by the health of the Earth, and we all have a responsibility to behave sustainably. If Mother Earth goes down, she’s taking us with her, and no amount of money or climate change denial can change that. It’s time that we all start doing our part rather than ignoring the fact that our planet is suffering. Ignorance will no longer be bliss when we can’t breathe.