A remarkably candid report from the Calgary Herald explores the future that awaits western Canada. Hint, it's not at all good.
Heat and drought. A longer fire season with more frequent wildfires and larger areas burned. That’s what’s in store for Canada, especially the prairie provinces, in the coming years, experts say, a situation that is being directly attributed to climate change.
...“My colleagues and I attribute that to human-caused climate change. I can’t be any clearer than that,” said Mike Flannigan, professor with the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta.
“We’re seeing more fire because our climate is changing, in particular because it is getting warmer.”
And along with the warmer the temperature comes an extended fire season.
“In Alberta, our fire season used to start April 1. It now officially starts March 1 and not this spring, but in the spring and winter of 2015/2016, we had actionable fires in February,” said Flannigan.
“The warmer it gets the more lightning we see and, everything else being equal, more lightning equals more fire.”
...Flannigan said the reality is fire is a part of our future and a term people often use is this is our “new normal,” but he doesn’t like the use of it.
“It sounds like it’s a plateau. But actually, we’re on a trajectory, perhaps a downward spiral. Things could get a lot worse,” said Flannigan.A research scientist with National Resources Canada, Marc-Andre Parisien, claims that Alberta might more rain but not enough to offset extra drought caused by more heating.
“In the more pessimistic (climate scenario) cases, some people are saying an increase of four to six (degrees),” said Parisien.
“I’ve even been seeing up to eight degrees celsius, on average per year, in the next 80 to 100 years or so. That is huge.”
Although it is projected that Alberta will also see more rain, Parisien said the moisture may or may not be able to keep up with the increased temperature. He said that’s looking like this is the case right now.
“There’s this rule of thumb that with every degree in increased temperature, you need about 15 per cent relative humidity increase to keep up,” said Parisien.
“Any kind of increase in moisture, if there even is one, is really not keeping up with the increase in temperature, which leads to tree mortality and vegetation change.”
Those conditions create the perfect recipe for more wildfires in our future, he said.
“To put a value on it, it’s difficult. A lot of people have talked about it doubling or tripling,” said Parisien.Another issue that's emerging is the impact of wildfire smoke on the respiratory systems of those in affected areas.
The long-term effects of breathing in smoke from wildfires is still unknown and Chris Carlsten, a respirologist at the University of British Columbia, said while the short-term effects are concerning, it is important to consider the upward trend of wildfire frequency.
“These have been such temporary events that we have thought of the adverse effects as short-term, but as they get longer, we start to blur the lines between acute and chronic,” said Carlsten.
“If these (wildfire) seasons become July, August, September, then you’re taking about 25 per cent of the year, and who knows — I don’t want to be alarmist. The trend is not good,” said Carlsten.
If the air quality worsens, Carlsten said a potential scenario is normally healthy people developing a chronic illness where there wasn’t one before.
“If you’re getting repeated hits (of smoky air) and it’s three months then, theoretically, gradually, people will be more likely to develop more (chronic health issues) that won’t go away because the longer we are exposed, and the less clean (air) time, the harder is it is to repair these inflammatory insults.”