Americans are not appreciating the latest Canadian export. On the east coast, smoke from wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia has drifted over the border as far south as New York City. Just down the road from me, wildfires drive thousands from their homes in Nova Scotia.
Smoke from fires in Alberta is affecting air quality from Chicago to Louisville.
The east coast of the U.S. is being hit by fires in Quebec and Nova Scotia (L) and mid-America is suffering from fires from Alberta.
It could easily get worse. Canada is bracing for what forecasters say may be the country’s worst wildfire season on record. It has already seen 2,214 fires this year, which have burned an area roughly totaling the size of Belgium. The fires have collectively burned more than 3.3 million hectares of land across the country — around 12 times more than the average over the last 10 years. Projections suggest the risk of wildfires will only increase in June and remain unusually high with little respite throughout the summer.
If the trend continues, the country could see its largest area on record burned by wildfires.
This is happening because of an unusually dry winter and a spring that — thus far — has not made up the difference in moisture.
Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildfires and creating longer fire seasons. There has been an international response to the crises; nearly 1,000 firefighters from other countries, including the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are also on the ground in Canada to help.
If America was smart, it would charge Canada a fee for environmental hazard. But then Canada would probably charge the U.S. for improving the quality of its sunsets and sunrises.
Though a frivolous concept at the moment, the issue of the international treatment of a trans-national crises can quickly become very serious.
Both the U.S. and Canada — along with all other nations — need to face a much bigger problem: half of humanity is in danger of being trapped outside the environmental niche that can best support life.
According to a study in the journal Nature Sustainability, 3 to 6 billion people could be facing extreme heat, food scarcity and higher death rates, unless emissions are sharply curtailed or mass migration is accommodated.
The notion of a climate niche was first raised in 2020, as an observation that for the past 6,000 years humans have gravitated toward a narrow range of temperatures and precipitation levels that supported agriculture and, later, economic growth. Global warming would make those conditions elusive for growing segments of humankind: while just 1% of the earth’s surface is now intolerably hot, nearly 20% could be by 2070.
The world is fast approaching a tipping point. Soon, even small increases in average global temperature will have dramatic consequences. The world has already warmed by about 1.2 degree Celsius, pushing 9% of the earth’s population out of the climate niche. At 1.3 degrees, the study estimates that the pace would pick up considerably, and for every tenth of a degree of additional warming, 140 million more people will be pushed outside of the ecological niche.
Slowing global emissions would dramatically reduce the number of people affected by this. If warming were limited to the 1.5 degrees Celsius targeted by the Paris accords, half as many people would be left outside of the optimal zone. The population suffering from extreme heat would be reduced fivefold, from 22% to just 5% of the people on the planet.
Climate change will hit poorer parts of the world disproportionately. It will sentence people who live in developing nations and small island states to extreme temperatures, failing crops, and rising mortality.
India, as the world’s most populous country, will have the greatest population outside of the climate niche. Researchers estimate that more than 600 million Indians will be affected, six times more than if the Paris targets were achieved.
In Nigeria, more than 300 million citizens will be exposed, seven times more than if emissions were steeply cut. Indonesia could see 100 million people fall out of a secure and predictable environment, the Philippines and Pakistan 80 million people each, and so on.
Even the United States will see its South and Southwest fall toward the hottest end of the niche, leading to higher mortality and driving internal migration northward. The South shall rise again!
The crises comes with a moral asymmetry. The people who will be most affected by the rise in heat live in parts of the world that are contributing very little to the cause of climate change. Climate change is being pushed by rich people in wealthy countries. It can be altered with little effort: the U.S. per capita emissions are more than twice that of their European counterparts, so cuts can be made in America that would not greatly affect its standard of living.
Each American today emits nearly enough emissions over their lifetime to push one Indian or Nigerian of the future outside of their climate niche. We each have a human and moral responsibility to chose to live differently.
If we do not, the final option for many people will be migration. The estimated size of the affected populations, whether they’re 2 billion or 6 billion, suggests an era of global upheaval.
There may be more than smoke drifting across the borders. There may be billions of people, frantically looking for a sustainable environment.
The emergency is having immediate impacts. In many parts of America you cannot get insurance for business or personal property because of climate change.
State Farm for example announced that it will not accept any new applications for business or personal property and casualty insurance in the Golden State. The company, accounting for 20 percent of bundled home insurance policies and 13 percent of commercial policies in California, said it was facing “historic increases in construction costs outpacing inflation, rapidly growing catastrophe exposure, and a challenging reinsurance market.” Allstate, the fourth-largest property insurer in California, is also holding off on signing new policies.
Insuring property in California has been a dicey proposition in recent years. Torrential rainfall this past winter caused as much as $1.5 billion in insured losses this year. The state has also suffered the costliest wildfires in US history, including the 2018 Camp Fire, which led to more than $10 billion in losses.
In the first half of 2021, disasters inflicted a staggering $42 billion in losses covered by insurance, a 10-year high. Then in September, Hurricane Ida cut a path of destruction through the Gulf Coast and flooded neighborhoods from Louisiana to New Jersey, causing between $31 billion and $44 billion in insured losses.
Human actions are responsible. Decades of suppressing natural fires have allowed fuel for wildfires to accumulate to dangerously high levels. Humans are also heating up the planet, lifting sea levels, amplifying downpours, and exacerbating the conditions for massive blazes.
“Climate change is the №1 long-term risk out there,” said Jerome Haegeli who is group chief economist for Swiss Re, an international firm that sells reinsurance (a type of insurance that protects insurance companies from being overwhelmed by losses during disasters). Swiss Re expects that climate change will expand the pool of at-risk properties by 33 to 41 percent by 2040.
Major disasters like hurricanes and catastrophic fires can wipe out whole towns and lead to correlated insurance losses like large claims that have to be paid out at the same time. Climate change amplifies many disasters and connects them in ways are taking insurers by surprise.
This is not a “West Coast” problem. In 2012, North Carolina’s Coastal Resources Commission studied the risk of sea-level rise over the next century and reported that water levels along the coast could rise by as much as 39 inches. After coastal property developers realized that their holdings could lose value and become uninsurable in such a scenario, they pressured the state government, which outlawed policies that incorporated the agency’s forecast. The move inspired widespread mockery (“don’t look out.”)
Other diverse areas around the world are facing a future without water. Across Turkey’s breadbasket of the Konya Basin, wheat fields lay parched under the stress of the lowest rainfall in decades. Turkey endured a blistering heat wave with the fiercest temperatures in 60 years. Market towns and villages emptied as more than 2,000 fires scorched five times more land than usual — close to 200,000 hectares (770 square miles). Severe drought conditions and diminished groundwater levels — caused by a combination of climate change and water management policies — have taxed water supplies as never before. 60 percent of Turkey’s land area is prone to desertification. Continuing climate and land-use changes could wipe away its soils and turn it into a terrain not dissimilar from Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Speaking of the American mid-West, an analysis has revealed that there is not enough groundwater underneath the Phoenix metropolitan area to meet projected demands over the next century, a finding that could threaten the current home-building boom in outer suburbs that are among the fastest growing parts of the United States. And as the climate gets hotter and drier in the West, and major water sources such as the Colorado River diminish, dwindling supplies of groundwater as outlined in the new report could portend a vastly different future than the one residents in the Southwest have come to expect.
As Turkey gets drier, forest fires are becoming a more pressing concern. Since the 1970s, the country has focused on the planting of sprawling commercial monoculture forests of pine, a tree that burns easily and creates fodder for wildfires. By planting pine trees rather than trees more resistant to fire, you have much larger wildfires.
Trine Christiansen, who focuses on water assessments at the European Environment Agency, says “We need to change the way we produce food and energy. If we don’t tackle the systemic logic of ever-increasing efficiency, ever-more output, we’ll not see any great progress toward environmental improvement.”
To ward off the worst, Turkey has to rethink its full-speed-ahead growth strategies, says Christiansen. Otherwise, Turkey and its neighbors must acknowledge that vast swaths of their territory will soon be unfit for life.
Overall, the entire Mediterranean Basin is one of the world’s climate hotspots that will bear a disproportionate brunt of global warming. The Mediterranean will most likely become progressively drier and drastically warmer at higher levels of global warming.
Climate change has shrunk more than half the world’s lakes and reservoirs in the last three decades. From the Caspian Sea in Eurasia to South America’s Lake Titicaca, around 22 gigatonnes of water per year have vanished. A gigatonne would fill up 400,000 Olympic swimming pools; that works out to 8.8 million pools in one year.
Twenty-two of these gigatonne-sized blocks of fresh water are vanishing every year…while ocean levels rise.
Climate scientists generally think that the world’s arid areas will become drier under climate change, and wet areas will get wetter, but the study found significant water loss even in humid regions.
From the American West to China, Australia to India, some of the world’s most important rivers have been drained dry for agriculture, industry, and drinking water.
Nearly 2 billion people, who live in a drying lake basin, are already directly affected.
This is a trans-national emergency, and it requires an international response from all sectors.
Job One for Humanity is a publicly funded, independent climate change think tank that has received accolades for its approach.
Job One Executive Director Lawrence Wollersheim stated that “Wildfires and life-smothering smoke pollution will increase in lockstep with rising global warming. Decades ago, it was a well-predicted global warming consequence by climate scientists. Unfortunately, the wildfires and life-smothering smoke pollution you now see in Canada, the US, Europe, and Siberia will soon radically increase in frequency, severity, and size of affected areas.”
For transparency: I myself am a member of Job One, and as the forest fire flare near my home, I am very glad to be a contributor to long-term, effective change.
What is happening in Canada now, and around the world, is not going to get better by itself. We caused this problem; we need to make it better. Each of us.
My wife and I are going totally solar this year for household power. Next year, we will get an EV. We will be plugged directly into the sun, just like the plants in our garden or the flowers feeding our bees. I am not some kind of fanatic, but the technology and cost have caught up with the potential. We can do this, affordably.
In the future, Canada needs to have better news to share with America than an air quality warning.
Please support Job One, and the job that needs to be done.
This article was created and posted by Barry Gander who is responsible for its content.
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