By: Shane Masterson July 27, 2023
As Canada’s wildfire season started, some amount of peril was expected. But this time, the wildfires that burned through the country and the concentration of smoke that resulted was, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau put it, “unprecedented.” More specifically, the smoke that spread through Canada and affected the northern United States reached the highest amounts ever recorded, setting a new bar for the wide-reaching implications that wildfires can cause. The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre reports that upwards of 493 active fires remain in Canada, with 259 being classed as “out of control.” 19 million acres of land have been burned down.
Air quality has been a major factor of concern, and was one of the more harrowing results of the wildfires. New York, for example, went on record for having one of the worst Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers in the world after wildfire smoke spread down to the United States. As of June 30, the Big Apple maintains the second-to-worst air quality in the world on a ranking maintained by IQAir, only beaten out for the bottom spot by Jakarta. It currently sits at an AQI of 162; for context, AQI numbers above 150 are considered “unhealthy.” New York Governor Kathy Hochul urged vulnerable citizens to “take precautions” due to the inhibiting nature of unhealthy air.
Canada’s own cities are suffering from the air quality issue as well; Toronto is ranked as the third worst city by AQI, at 155, and Montreal trails behind at 153. People stayed inside or donned N95 masks, while outdoor events were canceled.
Since the beginning of the burn in May, the wildfire smoke has even crossed into Europe, streaking the sky in orange. Rather than calming down as time went on, CBS News reports that the fires only intensified come June.
In the fallout of the fires, researchers have found a strong link between the increase of climate change and the severity of the wildfires. This isn’t a new discovery; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of climate change’s effects on fire in 2021, with numerous indicators of fires worsening due to global warming occurring prior. According to Reuters, Canada’s forests also store billions of tons of carbon, some of which is released when trees are burned down by wildfires en masse. The large amounts of carbon released into the air adds to the compounding problem of global warming, and thus makes Canada’s forests more susceptible to future fires.
The Canadian wildfires spell out a harrowing story for the future of natural disasters that have been exacerbated by climate change. With unprecedented effects that reach across the globe, the fires’ effects will be long-lasting and serve as a warning signal for what may come in the future.