Canada is experiencing its most destructive wildfire season on record, as hundreds of blazes burning from coast to coast continue to send tremendous plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. The smoke has reached as far as Europe, impacting air quality, and creating vivid sunsets. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, more than 43,000 square kilometres have burned in Canada so far this year, making 2023 the second-worst year for wildfires on record and that record from 1989, may be on the verge of being broken. At one point there were 206 out of control fires and 483 active fires burning in 10 provinces and two territories. The fires have been fueled by rising temperatures, drought and harsh weather conditions driven by climate change.
Air Quality & Health
The wildfires have not only devastated the forests and wildlife, but also affected the health and well-being of millions of Canadians. The smoke from the fires contains harmful pollutants such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ozone, which can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation and cardiovascular diseases. The smoke can also worsen the symptoms of all respiratory conditions and other infections. According to Environment Canada, many parts of the country have experienced poor air quality due to the smoke, with some regions reaching a high-risk level of 10 on the Air Quality Health Index.
Added Greenhouse Gas
One of the factors that contributes to the poor air quality during wildfire season is the increased use of cars on the road. Cars emit greenhouse gases and other pollutants that can react with the smoke and form smog, a thick layer of haze that reduces visibility and harms health. According to Statistics Canada, there were 26.4 million registered motor vehicles in Canada in 2020, up from 25.8 million in 2019. The transportation sector accounted for 25% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, making it the second-largest source after oil and gas. It seems logical that if you didn’t have to put more cars on the road, that you wouldn’t, especially after proving over the course of the pandemic, with the advancement of technology, how effective and efficient remote work has been.
Health & Safety Tips
As the wildfire season continues to rage on, it is important for Canadians to take precautions to protect themselves and their environment from the harmful effects of smoke and smog. Some of the tips include:
- Checking the local air quality forecast and avoiding outdoor activities when the air quality is poor.
- Wearing a well-fitted N95 mask or respirator when going outside or working in smoky areas.
- Keeping windows and doors closed and using air purifiers or filters to reduce indoor exposure to smoke.
- Reducing car use.
- Driving less aggressively and maintaining proper tire pressure to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
- Supporting efforts to prevent and fight wildfires by following fire bans, reporting fires and supporting relief organizations.
Wildfires are a natural part of Canada's ecosystems, but they have become more frequent and severe due to human activities and climate change. By taking action to reduce our impact on the environment and adapting to the changing conditions, we can help preserve our forests and our health for future generations.
This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page. You may also enjoy video content of The Monthly Social Podcast on YouTube or The Path Radio Mix on YouTube. For sports content, please consider The Coach's Call YouTube Podcast.