Many years ago, I suggested to my parents that they might want to have plans in case of future wildfires. Their response was that New Hampshire got enough rain to make that pretty unlikely, at least for a while. They were right, of course, and New Hampshire has not had a serious fire problem in the years since. This is a good thing, of course, but it looks like that good thing might be on its way out, because Nova Scotia is burning.
I’ve been up there once, during a summer vacation in my childhood. We spent a couple weeks there, in public campgrounds, and one of my biggest memories from that trip was that it was gray and rainy the whole time. Nova Scotia is a peninsular province that sticks out into the North Atlantic ocean, to the east of Maine, and I think it typically gets a bit more rain than southern New Hampshire. Everywhere has fires from time to time, but it’s not an area historically known for being on fire, even in the more toasty era of the last decade. Unfortunately, history’s lessons fall short, in the face of a warming event unlike anything our species has ever encountered, and Nova Scotia is burning.
Officials and climate experts in Nova Scotia, Canada on Tuesday pointed to numerous climate-related factors that have contributed to the wildfires that are raging in the province this week, forcing the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and destroying roughly 200 homes and other structures.
The Tantallon fire in the Halifax area and the Barrington Lake fire in the southwestern county of Shelburne have burned through a combined 25,000 acres in the Maritime province, which, as one firefighter told the Canadian newspaper SaltWire, has historically been far less likely to experience such blazes than landlocked western provinces.
“This the worst fire I’ve ever been on,” volunteer firefighter Capt. Brett Tetanish toldSaltWire. “I’ve been on other large fires in Nova Scotia, Porters Lake, we lost structures there, but you don’t see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see these in Alberta.”
Tetanish described a “surreal” scene as he drove toward the Tantallon fire on Sunday evening.
“We’re driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road,” he toldSaltWire.
Other witnesses, including a filmmaker, posted videos on social media of “apocalyptic scenes” showing fires destroying homes and huge plumes of smoke rendering highways nearly invisible to drivers.
“I almost died,” said the filmmaker. “The fire is spreading, it’s very serious. We couldn’t see anything.”
Halfway through 2023, Nova Scotia has already experienced more wildfires than it did in all of 2022, according to the National Observer.
Karen McKendry, a wilderness outreach coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Nova Scotia’s capital, Halifax, told the Observer the province has experienced hotter dryer weather than normal this spring, making it easier for fires to spread.
“People haven’t always, on a national scale, been thinking about Nova Scotia and wildfires,” McKendry said. “What dominates the consciousness, rightly so in Canada, is what’s happening out West. But with a warming climate and some drier seasons, this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia. So more fires, more widespread fires, more destructive fires from a human perspective as well.”
The province’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) also warned last Friday that the wildfires were taking hold in the region less than a year after Hurricane Fiona downed what Premier Tim Houston called a “significant” number of trees across Nova Scotia.
“Fires in areas where Hurricane Fiona downed trees have the potential to move faster and burn more intensely, making them potentially more difficult to contain and control,” said the DNRR. “At this time, needles, twigs, leaves, etc., support fire ignition and spread. With high winds, the spread can be rapid and intense.”
Scientists last year linked warming oceans, fueled by the continued extraction of fossil fuels and emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, to Fiona’s destruction in Eastern Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Monday that the situation in Nova Scotia is “incredibly serious,” prompting Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, to point to Trudeau’s support for fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
“This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a Green New Deal!” Tabasinejad said on Twitter.
Yes, yes it would.
This doesn’t mean that the east coast of North America is now as fire-prone as the west coast. It’s not. What it does mean is that, as scientists have long predicted, the rules are changing. Climate-related disasters that used to be limited to certain parts of the world, are now showing up in new places. This is our world now. We’ve known this was coming for decades, and we know that it’s only going to get worse. That’s why I’m so convinced that we need to move farming indoors – where we grow our food right now depends almost entirely on historical climate conditions. This is happening right now, and the people running the world are all so stuck in the past, and so obsessed with their own power, that they are actively working to stop humanity from saving ourselves.
Mark Fisher describes “capitalist realism” as having an easier time imagining the end of the world, than the end of capitalism. It’s time we faced up to the fact that the capitalists have decided that if dealing with climate change requires an end to capitalism, then they would rather see the entire species killed off, than lose their power.
That should not be up to them