As Albertans scramble for solutions to the Fort McMurray wildfire, experts are warning that a “perfect storm” of last year’s El Niño and climate change helped fuel the destruction.
The fire has now grown 10 times its original size, and is ravaging an area of Canada’s heartland roughly the size of Hong Kong. More than 80,000 locals have evacuated Fort McMurray, 1,600 buildings have been decimated, and many pets remain stranded in the city amid the chaos.
With reports now suggesting that this fire may even make it to the nearby province of Saskatchewan, officials suggest that the only way of containing this wildfire is through heavy rainfall.
As new research shows the region’s mild winter and increased snow melt could have contributed to the dry conditions which sparked the blaze, ultimately, it will remain at the mercy of a changing climate as long as emissions aren’t capped and temperatures continue to rise.
- The Fort McMurray wildlife has the fingerprints of climate change all over it. As the Alberta fires continue to rage, satellite data shows snow cover in the Northern hemisphere last month was at its lowest level of any April in 50 years; driven by a combination of last year’s El Niño and longer warming trends. As climate change leaves our winters warmer, causing snow to melt faster, experts warn forests and grasslands have a chance to dry out earlier, which – as we are also seeing in Australia – could mean longer and more intense fire seasons.
- Extreme weather impacts are harsher and more frequent than ever. With 2015 on record for being the hottest year ever, it’s no surprise that extreme weather events from floods and storms to droughts and heatwaves continue to pummel communities across the globe. As the chances of such incidents continue to grow, bringing an even bigger toll and hitting the most vulnerable hardest, the Fort McMurray wildfire is the latest sobering reality check for what lies ahead if climate action stagnates.
- As long as fossil fuels are extracted, countries will remain at the mercy of a volatile climate. If the world is to have a chance of holding warming below 2DegC, let alone 1.5DegC, the vast majority of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Yet Alberta’s tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions, and across the world countries, such as Australia and Japan, continue to dig up and burn dirty fossil fuels. As the Fort McMurray wildfire grabs international headlines all eyes are on governments’ next move, and if they will see through their collective pledge to abandon fossil fuels in favour of a renewable future.