Between 1981 and 2023, the amount of smoke recorded each year in Edmonton has increased from an average of 14 hours per year to 199 hours so far this year.
In the spring and summer of 2023, Alberta faced unprecedented wildfires, floods, smoky – almost apocalyptic – air, sanitary air quality alerts, heat warnings, tornadoes and power grid alerts.
Another special air quality statement was issued on Thursday due to the smoke, and Edmonton’s air health rating rose to level 7 (high risk) on Friday.
“We’ve had an extended period of hot, dry conditions across much of Alberta and western Canada,” said Justin Shelley, weather preparedness meteorologist for Environment and Climate Change Canada. “It was an introduction to this important year in terms of wildfires.
“Since April, every month we have seen above average temperatures and below average rainfall.”
This is a trend that should continue, say experts.
“As temperatures rise, precipitation patterns change, we have drier years and warmer years, this is going to lead to more favorable conditions for wildfires to start and grow,” he said. Shelly.
It also likely means more wildfire smoke.
“We’ve definitely seen a trend over the past few years where we’re seeing a lot more smoke hours than before,” Shelley said.
Between 1981 and 2010, Edmonton averaged 14 “smoke hours” a year, he said. As of August 31, Edmonton had recorded 199 hours of smoke in 2023.
Most of this amount occurred in May (108 smoke hours) and July (82 smoke hours).
Environment and Climate Change Canada measures smoke hours based on observed reduced visibility.
“In terms of what we consider hours of smoke, that’s when the visibility is six statute miles or less than 10 kilometers.”
ECCC’s smoke hours datasets specifically show the “total number of hours between May and September that reported visibility was 9.7 km or less in smoke”. There would be additional times each year where visibility would be higher in smoke or where it might have been reported only as “haze,” Shelley explained.
He added that the presence of smoke does not necessarily mean that the air quality index was high or very high at the time.
The index – a different measure – is calculated based on the presence and amount of various pollutants, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, found in the air. smoke from forest fires.
“Generally, the trend for more smoke hours has been the same across Alberta this year and over the past few years,” Shelley said.
So far in 2023, Calgary has recorded 445 hours of smoke.
The average between 1981 and 2010 in Calgary was 12 hours of smoke per year.
Shelley said the most recent decade has also seen an increase in annual smoke hours in Calgary, but exact averages for 1991-2020 have yet to be released.
In 2021, Edmonton recorded 126 hours of smoke. “2018 was a record for Edmonton, when we had 229 hours that met that criteria. These records date back to 1953.”
As of August 30, Alberta had recorded a record 1.3 million hectares burned by wildfires in the 2023 season. Wildfire season officially lasts until October.
“We are expecting an El Nino year, which is shaping up for the fall and winter months, so this trend of warmer and drier conditions in western Canada is likely to continue,” said Shelly.
“Many years when there are larger wildfire complexes, they can burn well into the fall and even into the winter months. »
For comparison, in 2022 a total of 128,400 hectares were burned. The second highest recent season was in 2019, when 791,800 hectares burned.
Shelley said the trend towards longer and more intense wildfire seasons has prompted Environment and Climate Change Canada to increase its tracking practices, create wildfire smoke paths and try to predict fires. of forest and smoke. The agency is also increasing public awareness of the health risks a*sociated with wildfires and smoke.
“Are you ready for the upcoming season?… Are any of your family members at higher risk in these smoky conditions? Do you have an adequate supply of medicine, food and water? I am thinking of evacuations, if necessary.
Ipsos poll on climate action and wildfires
A new Ipsos poll conducted for PKBNEWS reveals that a strong majority of Canadians believe the federal government has a key responsibility to act quickly on climate change.
Six in 10 Canadians (59 per cent) agree that if the Government of Canada does not act now to fight climate change, it will fail the people of Canada.
However, Canadians are also concerned about the current economic situation and how they will be called upon to contribute as individuals. More than a third (35%) believe now may not be the right time to invest in climate action, given the economic hardships being felt by many across the country.
Ipsos found that the majority of Canadians surveyed agree that recent wildfires have been worse due to climate change (63 percent). Agreement is highest among women (67 percent, versus 59 percent among men), as well as among those in British Columbia (72 percent), Quebec (69 percent) and Ontario (64 percent).
However, a notable proportion (19%) disagree that climate change and recent forest fires are linked phenomena.
Unprecedented extreme weather in Alberta fuels climate anxiety
The tangible signs of the climate crisis are also affecting the mental health of citizens.
“We know the impact is quite significant, especially on young people today, but I think everyone notices it in their own way,” said Dr. Christine Gibson, a Calgary-based physician and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. .
“I think even those who deny this is a climate emergency are stuck in a mental health trap that we call dissociation or the free state, where they are so worried they have to deny that there is a problem even when the evidence is proven in the air you breathe.
Gibson cited a 2021 Lancet study that found children around the world are incredibly worried about the environment.
“They feel we have failed to protect them and the planet. And this is manifested in the individual by very high levels of anxiety, depression, a feeling of helplessness, despair and discouragement.
“We see a lot of young people saying, ‘I’m never going to have children,’ which is…a measure of their existential angst.”
Coping with Climate Anxiety
Gibson says it’s important to do some inner work and stay in tune with your body’s signals.
“Notice if you’re in a fight or flight state – which is this very stressed and restless movement energy in the high tone – or this dissociated and checked energy in the low tone. I think many of us can land in those states. It is therefore essential to know your own nervous system and to really work on its self-regulation.
Taking action can also help, she said.
“This trauma does not happen to individuals, it is a collective trauma. So it’s about learning the levers with which we can interact – at policy, governance and leadership levels – and really make a difference.
“We have different levels of privilege and leverage, but I think it’s important to use what we can and be hopeful in our own ability to make change,” Gibson said.
Halifax psychologist Simon Sherry told PKBNEWS he has seen an increase in clients talking to him about ecological bereavement.
“[Climate change] impacts mental health in terms of anxiety, stress, depression, trauma and even PTSD,” he says.
“You can mourn the loss of our environment and its destruction, and that loss is often painful and a**logous to grief over the loss of a loved one or grief over the loss of a pet,” he says. .
But Sherry also says grief or fear can and should be translated into action. The challenge, he says, is not to let these negative emotions take hold.
“If you’re pa*sive, sedentary, and ruminating, sitting on the couch and doing nothing is where your grief, anxiety, and depression fester and grow,” he says. “The enormity of this problem is paralyzing. »
Simple, everyday actions that convey an environmentally positive message can go a long way in helping people move on from their grief, anxiety, or fear, Sherry says.
“It could be something as simple, but as important as… trying public transport, using clean energy or advocating for a [or] using green spaces,” he says.
“I would advise people to take specific, concrete, achievable and local action, rather than being paralyzed and overwhelmed by uncertainty, denial or catastrophism. »
With files from By Kamyar Razavi, PKBNEWS