Comment: Weathering disaster
Though Canada has fared reasonably well through the pandemic, there is still significant healing to be done by communities and between individuals who may have dismissed their commonalities of benefit in favour of their divided opinions on the pandemic.
Canada cannot afford any further divisions any more than the rest of the world can with warnings about how severe the threat of irreversible seismic shifts to our planet are being shown to us as clear as fresh-buffed glass. Climate change won’t discriminate. It’s coming for us all, and so, there has never been a more pressing need to work together.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a detailed assessment on the science at the end of February and the impacts are happening faster and are more severe than predicted. As aptly noted in the report by Inger Andersen, the UN’s environment programme director: “Climate change isn’t lurking around the corner waiting to pounce. It’s already upon us, raining down blows on billions of people.”
And, in a more direct quote from the report for the fire service: “Difficult choices will have to be made. Which fires do we just let burn because we don’t have enough equipment to go around?” asked Linda Mearns, National Center for Atmospheric Research climate scientist and reviewer for the report’s chapter on North America.
Fire Fighting in Canada, the sister publication to Canadian Firefighter, themed its 2022 Virtual Summit around climate change. Registration doubled from the previous year and attendees hailed from as far as Australia. Whether its wildfires, floods, extreme snow, extreme winds, or catastrophic heat, preparing for and leading the response to climate events is a top concern for Canada’s fire service. Responding to longer-term events with community wide consequences, events that are high risk and high impact, is becoming more common. The need to prepare and pool resources — to work together — was emphasized time and again throughout the event.
Throughout the pandemic, we have heard a common refrain from political leaders that they are “listening to the science” in terms of their response. Listening to the science on climate change is like tuning into a dystopian, apocalyptic audiobook. It’s terrifying. But it is not a fear to run from, it is a fear to run straight towards or we might not have anywhere left to run to. For the fire service, listening to the science means giving due attention to the potential risks in your community and putting significant efforts towards helping your community and department be prepared. The 72-hour stockpile guidance becomes ever-more important for households as global warming marches on.
Canada’s fire service can and should partake in environmentally responsible actions and be models of leadership in this regard, but ultimately the mitigation of this global crisis requires global leadership. And, ultimately, firefighters will be the ones on the frontlines of the world to come.
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