Tuesday, August 27, 2019

How Global Warming Changes Canada

This article was published in the TAZ, a German magazine. It was translated from German. Terms and comparisons pertinent to a German audience only have been left out.
As we lived 6 years in Alberta, we have partially experienced similar conditions as stated in the article. Our own experiences date from 2002 - 2008. 

Alberta is like a smokehouse
Smoke and smog instead of clear cool air: Climate change destroys the idyll of the Canadian West. And  it's killing people there.

Can we be rescued? The world as we know it, is drowning. Even more so than in Germany, one can currently experience it in Canada, what kind of dramatic consequences the climate crisis can have in everyday life. In the vast country whose northern territories reach far into the Arctic, global warming happens twice as fast as in the rest of the world.

Suddenly, the country experiences tornadoes. Drought periods are created drying up entire rivers. On the other hand, there are also floods, such as in 2013 in Calgary, the city in the western Canadian province of Alberta, where I have been living and worked for several years. The historic flood flooded the entire city center, causing $6 billion in financial damage. 80,000 people had to be evacuated and some lost their entire belongings.

Founded in 1875 on the territory of the indigenous people of the Blackfoot, the Tsuut'ina and the Stoney Nakoda, this pioneering settlement is often a vague term for most Germans, who are old enough, to remember the 1988 Winter Olympics. Today it is a rapidly growing metropolis with well over one million inhabitants.

Passing through two crystal-clear mountain streams, the Bow and the Elbow, Calgary lies on the border between the vast Canadian prairie to the east and the Foothills and the Rocky Mountains to the west, which are easily accessible from the city in just under an hour's drive.

The summers are usually moderately warm here, the winters long and hard. Temperatures of minus thirty degrees are not uncommon from autumn to far into spring. The climate is extremely dry. Almost all year round, the sky is bright blue. Calgary is the sunniest city in Canada.

So far the earlier rule. Recently, however, 

nothing is here as it once was. The cold phases become harder and longer, followed by heat, heavy rain and dry periods. The glaciers in the Rockies are thawing off. But that's not all. In Alberta, people joke that there are now only two alternate seasons - winter, smoke and winter. Forest or prairie fires suddenly appear to an extent that the locals can not remember from the days of their childhood and youth.
In 2016, such a gigantic fire with fire walls over 100 meters in height threatened to cremate the entire city of Fort McMurray, an area surrounded by vast forests, a community located 700 kilometers north of Calgary, owned by the oil sands industry. 88,000 people were evacuated then, thousands lost their homes.

It is no longer just a historical case, but a harbinger of coming normality. In 2017, 2018 and 2019, large areas of the province once again burned down. Its getting warmer and warmer. In August 2018, an absolute new heat record was recorded in Calgary on a day at 36.4 degrees Celsius.

The tranquility with which the Canadians are waiting for their fate is astonishing.

In the far north, it is now heating up even earlier every year and it is warmer than in the south of the province. Between March and the end of July 2019, 803,393 hectares of land were burned in Alberta by 644 fires, mostly in the vicinity of the northern small town of High Level. By May this year, about 10,000 people had to be evacuated there.

The calm with which the affected Canadians are waiting for their fate, is astonishing.

Imagine that in Germany, a whole city would be told that all residents would immediately have to sit on packed suitcases and promptly vacate their houses at any time and camp out in gymnasiums and keep quiet to wait and see if their own house burns down or not. In Alberta, this is now everyday life.

The air pollution of the fire catastrophes resembles that of huge CO2 bombs, which further aggravate the climate heating. Depending on the wind, Calgary's air quality can fall within 10 minutes of the Air Quality Health Index's 10+ rating, an extreme warning of acute health hazards and long-term consequences, especially for children, the elderly or the sick. Thousands have already died from these climatic conditions, and the trend is rising.

Constrained tourists from Vancouver on the Pacific coast in British Columbia across the Rockies to Calgary were facing a single dense smog wall in August 2018,. The mountains were nowhere to be seen from Calgary.

For me, too, these experiences were dramatic. They made it clear to me what it feels like to have no control or escape in the face of such conditions - unless you sit in a plane and fly far away to another country.

The dense smog covered all of Alberta, a province into which Germany would fit twice. The smoke is just everywhere. It pollutes the offices on the university campus, the library, the shopping mall, his own apartment. Without the installation of special air filters, which are nowhere to be found, you can not create a retreat with breathable air. Turning the air conditioner on, only worsens everything. It pumps the smoke from the outside to the inside.

Looking out of the window, the air has a brownish-yellowish color. It acts like a dense fog, swallowing even nearby buildings. It smells like a cold fireplace. The whole city is like a monstrous smokehouse. If you ride a bike to work, you have to put on a breathing mask. But such physical activities outdoors are strongly discouraged anyway. Jogging or walking makes no sense, because it would be the consumption of several packets of cigarettes.

Nevertheless, people vote for the oil industry

You sit around indoors, breathing shallow - knowing that this does not help, because the toxic carcinogenic CO2 agents from the air gets into your own bloodstream anyway. The respiratory system is irritated, the eyes burn, you get a headache.

The strong sun and the blowing winds in the Canadian redneck state number 1 calls for alternative energy sources

Despite all this, human ignorance of such threats is hard to overcome. 

In 2019 Albertans voted the New Democratic Party (NDP) out of office and instead gave power to the United Conservative Party (UCP). Their prime minister Jason Kenney completely ignores the climate crisis.
With pithy promises and aggressive slogans he wants to fight for the flagging Albertan oil economy to come to fruition - even if the strong sun and the hair blowing winds in Canada's Redneck state number one call for alternative energy sources.

Soon, the political situation across Canada could change dramatically. On October 21 2019, the general election will take place, in which Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party of Canada, which is very close to the US Republican Party, could replace Justin Trudeau's liberal government, battered by internal scandals. In the polls, both parties are currently on a par.

It's like in the USA. Instead of acting, the majority of Albertans voted against their own interests, for a conservative climate policy backlash à la Donald Trump. The voters finally want more jobs and no CO2 tax in order to continue driving their large pick-up trucks along the countryside.

In the end, they will hardly get the promised work and, moreover, have lost their health as well. Nowhere does this sad spectacle make it as desperate as here, in the middle of one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world.

If you're planning a holiday in the Rockies, you should definitely take a look at firesmoke.ca first, and maybe stay away from the area.


  1. Just enough truth, obviously draw from media exaggeration as source material, to not quite rate as fake news. This has been the coldest, wettest summer we've ever experienced here. Our fire season ended in June. Politically, our condition is quite sad, being led by a proven unethical manipulator, something like a Trump clone. Mind you. we are used to "Alberta bashing", while ignoring eastern Canada's appalling environmental record. Most years, smoke from British Columbia is more of a hazard than local fires. Pandering to sensationalism does you no credit.

    1. The article has nothing to do with bashing Alberta. Global warming is happening around the world. Alberta was just taken because of its record of wildfires. And the current political leadership in AB does not contribute to curb global warming. The general and wide-spread understanding in the west is that one does not want to change lifestyle, hence the reference to the big trucks. Not sure what you are referring to re. the "appalling environmental record of eastern Canada". Here in NB there is hardly any polluting industry. IRVING might be the only one coming to mind.

  2. I guess the world leaders should spend more time working together in making our planet last longer instead of following our me first president.


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