While the proliferation of wildfires raises fears of a tough summer across Canada, meteorologists and experts warn that the incidence will likely increase in the coming years. And we have to prepare for it. Interview with Jean-Pierre Blanchet, Professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).
Why are we seeing so many fires spreading now?
We’re in a period of increasing drought across Canada, but what’s increasing the most is climate change. We see more and more very humid periods with high rainfall followed by very dry periods. Above all, there will be heavy thunderstorms that will fuel the fire. From all sides, it assaults us at this time. It’s a whole combination of circumstances, or at least several conditions acting up suddenly.
How does climate change contribute to this?
There are many things. But mainly, nowadays, even when it rains heavily, we find that the land is relatively dry, so it does not absorb water very well. This accentuates the problem and it causes a lot of erosion which contributes to weakening the trees and having weak plants. We are not alone. Worldwide, many are similarly affected, in Australia or Europe, particularly around the Mediterranean.
Apart from the scale of the wildfires, what is the main challenge this year?
It’s really big. Forests are significantly drying out across large areas across Canada, so the landscape at risk is very high. If we think about California a few years ago, the severe drought was mainly on the US West Coast, whereas at home, it can be seen across much of the territory. This makes it very difficult for authorities to deploy vital resources everywhere to defuse the entire situation. There are choices to be made.
Should we be worried that it will get worse?
In the short term, it’s hard to say. But in the medium and long term, it will grow, and this is just the beginning. All of this will become more and more important. If we stopped producing greenhouse gases now, it would take fifty years to restore balance. Fortunately, the good news is that the Canadian Space Agency has new satellites to measure and monitor wildfires in greater detail.
As citizens, what message should we retain in the face of all this?
We have been talking about the warming climate and its consequences for a long time. We were talking about it in the 1980s and nobody believed us. Now people are starting to realize it. The planet behaves like a smoker: it’s okay, I can smoke another one. Unless we are stuck in extreme situations, we have difficulty making decisions. But we need to pick them up quickly.
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