‘One climate disaster after another’: North America’s long hot summer
‘One climate disaster after another’: North America’s long hot summer

Thousands of people are scrambling to evacuate as the northern Canadian city of Yellowknife is set for the country’s record wildfire season as flames from another fire are closing in on homes, threatening North America for the second time in as many weeks .

A few hours south of Yellowknife, intense wildfires on Friday also threatened the western Canadian city of Kelowna, a thriving tourist hub with a population of 130,000. An evacuation has also been ordered there, while firefighters fought to save homes.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened an incident response team on Thursday and said the government would continue to “emergency mobilize” resources.

The evacuations in Canada came after more than 110 people were forced to jump into the sea after wildfires sparked by Pacific hurricane winds killed more than 110 people in the tourist town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Meanwhile, another hurricane is hitting California and Mexico, and catastrophic flooding is possible along the Pacific coast.

The events are part of a broader pattern of extreme weather and disasters across North America this summer, with climate change exacerbating storms, rainfall, heat and drought and creating weather patterns that can cause damage.

In New York, meetings were canceled and construction sites closed due to wildfire smoke. In Hawaii, Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest electric utility, has been in talks to restructure the company following the Maui disaster. In Texas, an ongoing heat wave is stressing the power grid. Stores, restaurants and businesses in the town of Montpellier, Vermont, closed after severe flooding in July.

John Podesta, President Joe Biden’s clean energy adviser, said Wednesday that “this summer has brought climate catastrophe after climate catastrophe” and that the wildfires in Maui are a sign that “climate change is being felt across the country.” losses caused by extreme weather”.

A map showing wildfires surrounding the town of Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories.The town of 20,000 people was ordered to evacuate

The catastrophes have fueled a debate about global warming across the U.S., with climate scientists increasingly emphasizing the link between climate change and extreme weather events, even though a majority of Republican voters see them as a “slight threat” or no threat, according to opinion polls.

“I don’t call them wildfires anymore because there’s a human footprint in these fire increases, they’re not wildfires anymore,” said Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Center for Climate Research.

Heat waves, droughts, floods and more intense storms are all “directly” linked to climate change, which also creates the conditions for more frequent and longer-lasting wildfires, she said.

Wildfires in Canada have burned a record-breaking 14 million hectares of forest this year (an area the size of Greece), and earlier this summer smoke drifted into New York and other US cities, bringing dire and dangerous air quality to millions People hundreds of miles from the fire.

In the southern US, millions more were scorched under the so-called heat dome over the Gulf, sending temperatures into the mid-40s in parts of Texas, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Electric demand in the state hit an all-time high of nearly 83 gigawatt-hours in an hour in late July as Texans cranked up their air conditioners, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Aerial images show homes and vehicles destroyed after wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii this month
More than 110 people have died this month as wildfires raged in the Lahaina area of ​​Maui, Hawaii © Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

The extremes vary across the country. Earlier this summer, Vermont in the northeastern United States was hit by flash floods and extreme rainfall, while the southwestern part of the country experienced the region’s worst drought in 1,200 years.

But as next year’s federal election looms, many political leaders have remained silent on the events of this summer — including Biden, who has toured the country touting the benefits of sweeping clean energy subsidies he signed last year.

Paul Bledsoe, a former White House climate adviser under President Bill Clinton, said: “Recognizing the human and economic costs of extreme weather events associated with climate change has not become the focus of the political conversation. Part of it, it’s really frustrating.” “There’s a disconnect.”

He urged the Biden administration to discuss climate issues in terms of public safety, national security and rising economic costs. “These are the frames most people talk about,” Bledsoe said.

Students at a high school in New York look out their classroom windows at an orange smoky landscape
Smoke from Canadian wildfires engulfed New York and other U.S. East Coast cities in June, sparking air quality alerts © Will Zammit-Miller/AP

But the Biden administration has also been concerned about keeping fossil fuel prices low, fearing that if the cost of gasoline and heating rose (as it did after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year), there would be a voter backlash that would fuel inflation across the economy.

David Watkins, director of government affairs at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the views of many US politicians on fossil fuels and their role in the economy “have not changed in over a century”.

“We thought we’d hit that tipping point, and as things started to happen that people predicted, as they predicted, the needle in political discourse was going to move — but it didn’t seem to move,” Watkins said. .

Podesta was asked by reporters on Wednesday if he thought the American public “understood” the link between climate change and various extreme weather events across the country.

NASA satellite imagery this week shows wildfires burning northeast of Yellowknife in Canada's Northwest Territories
People have been ordered to evacuate Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories in recent days to escape fast-approaching wildfires © Nasa Earth Observatory/AFP/Getty Images

“I think the public not only understands that, but I think they feel it,” Podesta said. “If you’ve had 31 days in a row of temperatures above 110 degrees in Phoenix, you know something is wrong.”

Philip Rossetti, a senior fellow at the free-market think tank R Street, said climate issues entered the American political discourse when parties realized young voters cared about climate issues.

Earlier this month, youth activists won a court case in Montana arguing that they are entitled to a “clean and healthy environment.”

“I do think things have gotten to a point where it’s harder to ignore that younger voters, including Republican voters, are looking to politicians for solutions,” Rossetti said.

Drawing by Steven Bernard

climate capital

Climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here.

Are you curious about the FT’s commitment to environmental sustainability? Learn more about our science-based goals here


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *