The Great Wildfire Debate Lights Up Editorial Pages in Manitoba.

by Larry Powell

For simplicity, I'm putting the series of events discussed below, in chronological order.

First, I wrote the letter, immediately below, published in the Brandon Sun, Neepawa Press and Roblin Review in recent weeks.
Forest fire smoke (from as far away as BC) over southern Manitoba. 
PinP photo.
Dear Editor, 

It's time to wake up and smell the smoke!

As wildfires rage around us on the Canadian prairies, forcing thousands of poor souls from their homes, we click our tongues and complain about sore eyes and reduced visibility on the roads. (Trust me, reduced visibility is the least of our worries.) 

We apparently lack the brain power to listen to and actually hear what the world's scientific community has been warning us about for over a generation. If we do nothing to curb our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, we can expect more and worse heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and a host of other extreme weather events which are decidedly not positive, in our future. Our relentless burning of gas, oil and coal, apparently without a thought for tomorrow, produces greenhouse gases which trap the sun's heat and cause the earth's average temperature to increase. 

How much hotter will it get? 

That question does not seem to be on the minds of most humans, who are more intent on climbing aboard another climate-destroying jet plane to get to the next Olympics on the other side of the world. 

Even the common sea slug does not defile its own nest the way we do. 

This in-depth, illustrated article documented the latest (and what should be now-familiar) warnings of world scientists. Unless we drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the mean temperature in the Boreal, a band of mostly evergreen trees which girdles the globe, will continue to soar more than most any other place on Earth. If the peat bogs and permafrost underlying both the Boreal and Arctic continue to melt, all bets are off.  A “carbon bomb” will be ignited and the “tinderbox effect” will only spread.

(The story appeared on my blog, Planet in Peril and in a couple of weeklies. Possibly afraid of losing lucrative ad contracts with Big Oil, Mass media show their cowardice and yellow-journalism by remaining largely silent on the link between this fossil-fuel consumption and the great "burning of the Boreal" now unfolding before our eyes and TV screens!)

A scant few months later, the stark warnings of the scientists quoted in the piece, are proving painfully correct, yet again. This immense eco-system is precisely where huge wildfires now rage, in Canada and Alaska. Maybe you've noticed. Smoke has now spread over entire provinces for thousands of square kilometres. 

We drove all the way from Calgary to Regina recently (almost 800 kilometres). There was smoke all the way.

We stayed in a hotel in Regina which was filling up fast with people who have had to flee their homes - "environmental refugees" from the north, now numbering some 13 thousand in total in Saskatchewan alone. That province is now in the midst of the largest evacuation in its history. These scenarios are unfolding pretty much as they have been predicted to do, if only anyone would listen! 

One would think such spectacularly ominous events would give we mortals "cause for pause" - a chance to reconsider our ways.

Apparently not.

We seem to worry more about avoiding the fires of Hell in the afterlife than we do about our own Hell, right here on Earth!

We drove to Prince Albert Park in Saskatchewan a couple of week ago. A road into the park is being "improved." We were treated to many kilometres of heavy equipment - caterpillars, front-end loaders, earth-scrapers, big trucks...all doing their part to scratch away at Mother Earth, emitting their own payloads of greenhouse gases into the air - just so "connoisseurs of the backcountry"can more easily access the wilderness with their luxury RVs - all on the comfort of a superhighway, of course. 

In the face of this vast wildfire threat, Environment Canada has been scrambling to advise those with breathing problems, especially, to stay indoors. And, surprise, surprise, such people are reporting it harder to breathe!

I used to think that we humans wouldn't sit up and take notice of the climate crisis until we were gasping for air in the streets.  

I was wrong. 

We are gasping for air in the streets! And we are still turning a blind eye.

I guess I can only dream of the day when we might, in addition to taking the heroic efforts we are now - by bombing the flames and bringing in the army - all necessary steps now that we have let things go as far as we have - that we also change our behaviour in ways that improve our planet's chances over the long-term, too.

Oh, by the way, my story also included oft-repeated concerns by the scientists themselves, that we don't really pay enough attention to their advice.

Ya think?
Then, a Brandon Sun reader offered this comment, below. 

(And below that is my follow-up letter.)
Sound Off
Do not blame climate change
I do not agree with Larry Powell of Neepawa that if there are forest fires in the west, they must be caused by man-made climate change. How about lightning? How about arsonists? Or is he suggesting that without climate change, it wouldn't be dry and therefore nothing would catch fire? It is indeed dry this year but heck, we might be finally coming out of a 15-year wet cycle, which was getting rather monotonous. And how are we going to sustain life in western Canada without fossil fuel for energy? “Little House on the Prairie” days are over.
Just Mother Nature doing her job.
Regarding a Letter to the Editor, “Environment up in smoke.” Really? I would think this would have been pretty normal historically. We have just gone through an above normal period of wetness, more undergrowth and foliage in the prairies and all over the world, including the desert in Arizona. When it then gets hot and dry, it’s great kindling for big fires. Not unusual, not “government-fuelled” ... just Mother Nature doing her job.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 21, 2015
Larry's response, submitted to The Sun, today.
Dear Editor,

Re; "Sound Off. Do not blame climate change." Brandon Sun. Jul. 21st, 2015.

The writer who takes me to task for suggesting a link between the wildfires still raging here and abroad, and manmade climate change, misses the point, entirely!

He makes it sound as if I invented such a link, in a lab in my back yard, or something. And his inference that the link belongs to me alone reveals, sadly, how unaware he seems to be, of the now rich body of scientific evidence which has accumulated, over decades, supporting my position. 

While I may have used language a bit "cheekier" than our typically staid climatologists, I was but the messenger, conveying what they've been suggesting for many years. Climate change is bringing with it violent weather events, like wildfires, that are more severe and frequent all the time! Anyone who cannot see this for him/herself, should be checked over right away. They may have a terminal case of wilful blindness!

One of the several leading authorities I rely on for my conclusions is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If the letter-writer is not familiar with the IPCC, I suggest he should remove himself from this debate for being basically uninformed. The IPCC is, after all, the cradle of the accumulated knowledge of our finest minds on the subject, since perhaps the 1980s. If he is familiar with it, I suggest he cite the sources he relies on himself, in arriving so swiftly and comfortably at his own conclusion that all this wisdom is somehow worthless. If he cannot cite his own sources, I suggest he has nothing more to say to me, or anyone else on the topic!

And, oh, by the way, since he wrote his letter, new wildfires have erupted near Kelowna, BC, Glacier National Park, Montana, Alaska and Indonesia. June (the month just passed), has been declared the hottest month, worldwide, in the history of record-keeping. 2015 is poised to become the world's hottest year. Major heatwaves in Europe and North America are happening closer together. Rising sea-levels are proving more serious and, if we take no action, harder to avoid than earlier thought.

And five countries, including Canada, have clamped a ban on commercial fishing in international waters in the Arctic until they find out how rising temperatures, now the warmest on record, will affect sea-life there. 

Just "Mother Nature" acting up again? 

I think not!

Larry Powell lives in Neepawa, where he publishes the blog,
There was also this response to my first letter, submitted to the Neepawa Press.

Dear Editor,

Fire is one of the main ways by which nutrients in dead trees are returned to the soil, and made ready for the next generation of trees. This cycle of fire and regrowth in forests was established millions of years before the emergence of humans.

It is sadly true that some fires are started by humans, but to claim that the current smoke and misery caused by forest fires is a result of man-made climate change is simply wrong.

Norm Kendall of Neepawa,
I then submitted this response to the Neepawa Press;
Dear Editor, 

I'm afraid there's been a misunderstanding.

My recent letter in the Neepawa Press has brought quite a negative response from friends and others.

The misunderstanding is over the "link" that I drew between wildfires and manmade climate change. My critics apparently think such a link was my own idea! Nothing could be further from the truth! I was merely the messenger!

The letter warns that the greenhouse gases we are producing by burning oil, gas and coal, are leading to severe weather events, like droughts (which lead to wildfires), which are more frequent and serious all the time. But that is precisely what all the leading authorities on the topic, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have been predicting for years. And, official records continue to prove, time and time again, that those predictions are correct!

So what did I mean by my reference to "manmade climate change?" Apparently some thought I was suggesting that every single wildfire was started directly by a human! Far from it. Worsening drought turns forests into kindling, ready to explode into flames, whether the source of ignition is a human with a match, a quad, or lightning.

Since my last letter, raging wildfires of epic proportions have plagued northern California and elsewhere, driving as many people from their homes as were evacuated in the disastrous fires in Saskatchewan earlier this summer. The California blazes confounded veteran firefighters, who've never seen anything like them. 

So, disagree with me, if you will.  Just let it be known that, by so doing, you are also disagreeing with the accumulated wisdom (and virtually complete consensus) of our top, renowned climatologists the world over, for many years; Not to mention the World Council of Churches, the mayors of Vancouver and New York, the Premiers of BC and Ontario,  the US Military, the World Bank, the Church of England, the insurance industry and now, the Pope.

As for the suggestion that I, myself contribute to global warming, I plead "guilty as charged." All humans leave a carbon footprint. The best I can do is to try to keep mine small. So I drive a car which gets 45 miles per gallon and travel as much as I can by train, which is less damaging than air travel.

My letter was "sharply-worded"for a reason. In my experience, the "low-key" kind get no response at all. And, as our planet continues to be dangerously degraded by our current behaviour, remaining silent (or low-key) is not an option for me.

Larry Powell
Neepawa, MB


John Fefchak said…
Larry, your reference to the eruption of new wildfires near Kelowna, B.C. and other areas has been recognized
by Premier Cristy Clark , and reported in the Wpg Free Press. "Climate change a factor in B.C, wildfires".

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