Comment: A climate of concern
By Laura Aiken
Vaccines are doing their job and hopes run high that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. What lies ahead appears no less urgent or menacing. The Canadian government’s recent report on climate change showed communities of all sizes across the country are being affected by global warming through wildfires, floods, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting ice and permafrost.
The recent heat dome over the Pacific Northwest was unprecedented and unusual in its intensity. A heat dome is not a climate change effect in itself, but its aggressiveness and atypical behaviour have left the a strong sense that global warming played a pivotal role in extremeness of this weather event. Climate change has become the here and now, and humanity’s penchant for procrastination has left us struggling to move fast enough.
As all-hazards responders, fire departments are a core entity of emergency preparedness. COVID-19 showed the world what fire departments have known along: nimble, adaptive and constant communication is essential in any emergency. And all of that can still fail without proper preparation. Fire Chief Vince Mackenzie’s Volunteer Vision on page 30 points to preparation as being the real “luck” behind the successful salvage of a building or its occupants, of being there just in “time.” I couldn’t agree more. There is also nothing like an emergency to make obvious all the ways in which we are not prepared. During the heat dome, grocers in Oregon and Washington reported they were forced to stop the sales of perishable goods amid malfunctioning fridges and power outages. There were rumoured runs on electrolyte drinks akin to COVID-19’s infamous run on toilet paper. In British Columbia, almost five hundred sudden deaths were reported in as little as five days. Hundreds more died south of the border. The heat dome passed, leaving behind a raging wildfire season. Heading eastward, in July, a Manitoba municipality declared an agricultrual disaster because of the heat and drought.
The need for preparation, to build this climate change resilience, is urgent. How can we expose our own weaknesses before disaster strikes? Fire departments are masters at training for the worst and will play critical roles in preparing themselves and their communities for what unexpected crisis we may brace for next.