It was like a scene from a Cormac McCarthy novel, the dystopian American novelist who died last week. The orange hazy skies of New York City, resulting from out of control forest fires in Quebec, had traveled south to my city of Charlotte, NC. A hot, dry spring created an environment in which large swathes of conifer trees were burnt up like kindling. More than 400 different fires raged throughout the Boreal Forests of Quebec with about 200 deemed “unstoppable.” These forests are the world’s biggest terrestrial carbon vault. Yes, bigger than the Amazon rain forests in South America. The fires were so fierce that international teams of firefighters were brought in to combat the flames. One of the 109 veteran firefighters from France said, “We have never seen anything like this in Europe.”
The skies in Charlotte had the eerie appearance that rain was imminent, but there were no rain clouds at all. The smoke from Canada had migrated south on “wind highways,” bringing us Code Red warnings for air quality. That meant the air was bad to breathe for everyone, not merely those with breathing ailments. New York City was worse, having the worst air quality in its history on June 6 and 7.
While it’s nearly impossible to attribute any particular fire to climate change, the science is unequivocal that global warming is exacerbating more extreme weather events like out of control forest fires. The atmosphere and oceans are getting hotter, which makes the trees more vulnerable to fires. The more we lose trees, the more we lose the ability to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. The more carbon in the atmosphere the hotter it gets. It is a vicious cycle. It knows no boundaries and recognizes no international lines of demarcation. Climate change is a phenomenon that is connecting the entire planet in increasingly obvious ways. What we do in Charlotte is affecting Quebec and what happens in Quebec affects us in Charlotte.
Charlotts, NC is known as the city of trees. If you live here, you appreciate the city’s commitment to old growth trees as you drive through residential neighborhoods. Unlike some cities that are constantly cutting down limbs and trees to protect power lines, Charlotte is much more judicious, thereby protecting the aesthetics of its neighborhoods. This can lead Charlotte citizens to think we are oblivious to the destructive consequences of climate change. We are not. Today the problem is haze from Canada. A strange event. Tomorrow could be worse. Our city could have out of control fires that scar our landscape in ways we thought unimaginable. If we do not take our impact on climate seriously, we will have to deal with serious consequences in the future.
Join C3-Christians Caring for Creation in our efforts to be faithful stewards of God’s beautiful creation.