Parenting while Canada is Burning

July 12, 2023

Earlier this summer, I walked my kids to their first day of summer day camp wearing N95 masks. After having worn a mask in class for much of first grade, my son was resistant. “It’s just for one day, while the smoke is bad,” my partner coaxed him. But is it just for one day? Or is this our new normal? 

As the government unveiled its National Adaptation Strategy for climate change, more than 8 million hectares have been burned in Canada, making this the worst fire season ever recorded. That’s more than the previous four years combined, and the fire season has only barely begun. One in four Canadians has been directly impacted by forest fires and extreme weather events. Natural causes, such as lightning strikes, and human carelessness are purportedly the immediate culprits of individual fires, but the climate crisis exacerbates the conditions that are leading to longer and more intense wildfire seasons.  

As a parent, I try to teach my kids to identify their emotions, and so I need to start with my own. First, I am scared: scared about the direct impacts of increasing wildfire, heatwaves, and flooding on the health of my family. My son is asthmatic, and we live in the city. The pandemic has brought home to many of us the need to go outside and be in nature. What happens when the air outside is no longer safe to breathe, and much of our nature has been turned to ash? 

Second, I am sad. I grieve for all that is lost and what we will continue to lose. As a long-time advocate for nature protection, I am devastated watching these forests – which have been the traditional territories of Indigenous Peoples for millenia and home to countless species including the at-risk woodland caribou – go up in smoke. People have lost and will continue to lose their homes and livelihoods. Our country is counting on these forests to achieve our international biodiversity targets and as a natural solution to the climate crisis. What happens when there is little left to protect and no place for people to go? 

Finally, I am angry. I am angry that not enough has been done to prevent us from getting to this point. I am angry that the loudest voices are the most misinformed. My anger burns like our forests, knowing that so many have the power to make the changes needed but continue on with the status quo. The status quo is not an option anymore. We're seeing the results of the status quo all around us, and it's not the world we want our kids to live in.

I don’t want to simply “adapt” to the changing climate. We can still ward off the worst of the impacts. My family is one of thousands across the country who are prepared to do our part, but this is not enough. Our forests are burning as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. The oil and gas industry must do its part. Elected leaders must do their part. For-profit corporations cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. 

Canada has made commitments to reduce carbon. But to meet those commitments, Canada must put in place a strong cap on oil and gas pollution and stop funding and subsidizing fossil fuels. We have to mandate financial institutions to do the same. And we need a plan and investment to move quickly away from a fossil fuel economy, without leaving anyone behind. We must focus on the health of people and future generations, not profit above all else. 

And we all have to do our part, collectively. How do you feel when you watch wildfires force thousands of people from their homes and millions more to breathe air that is the worst quality in the world? When you hear that Canada’s oil and gas companies and top banks are bringing in billions of dollars in profits while many working Canadians are having trouble putting food on the table? Those emotions need to be shared. Then they need to be put into action. We need to make it impossible to ignore the call for a just transition off fossil fuels. 

As the first signs of blue appeared in the sky after days of feeling like we’re living in a post-apocalyptic video game – despite all these emotions – I still have hope. We have the solutions; we just need to act.

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