Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

The weather isn’t ‘climate change’

The Chrysler Building in the haze from Canadian wildfires, 7 June 2023 (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

I was in New York while the smoke from Canadian wildfires filtered over the city for three days last week, and I took a guilty pleasure in the aesthetic thrill. Midday, the light assumed the roseate hue of sunset. A cloudless sky appeared overcast, and the ghostly sun was so occluded one could look straight at it. Honestly, the atmosphere of anomaly was electrifying. New Yorkers advertised their sense of snow-day exceptionalism by driving even more atrociously than usual. Despite hysterical health warnings to batten ourselves in our homes with closed windows, I played three daily hours of tennis throughout the respiratory emergency – though it was nice to have a ready excuse when I botched another cross-court forehand.

Justin Trudeau must have felt similarly grateful for a ready excuse for those raging wildfires, although we couldn’t call his get-out-of-responsibility-free card creative: climate change, the same all-purpose culprit New York Times columnist Gail Collins lazily blamed for our doomy skies. Anyone care about the truth? The fires and Gotham’s eerie haze were due to wind-fanned lightning strikes in Quebec and a rare high/low pressure system across North America called an ‘omega block’ (don’t ask).

We’ve loaded the erstwhile ‘natural disaster’ with moral and political content galore

Ironically, the real problem may be that Canada hasn’t been lighting enough fires. Government regulations regarding controlled burns have gnarled into a thicket. By the time the paperwork is completed, the narrow window of cool, windless weather ideal for safely incinerating highly flammable dead branches and dry brush has often passed. Fewer controlled burns mean more uncontrolled burns. Add to that: the country has no national firefighting service; provincial wildfire prevention budgets have been cut, and tend to be spent on protecting villages and towns; over the past 25 years, Canadian Forest Service staffing levels have plunged from 2,200 to 700.

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