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As parts of Fort McMurray are lost to devastating wildfires, I'm glad that people are safe. The first responders and community have made the best of the worst. On Twitter, I saw community leveraging social media to help families find shelter, even loved pets. First responders and citizens worked together to inform and alert. The complexity of social media allows it to adapt and change quickly to help communities. Twitter was also ablaze about the conversation about the impacts of climate change on extreme weather. Too soon?
Complexity is something that isn't easy to understand, furthermore, translating this complexity mathematics to the English language add additional challenges and barriers. A few years ago, I had a debate over a tweet. This person, whom I won't name, commented on a newspaper headline, of which I will not identify, with respect to the connection between climate change, whom this person understood, and extreme weather events. To put it in context, the discussion was about a hurricane and the links between climate change and this extreme weather. Sound familiar? This person asserted that climate change didn't impact extreme weather. Of course, they didn't have the evidence, there wasn't any, yet.
Did climate change cause the Fort McMurray wildfire? No. Did climate change make the Fort McMurray wildfire worse? Maybe. Without climate change impacts would the Fort McMurray fire have started? Maybe not.
There are not simple "yes" and "no" answers in this type of mathematical complexity of natural systems. The answer's complex, very complex. Some say understanding climate change is harder than Einsteins' stuff — they are correct.
At the time of my 2009 "extreme weather versus climate change" debate, both sides had no scientific proof — even the Koch brothers hadn't confirmed anthropomorphic global warming yet. My debating partner is a PhD. in Chemistry. They asserted that climate change and extreme weather were not directly linked. Myself, of course, was supporting the link between climate change and its impacts on extreme weather. My argument was based upon the Second Law of Thermodynamics, more specifically on the second-order beta impacts on rates of change of weather — simply stated, more energy equals more extreme weather. Do you want me to start talking about entropy? Nor do I. Their argument was based on "there is no proof", which is a valid stance — one of my favorites!
Since 2009, studies have been published linking climate change to more extreme weather events. It's cool when scientists publish stuff that supports my worldview, just saying. The simple reality is that Earths atmosphere is a singularity while climate and extreme weather are human interpretations of Earths chaotic atmosphere. Climate change is the long-term story, extreme weather is the short-term story — but both stories are related to the exact same natural complex system.
Climate change doesn't cause wildfires? Lightning strikes can cause fires, climate change can cause more lightning — it's a complex relationship. So, what is the relationship between climate change and the Fort McMurray wildfires? The responsible answer is that climate change can make wildfires worse and that climate change can make wildfires better?
The biggest factors in wildfires are fuel, wind quality* and wildfire size — as a wildfire grows, it changes its "own rules" with increasing winds, a nonlinear feedback relationship. The inherent complexity of thermodynamics makes this conversation tricky, but one reality is certain, wet fuels typically don't burn better. If climate change made Alberta wetter, which is happening in other regions on Earth, wildfires may be decreased. We see the current conditions are very dry. If Fort McMurray was wetter, would this wildfire have started?
We can't stop wildfires, nor human fires, but what climate change can do is attenuate their size and frequency. In the case of Fort McMurray, it seems that climate change has made this wildfire worse. Climate change has dried out these regions. Did climate change make these areas windier? With so many variables, we see that this discussion is very complex with no simple "yes" or "no" answers. Complex problems require complex analysis and that analysis is done mathematically, not with English.
The reality is that Canada will see increased numbers in wildfires from climate change. Will our tundra catch fire? Probably at some point. The lessons of climate change are that we need more resources to combat this risk.
Canada's forests are a carbon sink, a natural system that mitigates climate change. Forest fires will make climate change worse by decreasing capacity and emissions from the fire itself — more added complexity.
Should Canada create a water bomber squadron for our homeland security? A Federal approach would cut the red tape and the red flames. Our military needs to adapt to be ready and waiting for these extreme events — floods, wildfires, earthquakes, etc. Our current blueprint for our military needs a smart redesign, which I do not see happening.
I think that investing Federally to deliver such homeland capacity would help provinces and towns like Fort McMurray deal with such tragedy with a capable and timely response. We must prepare to confront the realities of climate change. To say that climate change is a just political tool is both ignorant and harmful.
* - with respect to both vector** and humidity.
** - both wind speed*** and direction.
*** - not including second order impulsive bluster****.
**** - um, that's fluid dynamics-based play on matter.*****
***** - yes, I think you are correct, that was a waste of time and isn't that funny.