Image by DarrenRD via Wikipedia Commons
The irony of The Beast ravaging Fort McMurray–which, at the height of the tar sands boom, was nicknamed “Fort McMoney”–was not lost on climate activists. Elizabeth Kolbert, writing for the New Yorker (in an article entitled “Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change“) noted,
“The town exists to get at the tar sands, and the tar sands produce a particularly carbon-intensive form of fuel.… The more carbon that goes into the atmosphere, the warmer the world will get, and the more likely we are to see devastating fires like the one now raging.”
I was one of the people glued to the trending hashtag on Twitter–one of the many, I’m sure, staring horrified at those images, hand to mouth, hand to heart.
I could not help but remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots, those brave young men burned over, despite having deployed their fire shelters–the Yarnell Hill Fire was just too hot, burning too hard. How much more monstrous was this thing we had unleashed upon Alberta?
Alberta, where I’d spent the better part of my eighth summer with my stepmother’s family, camping in the Canadian Rockies. Those green, rolling hills, those endless forests, those wild roses–up in smoke.
Twitter is the ideal online platform for sweeping pronouncements, as well as for screaming (as our current president daily demonstrates). I was one of those who used #fortmcmurrayfire to point out that these sorts of “freak” wildfires would become the norm if we could not find a way to halt the production of fossil fuels and transition to a clean energy economy–and no sooner had I made this pronouncement than I was screamed at, by a Canadian woman (presumably one who had family members or friends in harm’s way).
Her string of Tweets essentially said, “How dare you try to make this a political issue! People’s lives are at stake! This could be any fire! This could be Slave Lake!” (This last in reference to the largest wildfire to hit Alberta prior to this one, in 2011.)
I understood what this woman was telling me. She was saying that this wasn’t the first big wildfire to hit the province–that this event couldn’t just be blamed on the most recent parts-per-million.
She was saying that during disasters like this, we have to put aside our ideological differences and take care of those people whose lives are being torn apart.
And she was right, of course.
But I wish I could have found a way that day to tell her–in 140 characters or less–that this wasn’t just a political issue for me.