Heatwaves supercharged by climate change sweep the US, while forest fires rage in Canada

Wildfire smoke in Montreal
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Climate change-induced extreme weather events are in full swing in the US and Canada. Heatwaves are sweeping across the US, while Canada is experiencing its worst forest fires on record.

A dangerous and prolonged heat wave blanketed large parts of the southern United States on Tuesday 27 June, buckling highways and forcing people to shelter indoors in what scientists called a climate-change supercharged event.

Excessive heat warnings were in place from Arizona in the southwest to Alabama in the southeast. The National Weather Service (NWS) said that the worst hit places were south and central Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.

Meanwhile, wildfires – made more intense by global warming – are raging across Canada. EU scientists said on Tuesday that the fires had released more planet-warming carbon dioxide in the first six months of 2023 than in any full year on record.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) reported that hundreds of forest fires since early May had generated nearly 600m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 88% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in 2021.

International support

Hundreds of international firefighters are helping overwhelmed Canadians battle the unprecedented wildfires. They face a complex task in the heart of the boreal forest scorched by uncontrolled blazes.

Eric Flores is the leader of a French team in Quebec. Flores told Association France-Presse (AFP) that he had never seen anything like it. His team was busy mopping up smoldering duff to prevent blowups. They were suddenly trapped by a fire that flared 50 meters behind them in a green patch of forest.

Flores spoke to AFP, stating:

As the fire burns underground along roots it can go places that you don’t suspect. It’s very unpredictable and it can flare up very quickly.

He continued:

It’s painstaking work, we advance meter by meter

After being dropped off by helicopter, crews often have to hike, carrying equipment on their backs, several kilometres into the dense forest before reaching their area of attack.

Climate change makes heatwaves more likely

Accumulated historic greenhouse emissions made the US extreme heatwave at least five times more likely than otherwise, according to preliminary calculations by a team led by Andrew Pershing, a scientist with Climate Central.

Pershing told AFP:

the really unusual thing about this [heatwave] event is how big it is, and how long it has lasted.

There have been places in Texas that have had more than two weeks of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which are just really unusual temperatures for this time of year even in a region that is used to heat.

The media is reporting that the sweltering conditions are expected to expand throughout the south, beginning 28 June and continuing into the long July 4 holiday weekend.

The extreme heat appears to have already claimed lives. Last week the US Postal Service told the media about the death of a postal worker in Dallas. He fainted while delivering mail as the heat index hovered around 115F. He died hours later. The cause of death is still being investigated.

On Friday 16 June, a 14-year-old boy collapsed from exhaustion while hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas and later died, according to an official statement.

Animals, too, were suffering. The Houston Humane Society said 12 cats and one dog were found dead in an abandoned apartment. The group was able to rescue six cats from the property.

Litigating against fossil fuel companies

Recent years have seen an explosion in litigation aimed at shifting the financial responsibility of climate disasters towards fossil fuel companies.

Last week, a county in the northwestern state of Oregon filed a lawsuit against major fossil fuel companies, seeking more than $51bn over the 2021 ‘Heat Dome’ which blighted Canada and the US.

Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, told AFP:

Communities everywhere are now paying the price for the fossil fuel industry’s decades of climate deception and pollution

These climate change-driven events are causing immense suffering. Lawsuits like the one in Oregon may well become more commonplace as a result. We must hold fossil fuel companies accountable and force them to stop the dangerous business practices that are driving the climate crisis.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via screenshot Youtube/DW News

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