**The Devastating Effects of Wildfire Smoke: A New Reality**
**Increasing Wildfires Lead to Smoky Reality**
Throughout the world, the smell of smoke from wildfires has become all too familiar. Even places that were once seen as immune to the dangers of wildfires, such as North Carolina and Chicago, are now experiencing the effects of climate change firsthand. The smoke from these wildfires is a stark reminder of the increasingly hot and fiery world we live in. For Emily Kuchlbauer and Ryan Bomba, the smell of smoke triggered memories of past wildfires and highlighted the apocalyptic feeling that comes with the realization that this is not normal.
**The Growing Reach of Wildfire Smoke**
As climate change continues to alter Earth’s climate, the reach of wildfire smoke is extending further than ever before. Scientists warn that more people are now at risk of exposure to the billowing and deadly fingers of smoke. The United States and Canada are already experiencing three times more wildfires each year compared to the 1980s, with predictions pointing to a worsening situation. While many may wonder if this is the new normal, scientists reject this notion, emphasizing that the situation is abnormal and will only continue to deteriorate as the planet warms.
The severity of the problem has led some scientists to suggest rethinking the term “wildfire” itself. Jennifer Francis, a senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, argues that these fires can no longer be considered “wild” or natural. Human activity has made them more likely and intensified their impact. As long as greenhouse gas emissions remain high, the problem of smoke and wildfires will persist.
**The Link Between Climate Change and Wildfires**
The increase in North American wildfires can be attributed to climate change. Global warming has led to more extreme weather events, especially drought, which provides ideal conditions for fires to spread. The drier atmosphere draws moisture out of plants, creating additional fuel that burns more easily and intensely. Lightning strikes also contribute to the problem, with storms resulting in dry lightning strikes. Warmer weather has led to longer fire seasons that start earlier and last longer, exacerbating the issue.
**Adapting to a New Reality**
Experts warn that living with fire and smoke is the new reality we must face. Ronak Bhatia, who moved from California to Illinois, initially found wildfire smoke following him and his friends to be somewhat amusing. However, the severity of the situation is no laughing matter. It highlights the fact that climate change and its consequences can affect anywhere, not just specific regions. Wildfires now consume an average of 12,000 square miles each year in the United States, compared to just 3,300 square miles in the 1980s.
**The Impact on the East**
The unprecedented fires seen in western Canada this year were predicted to occur in the 2030s and 2040s. The fact that they have already happened suggests that eastern Canada and, subsequently, eastern U.S. states will experience similar incidents sooner than expected. In the past, the East was largely spared from significant fire events, but this is likely to change as the climate continues to warm.
**A Climate Out of Control**
The efforts to control and minimize wildfires in the past have been largely successful. However, since the start of the 21st century, the situation has worsened. Climate change has disrupted weather patterns, causing the jet stream to meander and get stuck, leading to prolonged periods of bad weather. The Arctic, in particular, has experienced significant warming, affecting weather patterns in the mid-latitudes.
**The Health Implications**
One of the most significant consequences of wildfire smoke is its impact on human health. Around 44 million people worldwide are exposed to unhealthy air from wildfire smoke each year, resulting in approximately 677,000 deaths annually. Studies have shown that exposure to wildfire smoke increases the risk of non-traumatic death, particularly respiratory deaths. The particulate matter in the smoke is small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and can have long-term effects on various bodily functions.
**A Call for Action**
To mitigate the devastating effects of wildfire smoke, experts emphasize the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite years of international negotiations and ambitious goals, emissions continue to rise. The toxicity of wildfire smoke has been found to be more harmful than emissions from vehicles, highlighting the urgency of addressing the root cause of these fires.
**A Smoky Future**
As wildfires and their resulting smoke become more prevalent, it is clear that we must adapt and prepare for a new reality. The impacts of climate change are not limited to specific regions; they affect us all. By taking swift action and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we can mitigate the severity of wildfires and the health risks associated with their smoke. The choice is ours.