The sun rises behind the One World Trade Center in New York, while the smoke from Canada wildfires covers the Manhattan borough as it is seen from Liberty State Park on June 8, 2023 in New Jersey. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
The Eastern United States is this week experiencing what many regions across the world have been suffering for years: terrible, dangerous air quality.
A menacing orange haze engulfed New York City, Philadelphia, and surrounding regions on Wednesday afternoon, forcing millions to limit outdoor activities due to the serious health hazards of particle pollution. New York, in particular, saw the highest pollution levels in the world. But more than a dozen states along one of the nation’s densest population corridors saw alerts for unhealthy air.
The source of the pollution was, and remains, hundreds of wildfires in eastern Canada, whose smoke is drifting south through the U.S. Midwest and Northeast. This has been a source of annoyance for many Americans; on Wednesday, an old South Park song called “Blame Canada” went viral. On Thursday, the New York Post co-opted the song title for its cover.
But Canada is not truly responsible for this ongoing health crisis of wildfire smoke in the Eastern United States. That honor goes to climate polluters and climate obstructionists: those who have prevented action to slow climate change, despite knowing extreme weather events like these would become more frequent and deadly as a result.
It is a direct result of climate inaction that wildfire season is starting earlier, lasting longer, and burning more area. It is a direct result of climate inaction that hotter, drier weather and longer fire seasons have become more common.
Regarding these particular wildfires in Canada, it will take months for researchers to determine exactly how much climate change influenced them. But it’s safe to say these fires are exactly in line with climate scientists’ predictions of unprecedented events that would occur without action. As Yale Climate Connections reports:
As of June 6, more than 150 wildfires were burning in Quebec, including more than 110 raging out of control, while Ontario was dealing with 47 active wildfires. According to Quebec’s fire prevention agency, SOPFEU, the province typically sees 794 hectares burned by June 6 (10-year average). This year, the total to date is an astonishing 473,656 hectares.
“We’re experiencing an unprecedented situation, exceptional, everywhere on Quebec territory,” François Bonnardel, the province’s public security minister, told CTV News. “We’ve never had so many fires so early in the season. It’s not just a problem for Quebec, it’s a problem all over Canada.”
Michael Norton, an official with Canada’s Natural Resources ministry, told Reuters: “The distribution of fires from coast to coast this year is unusual. At this time of the year, fires usually occur only on one side of the country at a time, most often that being in the west.”
News outlet after news outlet has made it clear: the Canadian wildfires, and the resulting air pollution blanketing the U.S., are what climate change looks like. And while Canada is responsible for a good chunk of historical emissions that have caused the climate crisis, they share that responsibility with many other, much higher-polluting countries—including the United States.
The pollution blanketing the Eastern U.S. skies should thus not primarily serve as an opportunity to make jokey jabs at Canada. It should primarily serve as a solemn reminder that the consequences of global warming aren’t limited by geography.
This is a reminder of climate injustice that the Eastern United States doesn’t often get—at least not compared to more vulnerable countries and regions. The past two weeks alone, a record-breaking heat wave in Puerto Rico that felt like 125 degrees Fahrenheit; Spain recorded its hottest spring ever; and Super Typhoon Mawar hit Guam with 140 mph winds.
Vulnerable populations are keenly aware that you don’t have to cause extreme weather in order to suffer from it. For many in the United States, it can be easy to forget that emissions—and inaction around them—have consequences.
But climate change, like smoke, knows no borders. So if you forget, it will eventually remind you—just as it is now reminding the East Coast.
This article first appeared at Heated.