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Talking About Wildfires And Climate Change Isn't Playing Politics

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Let's be clear about the Fort McMurray wildfires. It's a horrible tragedy for those whose lives have been devastated. The property rendered cinders. The loss is staggering.

Early into it, the description was an "apocalypse," leaving behind only destruction and misery. We all see it that way.

After making this clear, as clear as one can, why then does Elizabeth May get a media beating for stating we have another terrible example of our need to be very, very serious about climate change? Just like other catastrophic events, a given tragedy is proportional to the tough questions that necessarily follow.

"But not now"?

May was immediately berated by Justin Trudeau, other politicians, some of the media and social media. The charge? She was "trying to make a political argument out of one particular disaster."

How's that?

What doesn't follow is the accusation that asking such questions denigrates the suffering of Fort McMurray citizens.

Stating that climate change is political, instead about science, is exactly the problem. It indicates our society's grim lack of awareness over the most pressing issue now facing humanity. And May was repeating the science. For those over at Scientific American, here's just one offering about the wildfire:

"This (fire) is consistent with what we expect from human-caused climate change affecting our fire regime," Mike Flannigan, a wildfire researcher at the University of Alberta, said.

Maybe Flannigan is right; maybe he's wrong. Maybe he, with other climate scientists, needs to clarify and nuance the science about this horrible event. These are all legitimate questions.

But what doesn't follow is the accusation that asking such questions denigrates the suffering of Fort McMurray citizens.

When is the time to talk about what scientists have been predicting for more than 40 years about increasing climatic devastation? Given the various reactions to May's statement, it appears we still haven't understood the severity of our situation.

So, how do we explain the visceral reaction to May?

Could it be that we Canadians are no more progressive on the topic of climate change than our American neighbors? In reality, could we also be mired in denialism? As much as we might believe some polls that Canadians do accept the science behind anthropogenic climate change, we still don't really get it.

incendie fort mcmurray
Smoke and flames from the wildfires erupt behind a car on the highway near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, May 7, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Where's the proof?

Consider this meme more closely: "It's not the time to talk about it."

Let's imagine instead of a forest fire, a virus was ravaging Fort McMurray. Would we be reluctant to ask how it happened? Would there be the same outrage at our scientists, echoed by politicians, for trying to explain what caused it, what needs to be done, and how to avoid further harm and loss? Would Mr. Trudeau say we shouldn't be trying to make it "political?"

It's hard to imagine there would be the same reaction. But there is when people like May remind us we need to awaken our vigilance about climate change.

The reason? Under our collective noses the mere mention of climate change has become "controversial." "Impolite." And true to our very Canadian sentiment that we don't like to argue, the apprehension to engage in real debate fuels inaction where action is sorely lacking.

In truth, it's not those like Elizabeth May who are "being political" about their agendas. Quite the opposite.

What else is at work in the "not now" meme?

Note how it has been effectively employed by the NRA in the U.S. to stifle all critical thought about another "controversial" topic: gun control.

Every time a mass shooting happens, with the young, old, teenagers and mothers and fathers lying in blood, if one dares mention how we have to talk about gun control, the NRA, along with its various politicians and proponents yell back, "Now is not the time!"

Time passes, people get busy again with their lives and the conversation dissipates -- at least until another gun tragedy happens once more, with the same injunction that we don't talk about it, not yet. In the meantime, the tragedies continue.

In truth, it's not those like Elizabeth May who are "being political" about their agendas. Quite the opposite. Being political is not allowing real discussion about these devastating, ever increasing events.

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Fort McMurray Firefighters Battle Blaze (May 2016)
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