It’s mid-August. Forest fires are burning up a big chunk of the province. A part of their smoke hangs over the horizon like a muslin curtain draped over the yellowed window of a fading hotel.
In Vancouver the curtain is far thicker, thick like the curtain that falls after the final act of an opera, so thick that the operators of tourist attractions on the North Shore Mountains lament the loss of half the revenue from foreigners eager for a view of the city. Smoke filled cities are commonplace in the Orient and in metropolises all over the globe. Travellers from those places don’t want to see another one.
For a short period in Prince George the air is so contaminated with particulate matter that the instruments the Ministry of Environment uses to measure air borne effluent can’t accommodate it. So bad that Beijing is a health spa in comparison.
And in New England, officials are fretting about ozone. What has this to do with fires in our fair province?
Wait for it.
Ozone, when it occurs naturally in the stratosphere, protects us from the sun’s UV rays, which is why we should do our level best to prevent its thin shield from becoming as full of holes as a Swiss cheese through the use of CFCs.
Ground level, or tropospheric ozone, on the other hand, is highly undesirable stuff created through the interactions of man made and natural emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides in the presence of heat and sunlight.
Motor vehicles of the combustible engine kind pump out massive amounts of VOCs. Products we consume like paints, insecticides, cleaners combined with industrial solvents and the poisons used in chemical manufacturing do too. Vehicles that run on gas, like power plants, also produce huge quantities of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, the other chemical precursor, the other essential ingredient, of ozone.
When cooked by the ultra-violet rays of the sun this witches’ brew turns into an abNOxious ozone soup that carpets the land like fog on a fen. Breathing ozone is, as hip scientists like to say, is contraindicated.
An area filled with ozone is a no-zone. Breathing it causes your respiratory system to revolt. Your throat gets raspy. You cough. Your chest tightens. If you have asthma, you’re in for a rough ride. Even if you don’t, ozone creeps into your lungs and begins to chisel away at the cell lining of your lungs, and the deleterious effects don’t stop there.
If it is your misfortune to have a chronic lung disease like bronchitis or emphysema, you will find your already dire diagnosis subject to serious aggravation. And, one other thing, it appears that ozone has the insidious ability to compromise your immune system, making it more likely that you will contract one of the suite of diseases made more unpleasant by ozone, a death spiral, if you will.
Epidemiologists tell us that effects of ozone are particularly hard on kids and exercising adults. It hardly seems fair that adolescent gamers and sedentary seniors are the only ones in an ozone infected environment to get a break, does it.
Ozone has been a big problem for the last few years in New England and six other states in the Eastern United States because the normally clean air from Canada arrived laden with high concentrations of ozone.
The scientists explained that high pressure trapped pollutants from the Fort McMurray fire over the Great Lakes before the normally clean winds transported the ozone to the aforementioned U.S. states. As a result, the ozone levels in those areas was so high that the states had to apply of exemptions for pollution levels that exceeded the US National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
The Fort Mac fire caused the largest evacuation in Alberta’s history. It wiped out almost 600,000 hectares of land and torched 2,400 buildings. It went out of control in July of 2016 and wasn’t extinguished until a year later.
The Environmental Protection Agency is still concerned because of the cumulative effects of the many fires in B.C. last summer. As their satellites follow the smoke from Alberta as it makes its way toward Europe, they worry because they appreciate that B.C.’s 2017 firestorm was actually worse than the burn in Fort McMurray.
And, what about the people of B.C.? When I drove through Smithers this summer, the air quality was so bad we could only see a few blocks. How bad was the air in the Cariboo where people ate smoke all summer?
Make no mistake about it, bad air kills people. Lung cancer is still the most deadly strain of the disease. Pulmonary complaints cause huge amounts of misery and are an enormous draw on the medical system.
The number and extent of wildfires is increasing on this continent as a result of climate change and the only way to reverse this trend or, at least hold it at bay, is to reverse the dependence on fossil fuels through solar, nuclear, and wind power. Nothing else will arrest the inferno.
The economic drivers of the 20th century simply will not work and are logically and morally bankrupt.