Recently, the northeastern United States has experienced some of the worst air pollution in decades.
At about 11 a.m. on June 7, 2023, the visibility in New York City decreased significantly. By 1:00 noon, iconic buildings such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty could no longer be seen clearly. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the whole city was completely shrouded in an orange haze, full of “a sense of doom”.
According to data released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air pollution index of New York City, Syracuse, New York State, and some cities in neighboring Pennsylvania all exceeded 400 on that day, reaching the level of “exploding the watch”, which is the first time since the 1970s. The first occurrence of the condition. According to data from IQAir, an air purification research organization, New York’s air quality ranked the worst in the world on the afternoon of the 7th.
On June 8, for the first time, the United Nations headquarters in New York abandoned the flag-raising due to air pollution.
Why is New York surrounded by “smog”? The culprit was a wildfire in Canada next door.
A mask manufacturer based in Texas said sales of its N95 respirators rose a staggering 1,600% in two days on June 7-8.
Wildfires, also known as bushfires, bushfires and wildland fires, are unplanned, uncontrolled and unpredictable fires in areas of combustible vegetation. Wildfires can release large amounts of carbon dioxide, black and brown carbon particles, and ozone precursors such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, and the impact area can span national or continental boundaries.
As of June 11, there were 426 wildfires burning across Canada. The smoke from the wildfires traveled all the way south through New York, and even drifted as far as Alabama in the southeastern corner of the United States and Norway in Europe.
What is more worthy of our attention is that the frequent occurrence of wildfires is not an accidental event in the early summer of 2023, and it will become a new global problem.
Since June 6, many cities in North America have been shrouded in “orange terror”.
On June 7, major cities such as Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal in Canada were locked in orange smog and heavily polluted. The Toronto Star, one of the newspapers with the largest circulation in Canada, commented: “Orange has become the main color of this country.” The
orange smog then drifted to the east coast of the United States. In 2022, the average air quality index in the United States is 37, and the average index of Oak Ridge, Ohio, the most polluted city, is only 96. On June 7-8, the air pollution index on the east coast of the United States suddenly soared to 400.
Another mask crisis after the new crown epidemic has also emerged.
A mask manufacturer based in Texas said sales of its N95 respirators rose a staggering 1,600% over the two-day period of June 7-8. The governor of New York State later announced that the government would provide 1 million N95 masks to the public free of charge. On the e-commerce platform Amazon, sales of air purifiers increased by 78%.
Due to reduced visibility caused by heavy pollution, the US Federal Aviation Administration announced on June 8 that it would suspend some flights to New York City, Newark, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and other places. According to statistics, a total of 600 flights across the United States were canceled due to the “orange terror”.
On June 7, Broadway in New York canceled the evening performances of the musicals “Hamilton” and “Camelot.” Another daytime play “Surface” starring Jodie Comer died after 10 minutes after the opening due to difficulty breathing. Decided to stop. Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies had to postpone games because batters couldn’t see each other’s approaching ball.
On June 8, Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, issued a rare code purple alert, stating that the air quality is “very unhealthy”. The National Zoo in the United States was forced to close, and animals, including three giant pandas, were kept indoors to escape the haze.
On June 8, the smog continued to drift to Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio in the southeastern United States. Even residents of Ohio, in the relatively poor air quality of the US “rust belt” (referring to the traditional industrial areas around the Great Lakes of the United States), feel that the smog from the Canadian wildfires has brought their suffering “to a new level. “.
To make matters worse, the Canadian government warned that “the wildfire situation will continue to be severe,” and the current scale of wildfires has exceeded Canada’s firefighting capabilities. The United States has sent more than 600 firefighters to Canada, and firefighters from France, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries, as well as personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces, have joined the ranks of firefighters.
Zach Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, warned that while air pollution in the northeastern United States will ease in a few days, the orange smog could return this summer as long as the wildfires in Canada are still burning.
Why Wildfires Are Out of Control
Hapke, a USA Today columnist annoyed by the Canadian wildfires, called Canada a “rogue state” and an “aggressor” and suggested that the U.S. government “build a massive plexiglass wall along the northern border.” .
According to statistics, 2,372 wildfires have occurred in Canada this year, covering an area of about 41,000 square kilometers, which is equivalent to the size of the Netherlands. The severity of the disaster can be called once in ten years.
As of June 11, there were still 426 active fires in Canada, on both coasts, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. Of these fires, 232 were marked as “out of control” and only 112 were marked as “contained,” while another 82 were marked as “under control” (that is, the fire did not grow but was not yet contained). completely under control).
Why are Canadian wildfires out of control this year?
One of the most important reasons is high temperature and drought.
A report released by the Canadian government disclosed that the country’s annual wildfire season usually lasts from May to October. In 2023, “due to the persistent dry and hot weather”, the wildfire situation is extremely severe, and wildfires in most parts of Canada are expected throughout 2023. Activity may be higher than normal.
Canadian media pointed out that all 10 provinces in Canada are currently quite dry or even “overall drought”, which is equivalent to preparing a lot of fuel for wildfires, which may be ignited in some form at any time.
Jacob Bendix, an honorary professor at the School of Geography and the Environment at Syracuse University in the United States who has long studied wildfires, said in an interview with Chinese media that the main reason why the Canadian wildfires have had such a severe impact on North American air quality is the unusually hot and humid environment. The dry weather has led to unprecedented numbers and scale of wildfire outbreaks, breaking records.
He pointed out that this represents “a rare but not unprecedented weather pattern”-wildfires have produced an unusually large amount of smoke, and most of it has been transported to densely populated places, further triggering an air quality crisis.
global climate issue
The problem of wildfires is not unique to Canada, nor is it a new one.
For example, every summer and autumn, the dry climate of California in the United States also experiences extremely destructive wildfire seasons. In 2020, 4.3 million acres of land burned in California, resulting in 1,200 deaths from smoke inhalation. Only this time because of the “disappearance” of the New York skyline, it has attracted global attention.
The “Scientific American” website published an article on June 13 warning: “The Canadian wildfire is a warning sign-the future of the east coast of the United States may be full of smog.” It is worth mentioning that in 2020, forest fires also ravaged Australia
; In 2021, wildfires swept through Greece; in 2022, wildfires broke out in Portugal. Forests are drier and wildfires are set to become more frequent amid a warming global climate.
Swedish scientist Wolfgang Kanol pointed out that in most parts of the world, PM2.5 emissions from wildfires even exceed emissions from anthropogenic sources. That said, global air pollution from wildfires, a long-neglected problem as the climate warms, could one day be more of a problem than industrial pollution and vehicle emissions.
Professor Bendix also pointed out that it is worrying that the Siberian region of Russia has also experienced more and more serious wildfires in recent years. If this trend continues in the future, it is likely to affect neighboring Asian countries.
A 2022 UN report warned that the intensity of global wildfires is expected to increase by 57% by 2090 due to climate change.
Prof Bendix’s prediction is that the number and size of wildfires in most parts of the world will almost certainly increase in the coming decades.
The harm caused by wildfire is immediate, such as burning houses and infrastructure, destroying forest resources, producing smoke that restricts human activities and endangers human health, and occasionally burns people who cannot escape the flames.
In the longer term, frequent wildfires can also cause indirect damage, such as the fires themselves releasing carbon into the atmosphere, which further contributes to climate change. In addition, wildfires will also cause “cross-regional harm”. For example, the smoke from wildfires in North America may melt the glaciers in Greenland faster, and the melting glaciers will cause sea level rise.
How should humans respond to wildfires?
Keina Hoffman, an expert interviewed by the BBC, said that one of the most basic ways is to strictly manage forests to minimize the chance of wildfires burning.
There are many reasons for wildfires to be ignited: some are human negligence, such as forgetting to extinguish the campfire after camping, and not taking away all kinds of garbage debris; some are natural and weather reasons, such as lightning; Fire prevention measures are not in place. “The bottom line is that wildfires are coming, it’s going to get worse, and we need to be prepared,” Hoffman said.