Four weeks after a wildfire began in the Canadian province of Alberta, thousands of structures in Fort McMurray have been destroyed, over 100,000 people have been evacuated, and 2200 square miles have gone up in smoke. The fire has also shut down commercial extraction of tar sands, a source of fossil fuel and the reason for Fort McMurray’s prosperity. Greg Laden points out the perverse cause and effect of it all: tar sands contribute to global warming, global warming contributes to weather variation and drought, drought makes regions extra-vulnerable to wildfire, and wildfire shuts down tar sands extraction. While it’s tempting to think residents of Fort McMurray are ‘getting what they deserve’ for their involvement with fossil fuels, Greg Laden writes “the people of Fort McMurray did not decide to cause climate change.” As John DuPuis says on Confessions of a Science Librarian, “The issues around fossil fuel development that have gotten us into the trouble we’re in are systemic and historic, not in any way directly the fault of the actual people who are caught in this situation.” Thus, the short-term need for disaster relief is independent of the long-term need to stop using fossil fuels.
On Significant Figures, Peter Gleick explains that growing populations worldwide have exerted peak pressures on water supplies, leaving entire regions more vulnerable to natural variations in rainfall. In turn, global warming has made these natural variations more extreme. One such variation is El Niño, when “droughts are typically more widespread and severe.” Dr. Gleick reports on the challenges faced around the world in 2016, as several historic droughts grow worse. Meanwhile, in honor of Earth Day, Ethan Siegel suggests we count our blessings: “there’s still no planet as friendly to life or hospitable to humans as Earth. It’s the fact that we went beyond the Earth and discovered the Universe that’s allowed us to appreciate just how rare, precious and special our home world is.”