Welcome to my nightmare
The shifting baseline of 'normal summer weather'
Ever since we had the heat dome of 2021 I’ve wondered/worried what it would be like to experience a prolonged warm spell paired with wildfire smoke akin to 2017/18.
Reader: It sucks.
Fortunately (to use the loosest sense of the term) things are neither as bad as they were in 2017/18 nor in 2021 on either end. We can still see the sky, for one thing, and this is a heat wave, not a heat dome, which means it’s not quite as oppressive and lacking in relief as when things wouldn’t even cool down over night.
But — hear me out on this — it kind of feels like it’s just a matter of time before those events collide? Last year we were lucky to have neither event but I went a good many years without ever experiencing this sort of wildfire smoke nor this sort of heat and now it feels more inevitable than anything else. And, I regret to inform you, it is only MID-MAY. Which isn’t to say things will get worse this summer. Or next summer. But it certainly feels like it WILL happen, probably, at some point and that point is not the far-distant future. I wrote last week about how I hate the nagging feeling that what used to be “nice summer weather” is inevitably going to give way to ~gestures broadly~ and I’ll admit that over the weekend I almost let myself believe I was overthinking it too much but, nope, here we are. And again, what’s really remarkable is that as much as this is a pretty bad situation my overarching reaction is “Well, at least it could be worse.” Which, it could be, but it’s still not great, y’know?
Dezene Huber, a prof at UNBC, tweeted yesterday about the Shifting Baseline Syndrome, a concept he credits to Daniel Pauly at UBC in a 1995 paper about fisheries:
Essentially, this syndrome has arisen because each generation of fisheries scientists accepts as a baseline the stock size and species composition that occurred at the beginning of their careers, and uses this to evaluate changes. When the next generation starts its career, the stocks have further declined, but it is the stocks at that time that serve as a new baseline. The result obviously is a gradual shift of the baseline, a gradual accommodation of the creeping disappearance of resource species, and inappropriate reference points for evaluating economic losses resulting from overfishing, or for identifying targets for rehabilitation measures.
And again not trying to alarmist but YIPES. I think about someone like my nice who is 12 years old. She would have been six the first time the sky was blacked out by wildfire smoke. It happened again when she was seven. It’s been a regular feature of the summer every year since, close to as far back as her memories can go. For me, someone who went more than three decades without ever experiencing that, it’s already starting to be a “here we go again” event so I can’t quite fathom how normalized it will be for someone who never knew otherwise… and what that means for our future.
I’ve told you I’m probably going to take a summer break from writing this, right? Probably for the best.
But UNTIL THEN, here’s the….
As I predicted yesterday, Dawson Creek and Chetwynd filled up with evacuees pretty quickly so Prince George was asked to open a reception centre. It did, but fortunately shifting winds meant things stayed relatively calm in the Peace and as of yesterday afternoon only about 50 people had showed up.
Air quality: We hit the 10+ level yesterday afternoon, which as high as it goes, and the smoke is gonna stick around for a bit, it looks like.
Out-of-control wildfire west of Vanderhoof but no threats to homes or properties as I write this.
UNBC and surrounding trails were briefly locked down yesterday during an RCMP manhunt.
idk that’s it for today! tomorrow we will have some letters!
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