Warning: wildfires are coming and they are going to be bigger, more frequent, more unpredictable, and faster moving than ever.
Struzik (Future Arctic: Field Notes from a World on the Edge, 2015, etc.)—a fellow at the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen University in Kingston, Canada—presents an almost overwhelming array of facts about wildfires that leave room for little doubt about the hazard they represent. The author chronicles numerous raging fires, starting with the 2016 megafire in Fort McMurray in Alberta, which burned nearly 1.5 million acres and was “the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history, and one of the most destructive North American wildfires in modern times”—the “total cost…including financial, physical, and social factors, is likely to be $8.86 billion.” In addition to exploring the history of wildfires, Struzik also reviews present policies. In his research, he traveled widely, especially in Canada and the American Northwest, interviewing scientists, wildfire experts, forest managers, firefighters, and policymakers. The author reports that future wildfires will change the structure of the forests and the tundra, compromise the quality of water and air, and significantly impact wildlife and human activity. While acknowledging that there is much to be learned about how firestorms will contribute to climate change, he points out that a single heavy wildfire season can release a decade’s worth of carbon into the atmosphere. At present, he notes, the costs of fighting wildfires are drawing money away from important forest management programs. What is needed, writes the author, is “meaningful investments…in scientific research, conservation, prevention, education and a better understanding of how climate, wildfire, insects, drought, flooding, and invasive species are going to shape our forests in the future.”
Struzik delivers a powerful message that will appeal to environmentally minded readers and students of climate change.