The climate crisis is global. The effects, however, will be overwhelmingly local.

That reality could not be more obvious this week, as smoke from wildfires in Canada blanketed the East Coast, giving New York for a moment the worst air quality of any major city in the world.

Maine, which has felt the unhealthy effects of wildfires from afar before, was only spared because of a low pressure system that parked over the state at a very opportune moment.

We won’t always be so lucky. As humans struggle to reduce, much less eliminate, the use of fossil fuels, every additional bit of carbon pollution put into the atmosphere makes it more likely life in Maine will be made worse — by events both near and far.

Pictures of the Week-North America-Photo Gallery

The sun rises over a hazy New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Canadian wildfires are blanketing the northeastern U.S. in a haze, turning the air acrid, the sky yellowish gray and prompting warnings for vulnerable populations to stay inside. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The fires in eastern Canada are just the latest example. Such fires have been increasing in frequency across the U.S. and Canada in recent years as a result of rising temperatures caused by fossil fuel emissions.

Those fires have reversed a lot of the gains made in improving air pollution in the last few decades. The smoke they produce is taken by the jet stream to other states, and even other countries, far from the fire itself, making the air unhealthy for days at a time.


When the West Coast of the U.S. was engulfed in wildfires three years ago, for instance, Maine was hit with hazy skies and polluted air — and there was nothing we could do about it.

But this year’s are particularly troubling. Western Canada, like the western U.S., because of its vegetation and climate, have always been susceptible to fire.

However, in recent years, wildfires in the east have been on the rise. Climate change is producing winters with less snow, leaving the ground and vegetation more dry through the spring and summer. The higher than average temperatures we are now experiencing then dry them out even more, creating a fire hazard in areas where there wasn’t one before.

The wildfire that hit Nova Scotia this year was its largest in history. More than 16,000 people had to leave their homes, and children, the elderly and those with lung conditions struggled with the air quality.

And this all happened in a year that forecasters said initially only had an average risk for wildfires.

Consider that a warning from our neighbors just to the east. While this part of North America will never have the wildfire risk of the wide-open West, the changing climate means the risk will get worse — and no one can reliable tell us how bad that could be.


Just as in Canada, wildfires are becoming more frequent in Maine, and for the same reasons. There’s less snow, so it’s easier for the fuel in the woods to dry out. Times of high temperature and low humidity bring drought. We’re getting more rain, but it increasingly comes in big storms that don’t soak vegetation so well.

Maine has broken records for wildfires in recent years, and is on pace for another big season in 2023. That is the new normal. That’s what we can expect.

There will also be surprises. The record-setting wildfire season in Canada was a surprise, even to those who know the climate crisis is changing our environment, just as the heat wave across the Pacific northwest astounded scientists with its severity.

The damage caused in Atlantic Canada last year by Hurricane Fiona, the most costly extreme weather event ever recorded in the region, should also make Mainers reconsider what’s possible here.

The climate crisis already is costing us. But now is no time to despair.

Just like every bit of carbon pollution makes the effects we see from climate change worse, every bit that is kept out makes things just a little bit better.

Everyone can help by supporting legislation that speeds up the clean energy transition, both in Congress, such as the historic Inflation Reduction Act passed by Democrats last year, which has led to a monumental boom in climate investment, and in the Maine Legislature.

As the Canada wildfires show, climate change is costing us now in real ways, and the future will only be more costly.

Anyone who tells you climate change is not our problem, or not a problem at all, cannot be taken seriously.

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