Fort McMurray and the Warming Arctic

fort mcmurry fire

By Jeff Smith, co-chair, 350 Missoula (05/05/2016)

It’s way too easy to default to the irony of the situation. This is the city built to liquify and distribute the notorious tar sands, what climate scientists had picked out as the single most destructive carbon-intensive development on the face of the planet.

That sudden, uncontrollable fires would reek havoc in that place IS ironic. But, it’s too smug and glib and self-congratulatory to go there.

It’s wrong to say, I told you so, to people in crisis, fleeing with whatever they can carry on five minutes notice. The residents of Fort McMurray are not the criminals responsible for the policy decisions of the past 25 years, which were based on denial, obfuscation, excessive profit, and slick public relations.

In western Montana, we have experience with wildfire. We know that, as the Irish are fond of saying, There but by the grace of God go I. Indeed, it just may be that we have entered the era where we can measure the accuracy of the earlier climate models by the phenomena we’re actually witnessing . . . and, heaven forbid, experiencing.

At the same time, there’s frustration and anger that this is happening. Wouldn’t you think a reporter covering this story might mention that our climate is changing, that climate models have been predicting the drier, warmer conditions at that latitude? Wouldn’t you think we would now start to make the effort to truly explain why this is happening and set out on a different course?

As a way of deepening our understanding of the new probability and the new dangers of fire, I pass on a very good explanation of why the fires up north are happening by Robert Marston Fannéy at

And I hope we can use this tragedy to work together on a sensible future. This didn’t have to happen.