National | Media Release

Intense wildfires across Canada demand immediate action: A statement from the President of the National Farmers Union

At no time in my memory have so many fires ravaged so much of our country at one time. This unprecedented “fire season” follows other extraordinary weather and fire events that are happening with increasing ferocity and frequency year after year and around the globe. Our whole world is on fire.

We need solutions of two types. We need immediate help to aid those suffering now, and we need ambitious, forward-looking actions to slow and ultimately reduce the number of fires, their severity, and the damage they do.

We need immediate aid for those directly impacted by fires and smoke. While the rest of the population can shelter indoors, farmers and farm workers must work outside in health-imperiling smoke, or risk lost crops and lost wages. Farmers need access to resources that enable them to provide safer working conditions for themselves and their workers. We need programs and policies that support employers to provide the protections and skills that will safeguard workers’ health and well-being. This is a human-rights issue, a justice issue.

In the medium-term, we need to double and then redouble Canadian efforts to reduce GHG emissions and, thus, cease driving climate change which is accelerating and proliferating these fires. The fires on our landscape are a direct result of the fires in our power plants, automobiles, and furnaces – and the inaction of our governments: Canada lags behind all of its Group of Seven (G7) peers. Compared to countries such as England, Germany, and even the US, we have done the least to reduce emissions. The often-nearly-invisible smoke from fossil-fueled cars, homes, and factories is driving the warming that is incinerating our forests and darkening our skies. To deal with the big fires “out there” we need to stop the billions of little fires all around us.

In addition to reducing our climate-destabilizing and forest-fire-intensifying emissions, we need to better manage our forests. Clearcuts and failed regeneration strategies leave forests drier and more fire-prone. To reduce forest fires, we must maximize forest health with laws and policy to protect intact forest ecosystems and old growth forest from extractive industrial logging, which will safeguard essential biodiversity and provide a buffer against run-away climate change. Canada must enforce an immediate end to deforestation in Canada as called for at UN COP 26.

Finally, even if we reach net-zero emissions by 2050, fire numbers and intensity will continue to increase for decades as a result of the excess GHGs already in the atmosphere. Climate change will increasingly imperil farms, homes, and communities. We need to be prepared with massively expanded firefighting capability. The National Farmers Union calls on all provincial and federal governments to very rapidly and significantly scale up firefighting capacities to ensure we have the personnel, equipment, and aerial firefighting resources we need before the next fire season hits.

Such an increase in personnel and equipment will be costly. Many Canadians will be hard-pressed to take money from their annual incomes to fund this needed expansion. And they should not. Fossil fuel companies should pay the costs of fighting the fires their products are now intensifying. It would be reasonable to impose a significant tax on fossil-fuel company profits to cover the cost of the increased firefighting their products have made necessary.

As farmers who grow Canada’s food, we are on the front lines of the climate crisis. We are increasingly alarmed by the intensifying hostility and unpredictability of the climate. We call on our government for a response that is truly equal to this threat.

Photo by Landon Parenteau on Unsplash