Wildfires, in recent weeks, have been burning uncontrollably throughout the Western United States.
As of Monday, the more than 100 fires had killed thirty-five people, across twelve different states, with over 4 million acres of land burned. The fires were originally triggered by thunderstorms and were later spread by strong winds. In total, they have caused an ominous red hue in the sky over much of the American West.
Like most things these days, these fires have led to bitter culture war battles. Most experts have linked the fires and those like them to climate change, while President Trump and many of his allies have blamed the forest management policies of California and other Democratic-controlled states. There’s also a conspiracy theory—completely baseless, according to all relevant authorities—that “Antifa” has purposely set the fires.
Over the weekend, another talking point has emerged: social media users have been posting to mock the idea of climate change causing the fires, along with a map showing hundreds of fires throughout the United States, and none of them in Canada. “Hey Governor Newsom [the Democratic California governor who stated a link between the fires and climate change],” says one popular version, posted by actor James Woods. “Why does ‘climate change’ stop abruptly at the Canadian border?”
As indicated by the words “climate change” being in scare quotes, this meme is bogus.
The provenance of the map shared by Woods and various others in unclear, but it’s almost certainly actually a map only of U.S. fires, likely generated by entering search terms that include only America and not Canada. The implication otherwise is either that climate scientists are faking data, or perhaps that the Antifa arson conspiracy is true.
“The latest disinformation circling the Twittersphere asks why the impacts of climate change appear to stop at the Canadian border,” Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at the Texas Tech Climate Center, said on Twitter Sunday. “The answer is simple: because U.S. maps only show U.S. data.” Professor Hayhoe went on to post another map, which indeed included fires north of the border.
Canada has indeed had a quieter-than-usual fire season, per The National Post, although smoke has begun to draft northward from the fires in Washington state and Oregon. But, rather than zero, Alberta has had 614 wildfires so far this year, while British Columbia has had 610. Both the weather—Canada has had a rainier-than-usual season this year—and the coronavirus restrictions have helped bring about season of fewer fires in Canada, the newspaper said.
Another news report out of Canada, by the CBC, found that the fires in the United States pose “very high risk to air quality in British Columbia, and that air quality in the Vancouver area is now “among the worst of the world’s major cities.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.