Wildfire fallout a potent reminder to continue fight against climate change

Drivers travel in hazy conditions Wednesday along I-90. Poor air quality continues due to smoke from Canadian wildfires.

Northern Illinois earned a disturbing if temporary distinction last month: the worst air quality in the world among major cities.

State environmental officials issued an air quality alert June 27 with levels at “very unhealthy” and extended it through June 29. People across the region were advised to avoid the outdoors, a warning with added urgency for those with asthma or other breathing issues.

Meanwhile, a thick haze hung over the region, and some residents complained of smelling smoke.

Those effects, and the health threats they posed, came from the North. Wildfires – 480 of them as of midday July 5, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre – rage across Canada. More than 200 were classified as “out of control.”

And experts predict the danger will continue into the fall.

A number of factors led to this disaster, but experts say climate change played a part.

Hotter than usual temperatures and drought have combined to make wildfires, common in parts of Canada, a far greater threat. Add to that lightning strikes, more frequent with global warming, and we have to ask ourselves: Is this a harbinger of what’s to come?

Could the wildfires and health threats carried over the border be a wake-up call?

They should be.

And they should prompt another important question: What am I doing to combat climate change – as an individual and as part of a larger community?

By now, we all know the alliterative environmental mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. But how seriously do we follow it?

Do we make the small changes necessary to help reduce climate change, including limiting food waste and single-use plastics? Do we cut back on driving when walking, biking or using mass transit are viable options? Do we consider the impact on climate change when we buy a new car, shop for groceries or remodel our homes? Do we do the same when we choose our light bulbs, set our thermostats and plant our gardens?

If you haven’t done things like these, look outside and vow to do better. If you have, consider other ways to do more – and use less.

And it’s important to move beyond what we each do in our homes. Our towns, our state and our nation must take the threat seriously. We need to reach out and learn how they are converting concern to action – and how we might help on this critical mission.

Our resolve to do better for our planet should linger long after the last blaze is extinguished.

– The Daily Herald