My home is burning.
I am a climate activist. I have spent years calling for an adequate response to the climate emergency we are living in. I have watched as disasters unfolded across the world. I knew that as the climate crisis continued and got worse throughout my lifetime, it was very likely that at some point, something would happen to my own home. I just hadn’t expected it to be so soon.
I grew up in Tantallon and along Hammonds Plains Road. My family moved a lot, but for 15 years, I lived in a house in that community. At one point last week, I had four houses I lived in as a child within the burn radius and I'm not sure the one in Westwood is still standing.
My parents and five younger siblings still live in Haliburton Hills, the neighbourhood right across from Westwood where the fire started. They were some of the first to evacuate on Sunday afternoon and have been living with my grandparents for the past week, watching constantly for news updates, knowing that with one wrong shift in the winds, their home could be engulfed.
While most of the open flames were finally put out over the weekend — thanks to a week’s worth of constant firefighting efforts assisted by the literally life-saving rain that started Friday night — many groundfires are still smouldering. Officials say it could be weeks or even months before they are able to fully extinguish them all.
While I am incredibly grateful for the amazing work being done by first responders, I believe the Nova Scotia government was not prepared to deal with this emergency or any of the other fires now burning across the province, which are historic in size.
The communications systems have been sometimes sporadic and from different sources, making it difficult for people in the area to have any idea of what is going on until they get a specific evacuation order.
A clear emergency communications and update system must be put into place so this does not happen again. We have seen this as an issue time and time again in emergency situations across the province, including the 2020 mass shooting. Things must be better.
Baseline equipment and supplies must also be better. With so many active situations at once, crews and aerial support have been spread thinly across the province. While I’m very grateful for any support being given by the federal and other provincial governments, we need to be better prepared as a province to support our on-the-ground responders with the supplies and backup they need.
Nova Scotia is dealing with not seen before rates of forest fires. Governments need to realize these are not isolated incidents, but warning signs of the larger climate emergency at hand, writes Sophia Lindfield. #wildfires #ActOnClimate #cdnpoli
And in my community, the damage has already been done. According to "preliminary estimates" as of June 5, 150 homes were believed to be damaged. Air quality from the smoke remains inconsistent. Well water is considered potentially not safe to drink until it can be tested for contaminants.
Huge swaths of forest have burned and my community will not be the same, marked by those scars for years to come.
And I am not there.
I have been temporarily living in Ottawa for a year, having been selected to participate in GreenPAC’s Parliamentary Internship for the Environment, a national program for climate leaders to get experience working for members of Parliament on environmental policy.
It feels like the worst kind of irony being in the nation's capital to advocate for better climate action from the federal government while watching from afar as my home community is on fire. It felt surreal to be standing in the stairwell beside the environment minister’s office crying on a call with my parents the day after they were evacuated out of the path of a climate disaster.
I have already been dealing with climate anxiety for years, but it has become a new kind of grief watching the destruction happen to the woods I grew up in, fire destroying the same trees that gave me that awe and love of nature that inspired me to go into climate action in the first place. It is a terrifying thing to see the national stories be a picture of the roads I learned to drive on now surrounded by fire and smoke.
But the thing that scares me the most is that a significant portion of my home community will have been destroyed, only to be forgotten as the warning sign it is. This is not an isolated incident.
In Nova Scotia, we have had more forest fires already this spring than all of last year combined, and it is only early June. This is irrefutably linked to our changing climate. It was our driest spring on record.
The climate crisis will continue to exacerbate conditions as it has done this year, and it will only get worse year after year if adequate climate action is not taken at all levels of government. The severity and frequency of climate disasters will increase in the years to come, to catastrophic levels if we continue on our current path.
Governments, both federal and provincial, are doing nowhere near enough to deal with this crisis like the emergency that it is. UN secretary-general António Guterres says we must do more. In Canada, communities like mine and across the country, risk being destroyed.
There needs to be a tipping point and it needs to be now. So often I am told that hope lies with my generation, but we cannot pin our hopes on future leaders. We need the ones we have now to act.
We need to end government subsidization of fossil fuels. To begin a just transition across sectors immediately. To make sure systems are put into place so people can survive the climate disasters we are already locked into.
We all know that we can do better. It needs to start now.
Sophia Lindfield (she/her) is from Nova Scotia, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. She is working on Parliament Hill for MPs Elizabeth May and Mike Morrice through the GreenPAC Parliamentary Internship for the Environment Program. She is completing a bachelor’s in sustainability and political science at Dalhousie University and has a background in provincial politics and the environmental non-profit sector.