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Fork in the Road: World on fire

Winemakers are stymied, farmers stumped—the world as we’ve known it has already ended
Albrecht Dürer’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1498.

Maybe you’re a bit hoarse from all the smoke in the air. Maybe you’ve already sent your donation to the victims of wildfires across B.C. and the Northwest Territories, or mailed a card of thanks to the firefighters working their butts off, including around Gun Lake, home of the fire tornado. Maybe you or loved ones have been anxiously facing an evacuation alert or order. Worse, your life’s been upended by this latest round of disastrous wildfires.

Worst on record. Most land burned. From here to Quebec and up to Alaska; across the entire Northwest Territories; south of the border—Maui!; throughout Europe and around the world. (Never mind the headlines, check out NASA’s Global Fire Map. It’s a brilliant tool—you can also see snow and ice, or water colour, around the world and over time.)

And those are just the fires. There’s the deadly heat and droughts. Catastrophic flooding in China, India, Eastern Canada, Italy. Tropical storms making their way into areas not normally hit. A fierce hurricane now bearing down on Florida, which will only get fiercer as it picks up strength from the warmest Floridian coastal waters on record—41 C. Yep, that’s been the water temperature off the coast of Florida, where the web of ocean life—the corals, the reef fish, the plankton—are all struggling to survive in water as warm as a jacuzzi, water so warm that pregnant women are advised not to immerse themselves in it. (Air temperatures off Vancouver Island also passed the 40 C mark in June 2021 when that heat dome killed a billion animals on B.C.’s coast.)

The New Yorker, witty as ever, ran a cartoon last week by Maddie Dai. It features the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (like the ones Dürer created, above), in this case carrying helpful name banners, in case we’d forgotten: Famine, Death, War and Pestilence.

On the right side sits a new, fifth horseman in an ominous black robe: Climate Change, mounted on a white steed and waving at the other four. Between them stands a friendly-looking, middle-aged, bureaucratic kind of guy who’d be at home in any corporate or political office.

He addresses the other horsemen with a winsome smile: “You four have been iconic, but we’ve found a guy who can do it in half the time and at half the cost,” he tells them. Bring on The Apocalypse.

You know the old adage, the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. True, true, true, true, true, as our old neighbour in Edmonton would say. Everybody can connect to food, so if you haven’t already flung your usual habits and attitudes out the window and started doing everything you can to keep that fifth horseman at bay, like the next generations around the world have been begging, pleading, exhorting us to do, let me toss a few tidbits your way that might hit you where it counts most.

In places with very uncertain futures, like South Africa, where the BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) recently wound up and unemployment is estimated by analysts to be an unbelievable 42 per cent—yes, 42 per cent—the climate crisis is only going to exacerbate the poverty, the hunger, the restlessness and frustration already unfolding, especially among the increasingly youthful populations around the world.

Speaking of which, before I get to the more apocalyptic stuff, I remind us all it’s the young people working on the right side of history (“right” as in not wrong) who offer one of the few slivers of hope. I tip my hat, and salute them all, and anyone else, for being open to new and useful alternatives, then putting in the elbow grease to make it so. Like the young ones who worked tirelessly with environmental groups in Ecuador to get the vote out for the historic referendum to ban oil drilling in a protected area of the Amazon. And the young people who just won a landmark case in Montana, where a judge wisely ruled they have the right to a clean environment.

You can’t cling to old ways when you’re staring down the Four Horsemen, never mind the fifth. Forty-five leading climate scientists interviewed for the Guardian agree. So here we go.

Winemakers around the world are dealing with extreme heat that can make grapes ripen more quickly. Either you pick grapes earlier and risk diminishing quality, or leave them to ripen longer and maybe get stronger, less-balanced wine. Okanagan vintners and brewers in Washington and Australia are already wrestling with ways to get acrid “smoke taint” out of their wine and beer.

Warmer winters and summers, along with drought, or rain at the wrong time, are also impacting crops, including that good ol’ horseman, Pestilence. Growers worldwide are facing new invasive insect species and unprecedented challenges from mildew and fungus, and insect-transmitted plant diseases.

Cherry growers in the Okanagan this spring used low-flying helicopters to blow excessive rain off ripening fruit. Meanwhile, farmers and ranchers in central and southern B.C. and the southern prairies are facing a third year of severe to extreme drought.

Never mind nice things like cherries and wine, water scarcity impacts 2 to 3 billion people around the world, and it’s only getting worse. India, Pakistan, Egypt, South Africa, Italy, Iraq—all are facing severe shortages (remember BRICS and its new members?). Water levels are so low in California, which supplies B.C. with 70 per cent of its fresh produce, and Arizona that they’re rationing it permanently in some parts.

Do we need any more evidence, folks, to push us in the right direction on the climate file? Could I find any more colliding truths from opposite ends of the human spectrum? VP Al Gore in a new TED Talk: “The climate crisis is a fossil-fuel crisis.” The world’s most infamous mercenary, Yevgeny Prigozhin: “Society always demands justice, and if there is no justice, then revolutionary sentiments arise.”

That would be one of those original horsemen.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who reminds you to pack a go-bag—Whistler is going to burn.