It’s World Oceans Day, but wildfires and smoke dominate the climate narrative

Wildfire smoke smothers North America on June 7, 2023. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)Wildfire smoke smothers North America on June 7, 2023. (Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Every day is “something special” day. Today it’s the ocean. Tomorrow it’ll be “Something Else Day,” Father’s Day is just around the corner. We get daily reminders of what’s special or important even if it’s someone or something we appreciate or take for granted.

It took humanity however many thousands of years to officially declare Earth Day on April 22, 1970. World Oceans Day officially became a thing in the 2000s, with United Nations’ recognition in 2008.

Earlier this week I tried to think about what new story I’d add to my ocean-focused topic, but I remain distracted as wildfires and smoke dominate the news cycle.

I didn’t grow up in fire country, but as a long-time Seattle resident I’m all too keen on what people back East are experiencing — some, or maybe even most, for the first time. The record number of wildfires across Canada today remind us of how climate and wildfire risk are linked.

Today’s earlier-than-expected and larger-than-expected wildfires are signals of why only a few degrees of global heating negatively impact our health.

A webcam reveals the extent of wildfire smoke obscuring a view of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City midday on June 7, 2023.

Wildfires, of course, are natural occurrences, but there’s nothing natural about the breadth of their rapidly increasing destruction in recent decades; heat-trapping carbon dioxide levels rose more than expected in 2022, and 2023 already is on pace to be one of the hottest years on record. There have always been naturally occurring wildfires, but more of us will be affected by them, exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions.

Anyway, today it’s World Oceans Day.