John Vaillant (2023) Fire Weather: A True Story From A Hotter World.

John Vaillant moves from the taiga of The Tiger to  ‘thinking like a fire’ in the boreal forests surrounding Fort McMurray (Fort Money) in Alberta, Canada and the evacuation of its almost 100 000 residents in May, 2016. His argument is that these fires can no longer be considered the exception to the rule, but the rule itself in an Anthropocene warming world we have created by our increasing use of fossil fuels which destroys our planet.  

A firestorm cloud over Fort McMurray 45,000 feet tall, puncturing the stratosphere, creating its own lightning, hurricane-force winds and created its own weather. Full trees candled and homes burnt at the rate of $1million a minute. Valliant shows how ‘Operation Gomorrah’ which created Germany’s Nagasaki by testing and refining the methods of firebombing cities and the flammability of materials killed around 20 000 civilians in Hamburg in similar shoebox houses and created atmospheric conditions in which scientists were asking if Canada had detonated a nuclear bomb.   

Just as Vaillant used The Tiger as a metaphor for a changing world, he uses Fort McMurray to show how we have come to the point where ideas about change to the status quo and the appearance of normality clash. And we were lied to again and again and again by the fossil fuel industry leaders, most notably Exxon-Mobil and the Koch Brothers and their followers in the 1980s. Their alumni included President George W.Bush senior and junior and most Vice Presidents. The moron’s moron, President Bush has pledged to start where he stopped after last running his mouth off and ‘drill baby drill’. The next American President in waiting made another pledge (boast) to spend $20 trillion on a railroad from Alberta to America which makes no economic sense as oil-tar-bitumen businesses go bust. Insurance companies withdraw from supporting the fossil-fuel industries and their ‘stranded assets. Even the mighty Exxon, who took a couple of hundred million dollar write-down on tar-sands at Fort McMcMurray moves down in value to less worth than a store that sells groceries and outside the top ten companies in the United States.  

Vaillant shows quite clearly how climate change was recognised by the father of the hydrogen bomb as a danger to the American way of life, which then, as now, was all they were really concerned about.   

California Wildfires: These have been burning with increasing frequency intensity due to global heating. The fire season lasts all year.

Alaskan Wildfires: The state of Alaska has witnessed severe wildfires in recent years.

Chilean Wildfires: Chile has faced extensive forest fires, exacerbated by climate change.

Siberian Wildfires: Vast areas of Siberia have been ablaze, releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swedish, and Greek Wildfires: These countries have all experienced destructive wildfires.

Vaillant estimates wildfires will take hold in areas thought outside the norm and will affect 1 in 6 Americans. Areas previously thought too cold (minus 60 degrees Centigrade) or too arid, even hit us in Scotland with all our rain. The reverse of what was thought possible with the warming and greening of the Artic and climate and water feedback loops.

J.P. Morgan Chase the largest financier of the fossil fuel industry in July 2020 suggested to its shareholders (the richest 10% and owners of most assets in our warming world) that now was the time to get out ‘if the human race is to survive’. In the meantime, the richest ten percent have created contracts that mean we need to keep giving these captains of industry increasing amounts of money for destroying our planet and fossil-fuel bombs that will fall on our children and children’s children’s heads. A zero-sum game.

I told my sister to read this book and think about moving. She’s surrounded by Canadian taiga trees, but she won’t, of course. Like those in Fort McMurray. Like the rest of us, she doesn’t think it will happen to her. We’re conservative in the wrong way and duped into supporting the richest people in the world tear up and pollute our planet. Been lied to and duped. Vaillant is optimistic, I’m not. I’ve read the runes. Read on.