With the largest evacuation in the history of the province of Alberta displacing nearly 100 000 people as large sections of Fort McMurray burn to the ground in the middle of a spring heat wave, it’s only natural for people affected to ask “why?” Why is this happening? What was the cause, and how were we not prepared?
When tragedy strikes we try to make sense of it. What’s happening now is, undeniably, a tragedy. Thousands of Canadians are losing everything they own. People’s lives are at risk. Life as normal has ceased for a significant portion of the people of Alberta. And while I could point out that this wildfire coincides with record-shattering temperatures across Western Canada, the likes of which we have literally never seen before in recorded history, and join in helping others draw the natural conclusions (or at least, what seem to me to be natural conclusions) about how climate change and natural disasters are causally linked, I will decline. Other people are better equipped to lead that conversation. People like Alberta’s First Nations, like climate justice activists across the country, students and organizers and grandparents and children.
No, what I do want to do, is defend our right to have that critical, and arguably existential, discussion. What I want to zero in on are the usual chorus of people, who turn up reliably after every school shooting in the United States, for example, and shout down everyone.
“Not now.” “It’s not the time.” “You’re being insensitive.” “People are in crisis, they don’t need a lecture.” “Don’t politicize this tragedy.”
But of course every tragedy is political. Every crisis is a contested site. It’s not insensitive to for people to actively and publicly struggle to make sense of this: on the contrary it is precisely an act of sensitivity. People are allowing themselves to be affected by events, and this is good. It would be (and is) insensitive to demand people remain deaf, mute, and numb to what’s happening all around them. And for decades, that has been the precise demand levelled at much of Alberta, Canada, and the globe. What it boils down to is: “Shut up.”
So don’t let those bastards get you down. Keep talking, to your friends, your families, your neighbours. If this sounds like a wake up call to you, it probably is.
Good morning, Fort McMurray. Stay safe out there.