Are smoky skies the 'new normal?' Climatologist and activists don't like the description

British Columbia has been under a blanket of smoke for more than a week, similar to last year’s conditions, prompting B.C. Premier John Horgan to say wildfires and smoky skies may become the “new normal."

'That [term] really allows us to settle into this instead of thinking critically’

B.C. declared a provincewide state of emergency because of the forest fires and, across the province, the smoky skies have prompted air quality advisories. (Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort)

British Columbia has been under a blanket of smoke for more than a week, similar to last year's conditions, prompting B.C. Premier John Horgan to say wildfires and smoky skies may become the "new normal."

David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist, disputes the use of the term.

"I don't know if I would use the words 'new normal' unless it meant expect more of the unexpected — normal implies stability, that we've reached a plateau," Phillips said.

Weather patterns across the globe are doing the opposite of remaining stable, he emphasized.

"Stalling" weather events, when weather patterns linger longer than usual causing everything from droughts or floods, are becoming more common.

"It could very well be the fact that our  [global] circulation has changed and that is because the fundamental building block of climate on this planet is different," he said, referring to the Arctic heating up.

"The weather is changing so much — when you change the climate, you change the weather."

British Columbia has been under a blanket of smoke for more than a week, similar to last year's conditions, prompting B.C. Premier John Horgan to say wildfires and smoky skies may become the "new normal." 7:45

Think critically

For some young British Columbians involved in climate activism, the idea of forests going up in smoke and air that's deemed by health officials as risky to breathe will be "normal" in the future is particularly aggravating.

"That [term] really allows us to settle into this instead of thinking critically,"  saidTessica Truong, a sustainability activist in her mid-20s and the co-founder of CityHive.

"We don't know what the new normal will be."

Several kayakers braved smoky weather on Howe Sound to paddle around Porteau Cove Sunday. Authorities are advising British Columbians to avoid exerting themselves in smoky conditions. (Catherine Rolfsen/CBC)

Emilia Belliveau, also in her 20s, works for the David Suzuki Foundation and attended the UN COP 21 Paris conference as a youth delegate from B.C.

This week, Belliveau has been looking up at the sky with growing unease.

"It's impossible not to look at the sky and see it as a symbol of bigger things to come," she said.  

She agreed that the term new normal is "misleading."

"We need to be talking more about what this looks like in the future and not think about this as a settled thing," Belliveau said.

"We haven't even really developed the language to hold conversations that hold the amount of grief and stress and the sense of fear and loss that are accompanying these early signs."

The phrase "new normal" doesn't sit well with some of the young people involved in climate activism. 11:02

With files from The Early Edition.

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