More Fire and Smoke to Come

Fires are a natural part of life in the forests that extend across Canada and the northern US. But it is not normal for these forest fires to consume entire communities, take lives of unsuspecting citizens in a surreal panic, and leave thousands of people and animals displaced. Tragedies happen sometimes. Now however, experts tell us, we can anticipate more monstruous fires on a more frequent basis.

Just when you think the great Canadian outdoors might offer a safe escape from all the maladies in the world, the lakeside campsite has become another danger zone. Climate trends are making northern summers hotter, drier, and longer. That means we can expect plenty more fires, more smoke, and more forced evacuations of campsites and cities alike.

These are discouraging times. An unthinkable war in Ukraine. Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Migrants fleeing North Africa. Uneasy US-China relations.

Evil people deploy cyber attacks and scam the vulnerable. Good people fear the ominous risks of artificial intelligence. Everyone is nervously hoping the fall months don’t rekindle the COVID pandemic.

The world is a mess. There are many contributing factors, but surely one of the greatest is that the success of humans in growing our numbers has not been matched by a growth in intelligence. More and more people mean more congested cities and more encroachment on the natural systems our planet developed over billions of years.

There’s no escaping that a lot of people are and will be dealing with mountains of anxiety, depression, and for the worst affected, significant trauma.

It’s a challenging assignment in a short column to offer helpful advice. But how can we not comment on the current forest fires?

So here are a few thoughts. First, research shows that the more you prepare for negative events, the better you will fare in recovering from the associated trauma. This means, it’s worth while to prepare for an emergency. Hopefully you will never need your list of things to pack when you have 15 minutes to evacuate. But having it ready will help.

Second, there are health benefits to altruism. When people help other people (or animals, and presumably trees and the environment too), they can experience physiological changes in the brain that improve the likelihood for happiness.

Third, getting involved is a good move. Helpers as well as people in need may build new or stronger support networks. This can improve self-esteem. Being connected and feeling positive are attributes associated with healthier, happier people.

For anyone experiencing trauma, there is no better course than to seek help. Don’t struggle alone. It takes courage to reach out, but the rewards are proven.

Finally, if you can do more, or give more, to make the world a better place, then follow this advice. Spend your energy and money the way porcupines make love: very, very carefully.

The past few weeks have shown us that we’ll all need to think through the threat of forest fires – even if we live in as idyllic a setting as Lahaina on the beautiful island of Maui. We will need to protect our homes and plan a course for when fires and smoke threaten.

What the future holds, we cannot know. But we can make ourselves resilient, and that is what we must do.

It was Bram Stoker, in his novel Dracula, who made this point. “It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.”

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