Smokey haze, intense heat, encampments of evacuated residents next to the highway: these were the conditions that greeted Renee Lertzman when she recently drove through Oregon. It’s no wonder why the environmental psychology researcher and professor resorts to the term “apocalyptic” to describe the scene.
“It was a surreal experience,” says Lertzman, who teaches at the University of San Francisco and Victoria’s Royal Roads University. “We’re all driving along and it’s so smoky and it’s terrifying. Yet we’re all doing our summer vacation thing. I couldn’t help but wonder: what is going on, how are people feeling and talking about this?”
It’s really the question of the hour. Catastrophic wildfires and droughts have engulfed much of the continent, with thousands displaced from their homes; air quality alerts confine many of the lucky remainder behind locked doors (with exercise minimized and fresh-air intakes closed).
Firefighters have been summoned from around the world to battle the unprecedented fires, which are undoubtedly exacerbated by climate change. Yet the seemingly reasonable assumption that witnessing such horrific natural disasters may increase support for action on climate change is vastly overestimated, Lertzman tells DeSmog Canada.