Conspiracy theory of ‘ecoterrorism’ rages over Canada wildfires
While alarming wildfires continued to burn across eastern Canada, social media posts insist "arson, not climate change" to be blamed, while others insist that the government is to be blamed.
Online rumors that some of the recent wildfires in Canada were lit on purpose by environmentalists have gained traction as the country races into its worst wildfire season in history.
"I bet a good portion of the wildfires raging across the country were started by green terrorists who want to give their climate change campaign a little boost," Maxime Bernier, a former foreign minister-turned fringe party leader, said in a June 5 tweet.
With more than three million hectares burned thus far this season, 2023 has seen more wildfires in Canada than any other year. As a result, tens of thousands of people have evacuated.
On TikTok, a video already viewed almost 20,000 times, claims the fires in Nova Scotia were set "on purpose to push a climate change agenda."
Some people wondered how all the blazes could have begun on the same day as the flames moved through Quebec. Over a million people have seen a Facebook video where "a terrorist attack" is cited as the cause of the fires.
But Karine Pelletier from the province's Forest Fire Protection Agency said the causes are still under investigation.
"There are a lot which are caused by humans, but these are almost always accidents," she said, noting that recent lightning strikes were to blame for many of Quebec’s wildfires.
Alberta Wildfire said, as quoted by AFP, that unless lightning is involved, a blaze is classified as human-caused. This does not exclusively mean arson.
"It could be related to general causes, including agriculture, forest industry, powerlines, or oil and gas industry, railroad or residential wildfires," said spokesperson Melissa Story.
It is worth noting that conspiracy theorists have repeatedly attempted to link politically motivated arsonists to destructive wildfire seasons.
This is the situation in Canada, where some social media users are using "verifiable" information about suspicious fires to spread rumors about unrelated incidents and places.
'The Canadian government is starting wildfires'
In addition to alleged vigilantism, some people make the claim that the Canadian government intentionally stoked wildfires, either to promote its views regarding climate change or to drive people into cities where it will be simpler to enact "climate lockdowns".
Chris Russill, a professor at Carleton University studying climate change communication, related those fears to Canada's signing of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which raised alarm about the impending climate crisis.
As the Liberal government implemented stricter climate caps and taxes over the past decade, Russill said people in Canada's natural resource industries have grown defensive.
"This grievance isn't actually always about a global fear of shadowy UN elites or eco-vigilantes, even though that's how this gets taken up and incubated in this sort of narrative," he said. "It's expressing the fact that the relationship to the federal government and the provinces has become more insistent and more forceful."
Social media posts insist "arson not climate change" is responsible for the wildfires, but Natural Resources Canada told reporters on June 5 that this fire season was exacerbated by hot, dry, and windy conditions.
"Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of wildland fires and creating longer fire seasons," said Mike Norton, director general of the Canadian Forestry Centre.