When The News Hits Home

My, how things have changed.

My intention was to write a follow-up to last week’s post about Canada’s Bill C-18 and Meta’s banning of news on Facebook.

I suppose this is a follow-up of sorts. But thanks to Mother Nature -- that ofttimes bully -- that story was pushed right out of the queue to be replaced with something far more tragic and immediate.

To me, anyway.

I live in Kelowna, British Columbia. Chances are you’ve heard about my home in the last few days. If you haven’t, I can tell you that when I look out my window, all I can see is thick smoke. Which might be a good thing. Last Friday, when I had more visibility, I spent the entire evening watching West Kelowna, across Okanagan Lake from my home, burn in the path of the oncoming McDougall Creek Wildfire. When the flames would suddenly leap toward the sky, you knew that was someone’s home being ignited.



We don’t know how many homes have been lost. The fire has been too active for authorities to have the time to count. We have firefighters and first responders pouring in from around our province to help. Our Air Quality Index is 11 on a scale of 10, as bad as it can get. Thousands have been forced out of their homes. More thousands have their things packed by the door, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. We’re one of those.

But that’s enough about the fire. This post is about our weird relationship with the news.

When something like this happens, you have a very real, very visceral need to know what’s going on. For those of us who live here in British Columbia, the news has hit home in a way we could never imagine.

A few posts ago, I said it might be healthier for me to ignore the news, because it’s always alarming and very seldom relevant to me. Well, those words are now coming back to haunt me.

This disaster has thrown our reliance on Facebook for news into stark relief. Last Friday, Canada’s Transportation Minster, Pablo Rodriguez, asked Meta to reverse its current ban on news, saying, “We’ve seen that, throughout this emergency, Canadians have not had access to the crucial information they need. So, I ask Meta to reverse its decision, allow Canadians to have access to news on their platforms.”

But there’s another dimension to this that’s a bit more subtle, yet even more frightening. It goes to the heart of how we handle crisis. I think you necessarily must “zoom in,” performing some type of terrible triage in your mind to be able to imagine the unimaginable. As the winds shift the fire away from your home, there’s relief. But other homes now lie in the path of the fire. In your head, you know that, but emotionally you can’t help but feel a lift. It’s not noble, but it’s human.

So let’s “zoom out” -- a lot. We’re not the only ones this is happening to. This is a global crisis. Twenty-six thousand people are evacuated on the Spanish island of Tenerife. A friend of mine, who’s an airline pilot, one week ago was volunteering to fly people out of Maui who had lost their homes in the tragic Lahaina fire.

Take a look at Nasa’s FIRMS (Fire Information for Resource Management) website, which gives a global map of all hotspots from wildfires burning. I’ve set this link to wildfire activity in the last 7 days.

Scary as hell, right?

But can we actually process the news in a way that lets us move forward and start coping with this massive issue? Is it enough to change our behaviors in the way we must, to finally start addressing climate change?

In a recent article on, Richard Fisher talks about “Construal level theory,” which says that the greater the psychological distance there is between the news and your life, the less likely it is to make you change your behavior. For me, the psychological distance between myself and climate change is roughly 1 kilometer (just over half a mile) as the crow flies. That’s how far it is from my house to the nearest evacuation alert area.

It doesn’t get much closer than that.  But will we change? Will anything change?

I’m not so sure. We’ve been through this before. Exactly 20 years ago, the Okanagan Mountain wildfire raged through Kelowna, displacing over 30,000 people and destroying 239 homes. It was a summer much like this, at the time the driest summer on record. This year, we have smashed that record, as we have many times since that fire. Back in 2003, once we picked up, rebuilt our homes and got back to life, nothing really changed.

And now, here we are again. Let’s hope this time is different.

4 comments about "When The News Hits Home".
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  1. Christine Aultz from Booyah Advertising, August 22, 2023 at 1:42 p.m.

    I cannot image what you are going through. You are in my thoughts and I pray you don't get displaced by the fire.

    While I have never been personally affected, I am from Colorado and we've had our fair share of mountain wildfires caused by lightning in drought conditions attributed to global warming and fanned by winds that seemed to have also gotten worse over the years. 

    Sadly, it's become the norm to have wildfires every year in this state.  It's become a sidebar in our summer.  When New York got all the smoke this summer from the Canadian wildfires, the press coverage was extensive and I admit I smirked a bit at the national coverage given how routine it has become out west.  I hoped it would make an impact on those that can make real change....and make it now. But it didn't.

    I personally have solar panels, have used my own reusable grocery bags years before it was mandatory, recycle, switched to detergent sheets vs. using plastic jugs, watch how I consume water, etc., etc., etc., but it won't make a dent in the issue unless we can implement things at mass scale. 

    It's very scary to think about the long term and heartbreaking to know how much the human race continues to devalue our home even when we know we need to stop.  I also hope things will be different but hoping can't bring about change.  Until that time that laws are in place to protect ourselves from our destructive ways, I'll do what I can to make the least amount of negative impact even though it does feel like I am screaming into the wind.

  2. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting replied, August 22, 2023 at 2 p.m.

    Thanks Christine - we're reading from the same page but I suspect we're preaching to the choir. 

  3. Ben B from Retired, August 22, 2023 at 7:51 p.m.

    Praying for you Gordon and the town you live in as well. I believe in climate change I do the little things to help the earth and countries like China need to more to get pollution under control there part of the problems. I'm not an alarmist on climate change and that it's the end of the world I'm not stressing out about climate change since I have no control over it I can only do the little things.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, August 22, 2023 at 10:06 p.m.

    Oh Gord.

    It's hard to say what I want or need to say.   First, you are brave for writing your post.   Thank you.

    I know what you are going through as my wife and I lost our house back on January 04, 2020 in a little rural village called Bundanoon.   We have just moved into our new home just over a week ago.   It has been a very tough road to recovery but we have made it.  

    I can hope that you do not have to go through similar trauma.   But in the worst, you find the best.   Our village has been so supportive (as have a couple of MediaPost-ers) and that creates confidence and belief that you CAN be resilient and start again and achieve what you want.

    So Gord, I want to thank you once again, and I urge everyone to support the people going through such a traumatic time.   And Gord, personally, I can only hope you and your home are saved.   My wife and I will be with you every step of your way if needed.

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