When the pre-harvest sugar cane burning season began on Oct. 3 with fires across 160 acres of Glades land, the Florida Department of Agriculture, which authorizes the blazes, proclaimed the day the start of “Florida Climate Week.”

It was perhaps an unintentionally ironic start of eight months every year that will see more than 8,000 fires across at least 300,000 acres of agricultural land send toxic smoke and ash into the air.

Setting fields of sugar cane on fire to burn off the plants’ unused outer layer and facilitate harvesting has been phased out in other countries on evidence that it not only contributes to climate change but also harms the health of workers and residents. It has been challenged in South Florida where the soot and pollution it produces predominately affect the Palm Beach County’s most impoverished communities where most residents are people of color.

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