Wildfires In The West Are The Symptom Of A Bigger Problem

The Symptom and Response

The North American west coast has been ravaged in recent years by wildfires, with the latest disaster being so destructive that the skies over California were turned a fiery orange-red hue and residents were suffering from poor air quality amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. Smoke that was left behind stretched across North America and reached the east coast, seeping into the air of British Columbia. 

During a recent White House briefing on the California wildfires, American President Donald Trump responded to concerns of climate change by denying a link between the wildfires and the warming globe, arguing that the climate “will start getting cooler, you just watch.” In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently recanted a $100 billion green spending plan to be proposed by the Liberal government over concerns of forwarding a ‘climate agenda’ in the middle of a pandemic.

In other parts of the west, wildfires in Australia have remained a persistent problem as a total of over 18 million hectares (over 44 million acres) were set ablaze with 2,000 homes being destroyed and 34 people killed, with an additional 1 billion animals killed. Wildlife has been destroyed and families have had to flee their homes to escape the spreading fires.

The Australian government’s response to climate change has been a topic of fierce debate, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s previous refusal to acknowledge climate change as a serious threat (and his lack of prioritization in greener solutions) prompted protests across the nation. Following promises to spend $1.4 billion on the prevention of bushfires, Morrison was re-elected in 2019, but no further action has been taken to remedy the issue of global warming. The topic of climate change remains a contentious topic.

The Issue

The increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires across the globe — particularly the west which has received an extensive amount of media coverage — is the symptom of the much larger issue that is threatening the security of human existence on a global scale. The response or lack thereof to the climate crisis has proven that the very real and scientifically-backed problem of global warming is still not being taken seriously as a global threat by bodies of government who are currently experiencing its effects.

President Trump has an alarming history of climate change denial, with the United States announcing that they would be backing out of the Paris Agreement (an agreement focused on the mitigation of greenhouse gases) in 2017. As a global superpower that is responsible for 14% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, the regressive path that the country is being led down by the Republican party could result in dire consequences for the future. Trump’s denial of climate change while the west coast of his country is on fire is not only puzzling, but it will only serve to exacerbate the issue and its negative outcomes.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world’s attention and resources have shifted to combating the outbreak and the resulting economic crises. Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to shelf the $100 billion green spending plan seems to be the result of the majority of government funding going towards the Canada Emergency Response Benefit program, intended to support citizens who have been laid off or have lost wages as the result of the pandemic. While the unforeseen circumstance needing to be remedied for the time being is understandable, the simultaneous move to delay climate action is one of many instances that the Liberal party has minimized the urgency of environmental issues.

The contention between economic stability and the shift towards a greener future is a topic of much debate, but as almost no action is taken to forward the cause, the proliferation of greenhouse gases are causing rising temperatures to continue destroying the earth’s natural ecosystems, causing disruptions to wildlife and everyday human existence. Prime Minister Morrison remains unbothered, having gone ahead with the building of more coal mines while underplaying the damage of carbon emissions. He argues that the coal industry is necessary and fundamental to Australia’s economic success. However, it is evident by the increase in natural disasters in the past few years that the world can no longer afford to delay climate action. The estimated damage caused by Australia’s bushfires has accumulated to an estimated $100 billion.

The importance and demand to slow the effects of climate change has never been more urgent than it is now, as the irreversible and permanent damage that is being forecasted by climate scientists is a cause for concern. With the globe heating up, the highest natural temperature of the Earth ever recorded within the climate reached a peak of 54.4C (129.9F). Climate scientists are predicting the likely outcome if there is an immediate response as the following: “If we cut emissions rapidly, about one-seventh of the world’s population will suffer severe heat waves every few years. Failure to do so doubles or triples that number. If we act now, sea levels could rise another 1 to 2 feet this century. If we don’t, Antarctica’s ice sheets could destabilize irreversibly and ocean levels could keep rising at an inexorable pace for centuries, making coastal civilization all but unmanageable.”

Steps Forward 

The best course of action from now is not to stop at acknowledging that there is a problem, but to take the proactive steps in preventing further damage. Slowing down the rate at which the globe is warming should be the primary target for the global community. Although significant strides are being made towards this goal by individual countries in certain parts of the world (particularly in the Scandinavian region), progress also cannot be achieved without a general consensus from bodies of governing that we are experiencing a climate crisis and that something needs to change.

The reduction of carbon emissions is a key factor in recovery. To do this, the human dependence on fossil fuels must be reduced and substituted with green energy. The large monetary cost of doing so is a common argument used in political discourse to delay the switch — however, the average citizen would not be footing most of the bill with the right government budgeting. Especially in more privileged countries such as the United States, making changes such as increasing taxes on the country’s richest billionaires and reducing the amount of military spending would allow the excess to be used for transitioning to renewable energy.

Small things such as reducing waste, reusing materials, recycling containers, and cutting back on meat consumption are proven ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint on an individual level, but the main source of change must come from an administrative level. Although citizens may be made to feel a personal responsibility and may seek to be environmentally-conscious on their own, there is only so much that can be done without the proper government response. Further actions can be taken to apply pressure towards politicians to act on the climate crisis, such as voting for candidates who advocate for environmental sustainability and have a clear plan outlined to combat climate change, as well as holding them accountable.

The wildfires across the globe are a clear call to action and show no sign of stopping, as they are only set to increase in intensity unless something is done. Tackling the core issue of climate change should be the main priority in alleviating this issue.

Trinh Nguyen

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