Fires have been flattening millions of acres of forests around the world in recent years. 2020 brought record-breaking destruction in Australia and California and headlined most newspaper in the world. How did this all come about? Wildfires are common but nowadays they seem so ravaging, so much worst than before. This is no coincidence, and unfortunately, the intensity of wildfires will only increase with time because yet again, climate change is the main instigator for them.
The first tragedy that struck 2020 was Australia burning down. Around 28 million acres of forests and bushland were burnt down across the country; 33 people died and there was an immeasurable amount of loss for the local biodiversity. California was also ravaged by fires. In 2020, almost 10,000 fires contributed to the burning of two million acres across the state and renowned neighborhoods in Los Angeles were caught aflame. The year also produced other lesser-known cases of wildfires in Siberia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Argentina.
Tragedies upon tragedies, and humans are again at fault for this one. The relationship between the increase in wildfires around the world and climate change is due to the rise in temperature, especially in already dry areas. The explanation is fairly simple, heat evaporates water. Because of greenhouse gases, Earth’s average temperature is trending upwards, and that heat pulls water out of soils, and soil without water is soil that is prone to fire. Places like California and Australia are always prone to wildfires because they already have a very dry environment. But now there has been an increase in wildfires in places like Canada as well. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, Canada’s wildfires have doubled in area of effect since 1970. So, fire is not only a problem for desertic regions, but it may be a problem everywhere.
To a certain degree, fires are natural. They contribute to the nutrient cycles in nature by burning dead organisms and such. But what were seeing is far from natural and far from beneficial to local ecosystems. Extensive wildfires produce a great amount of smoke that acts as greenhouse gas. It is also an air pollutant that is a health risk for infants, pregnant women, and older adults. According to the World Health Organization, collateral consequences of excessive smoke from wildfires can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat and can also lead to decreased lung function, pulmonary inflammation, and the exacerbation of cardiovascular diseases. Wildfires are also known to release mercury that may lead to mental and physical deterioration in people of all ages.
Smoke is also known to travel great distances. The smoke from the wildfires that occurred in California last year travelled almost 9,000 kilometers all the way to the Netherlands. The smoke from the Australian fires travelled the globe and came all the way back to its homeland. Such massive fires decrease the air quality worldwide.
Most of these fires can be averted by simply being careful. According to Science Magazine, “84 per cent of all wildfires in the United-States” are cause by human ignition. But that is not a permanent solution. Fires will occur, and the margin of error will be slimmer every time. It all comes down to this again; we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emission by any means possible because fires will eventually consume our world to a point of no return.