Wildfires

Aug. 16, 2018

Once again, the summer of 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere has brought us an epidemic of major wildfires. Climate change is certainly having an effect. Warmer temperatures dry out soil and vegetation raising the risk of wildfires.

Up and down the West Coast, from Alaska to Nevada to Wyoming, firefighters are tackling 88 blazes that are currently burning more than 750,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Western residents aren’t the only ones dealing with the impacts of wildfires. The smoke has travelled as far as New York City, worsening air quality at a time of year when pollution is usually at its peak.

The western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia saw the worst season for fires since records began, with more than 3.11 million acres going up in flames by mid-October, according to provincial wildfire services.

Thousands have been evacuated in northwestern Spain in recent days, with fires killing at least four people. In neighboring Portugal, a series of wildfires broke out on Sunday.

Southern Europe endured a record heat wave this year, creating hot, dry conditions that saw Italy, France, Croatia, Spain and Greece all swept by three times the average number of wildfires. In France, they had to close nuclear power plants because the water was too warm to cool the plants.

In Siberia, wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes, and around 700 hectares of Armenian forest were also destroyed by fire.

Earlier this year, Chile saw wildfires that were unparalleled in the country's history, according to President Michelle Bachelet.

Even Greenland, not known for its hot, dry conditions, suffered an unprecedented blaze this summer with a large grassy peatland fire burning for two weeks.

Global warming is resulting in hotter, drier conditions that mean such infernos are becoming more common, even with careful forest management. And the changed climatic conditions can mean forests take far longer to recover. Meanwhile, fires are also starting in areas like the tropics that have no natural fire ecology.

The current administration has brought attention to the California wildfires with ignorant comments, but doesn’t seem to be aware of the global nature of this summer’s wildfire season. Lacking an evidence-based approach to governance and policy is poor leadership that will be costly in the long run.

Across the US, the government has spent more than $2.7 billion on fighting wildfires. And I have not even mentioned the effects of heat and drought on food crops and livestock- the cost of food effects everyone’s pocketbook. Climate change will become more expensive in life and livelihoods. The longer we take to create policies that reduce carbon in the atmosphere, the more will be lost.