Global Warming Strongly Relates to Increase in Wildfires Worldwide
The recent and ongoing wildfires in Northern California have devastated about 3,500 structures and has lead to a death toll of 31 people, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. The California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for several counties. Southern California, too, has been fighting against their own wildfires, which has burned thousands of acres and several homes.
This burning catastrophe may be exacerbated by the fact that it arrives at the heels of back-to-back hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico in recent months. Are these isolated incidents that happen to coincide together in this point of time? Or is there another reason that so many have recently been impacted by environmental calamity?
While studies have shown there is some correlation between the rise of greenhouse gases and hurricanes, the global warming of climate also alters precipitation patterns, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). These altered patterns can intensify and lengthen wildfire seasons since drier and hotter temperatures increase the likelihood and duration of fires. UCS asserts that the Western United States may experience longer wildfire seasons.
In the U.S., the years where wildfires burned the most acreage coincides with the warmest years on record, reports the EPA, thus suggesting the strong correlation between the increase in temperature and the increase in wildfires.
Wildfires are also affecting ecosystems and communities on a global scale.
When El Niño diverted rainfall in 2016, the lack of precipitation in the Amazon rainforests contributed to the increase in fire activity, according to a video released by NASA.
Additionally, last year saw an increased number of wildfires occurring worldwide, including wildfires in California, Madeira, and France.
“Last year was the hottest year on record and was above average for the number of reported major droughts and heatwaves,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, in a 2016 news release from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. “This year we are seeing a similar pattern with new temperature records being set on a monthly basis.”
The costs are plenty.
In the U.S. alone, UCS reports that property damages from wildfires between 2000-2009 totaled to $665 million annually. Fires have also cost state and federal governments at least $1 billion a year to fund fire-suppression services.
In addition to economic impacts, these intense wildfires affect communities environmentally as well. Local air pollution can worsen because of these fires, thus also worsening lung diseases and making breathing difficult for those living in the affected areas, reports UCS.
UCS recommends engaging in mitigation efforts, such as developing buffer zones or checking fire-safety standards, as potential solutions to the intensified wildfire seasons. They also suggest that reducing our own carbon footprint is one of the most necessary steps to take in order to truly get anything done.