Climate Change and Wildfires
May 16, 2016
Climate change is rapidly affecting the entire Earth and has caused forests to become more fragile and at risk from widespread and destructive fires. Research shows that forests are impacted by climate change in a very immediate way as fire season has increased by nearly 80 days in the last three decades. Moreover, the annual acreages subject to catastrophic wildfire have dramatically increased as well. For the first time in history, the US Forest Service spent more than 50% of its budget on wildfire suppression while more money was supposed to go to reforestation. According to a study published in the journal Nature Communication, “Weather is the most variable and largest driver of regional burned area.”
The trend of longer fire seasons is affecting all of the continents save Australia. Across Alberta, Canada, more than 15 wildfires are currently burning and more than 500 firefighters are fighting about 241,000 hectares of fire. Climate change has caused snow to melt earlier in Canada than usual causing a dry environment, which is the main factor responsible for the ongoing large-scale wildfires there. California has had multiple years of severe drought which has led to the possibility of frequent and more powerful wildfires. South America is experiencing its most dramatic increases in wildfire numbers and intensity. Fire season there has increased by an average of 33 days and has caused much deforestation.
In a vicious cycle, climate change is making wildfires worse while it contributes to climate change. As a result of global warming, increasingly hot and dry climates are worsening the wildfire situation worldwide. Additionally, wildfire kills massive areas of forest, which are significant absorbers of carbon in the atmosphere.
Forests play a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gases and fighting climate change. Forests across the world have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions, a number that can be increased through widespread and global reforestation and tree-plantings. Reforestation is necessary to combat climate change and ensure a sustainable future for the next generation.