Wildfires: Why is our planet burning?

Wildfires: Why is our planet burning?

For several days now, we have been staring at apocalyptic images caused by the California forest fires. The orange skies, worthy of another planet or a climatic dystopia, have seen thousands of people abandon (and also lose) their homes. So far, at least 12 people have died and half a million have been evacuated.

Unfortunately, the fires in California are not new. Given the aridity of the region, such alerts with severe fire damage occur every summer.

But, are these forest fires a misfortune that we are condemned to relive every summer or has their incidence increased over the years? The data points to the second: in California alone, there have been more than 2,000 fires this year compared to the same period in 2019.

And this trend is also global: according to the WWF, the number of fire warnings worldwide has increased by 13% compared to last year (which, by the way, was already a record year for fires in several regions of the world).

Did you know that ocean water has a role here?

We know well the consequences: death and destruction of people and animals, whole regions without energy and columns of smoke that cause difficulties in vision, breathing and even prevent air traffic.

But did you know that one of the main causes is water? Yes, water, specifically the water in our oceans. As Karen Wiltshire, Deputy Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Marine and Polar Research explains: "The ocean is like the air conditioning of the planet". Greenhouse gases have raised the average temperature of the earth by one degree Celsius since the 19th century, which has also warmed the surface of the sea by 0.8 degrees Celsius. And as it gets warmer, it stores less energy and CO2 from the atmosphere, which has a great impact on the climate, generating phenomena such as storms, droughts and extreme temperatures. Do they sound like they cause fires to you?

Scientific and climatic curiosities aside, in reality and as you can imagine, humans are the main cause of forest fires. Statistics show that 96% of fires are caused by people, either voluntarily or involuntarily. These are some of the ways in which we are setting fire to the planet:

  • Slash and burn to make way for agriculture, livestock or industry, especially in the Amazon. Many forests have also been destroyed to provide resources for the paper and palm oil industries.
  • The high population density and associated high resource consumption, such as shifting cultivation, which uses fire to clear fields.
  • Anything that contributes to climate change. It is a vicious circle: more deforestation, more climate change, which increases the likelihood of fires.
  • The poor maintenance of many forests, which could be improved by the recovery of traditional agricultural and forestry activities, such as those related to the primary sector.
  • The abandonment of waste in forests: the greater the accumulation of waste, the greater the likelihood of fire. Yes, that bottle that someone leaves in the forest because it "doesn't show" can end up creating one of those "apocalyptic landscapes”.

Knowing this, what changes in your routine can you make to help fewer fires occur? The answer lies in the actions of each of us.