The World's Wildfires - Why we should care

Whilst wildfires are arguably a normal part of the eco system, it is beyond no doubt that the increasingly frequent, and large-scale wildfires across the Globe are uncontrollable and something must be done at all costs to avoid them, until it’s too late.

We are now in September 2020, and over the past 12-18 months, we have heard of horrific wildfires having catastrophic effects on the eco system – California and the Western part of the US is currently on fire, approximately 2 million acres have already burnt (which is more than last year), the Amazon in Brazil was yet again on fire throughout August (seeing an increase compared to last year), and earlier this year we had the Australian bushfires which lasted for months (we are not yet in Australia’s hot season to know whether this will repeated this year).

Yet, people don’t seem to be talking about these wildfires like the others - is that because we’re too used to it and becoming complacent? Either way, throughout this article I’m going to explain why we should still care and why we should still demand change.

(Pictured - BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-us-canada-54095895)

 

Firstly, it’s important to note that wildfires are getting worse each year, and not better.

There are a range of causes which can trigger a wildfire, and without delving into the science as to what mix actually creates a fire, here are some of the ways that they actually are started:

  • Climate change - Changes in climate mean drier conditions, increased drought and a longer fire season [1], and an increasingly hot atmosphere is usually caused due to the burning of fossil fuels and overwarming the planet
  • Humans - Nearly 85% of wildfires in the US are caused by seemingly innocent incidents such as campfires, negligently discarded cigarette buds and the burning of debris [2]. In Brazil, farmers are known to burn the land to make way for Companies, and even have days approved for burning.

Now to discuss the wide effects that wildfires have.

The first, and possibly the most obvious one, is the overall negative effects that wildfires have on the environment.

When the fires burn, they emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. That smoke contains a variety of gases, not just including carbon dioxide, but also traces of, carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).[3] All of which are incredibly toxic to the environment and all things in it. 

When trees are burnt and removed from the environment, this is also another form of releasing CO2 into the environment, considering trees are a key source in containing CO2 from the atmosphere. Also, wildfires greatly damage the quality of the soil itself after they  have burnt through the land, and thus impact the overall health of the ground in the process.

Wildfires also have a huge impact on damaging the overall quality of the air and contributing to air pollution. When these toxic particles are released into the atmosphere, the particles that cause most concern are 2.5, as the particular matter is so fine that it is able to enter our systems and irritate the respiratory tract [4]. Just this week, it has been reported that Oregon’s air quality is far beyond ‘hazardous’ and according to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), it is showing at 700 on the scale [5]. This not only impacts the environment, but it has been linked to impact the health of species that in live or around that area.

It is not enough to simply hope that the land that has been greatly affected by these fires, will regenerate, because in most instances, this is not the case.

This leads us onto the next major effect that wildfires have, and that’s on communities.

People lose their lives, their homes, their jobs and literally have to start over. In the US as of today, 13th September, there has been a week of wildfires and 33 fatalities already [6].

Unfortunately for the majority of people in these areas, it is becoming more and more common, and whilst it is of course effecting everyone in that area, it is much harder for poorer families to rebuild their lives than that of wealthier households, meaning that yet again those with a smaller income are disproportionately affected by these occurrences.

Notwithstanding that there are short term, and possibly long term health effects for those living in the areas that are most covered in smoke and inhale the small, toxic particles. The short-term health effects include everything ranging from a cough, to sneezing and irritation, whilst the long-term health effects are not yet determined due to not having enough data [7].

Last but not least, there is a huge amount of wildlife that are being affected by these wildfires. Many are losing their lives, and losing their habitat with nowhere to turn. As a result of the Australia bushfires earlier this year and late last year, a reported 3 billion animals were killed [8]  in the wildfires. With the WWF stating that these fires were one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history [9], and no doubt there have been similar scale of casualties in the Amazon and California that are not yet recorded.

If we consider the health effects on humans due to the toxic particles that are released as a result of these wildfires, there is no doubt that they also greatly affect the wildlife who call those forests home and can’t escape.

Moving forward, there are loads that we can be doing, as regular people to help fight against these wildfires.

It’s important to note that prevention is the responsibility of all of us, and that includes Governments. The issue of the deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil has been a contentious issue in Brazil’s politics for some time. Bolsonaro’s Government is known to enforce deforestation measures and support groups which encroach on ruining the Amazon, under the guise of supporting local communities and providing them with more income such as illegal logging, miners and ranchers. As a result, as of last year deforestation in Brazil’s part of the Amazon has reached an 11 year high and is increasing yearly. [10] 27% of fires this September are in virgin forests, which are previously untouched areas from previous wildfires [11], therefore demonstrating that the fight to protect the Amazon in Brazil is far from over.

Additionally, the current agenda in the US has meant that Climate Change and environmental policies have not been properly implemented, in order to prevent such atrocities like wildfires which do naturally occur. Earlier this year, there was a Republican walk-out in the state of Oregon (one of the most highly effected areas of wildfires currently in the US)  due to the refusal to help pass a bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions [12].

Therefore evident that it is beyond necessary that Governments are put under pressure to make the sufficient changes and introduce preventative measures to help solve the issue.

Furthermore, large Companies are a huge problem when it comes to having a negative environmental impact and contributing to deforestation of these forests where wildfires occur. Companies that use products such as palm oil, greatly influence deforestation, which has an indirect impact on these forests for years. As mentioned, one of the most influential factors in causing these wildfires and impacting the climate is the burning of fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels is prevalent across several industries, including the fashion industry – did you know that polyester is made using the burning of fossil fuels?

Finally, there must be some things that we personally can do, as individuals. Well, there are. Signing petitions and putting pressure on Governments and Companies is a great way that we can help. On top of this, it’s important to donate to charities that work to help rebuild these habitats and communities after the atrocities happen, during the crises and charities that work on preventative measures. Most of all, changing consumer habits makes a huge difference, by making a conscious effort to ensure that we don’t buy products that contribute to deforestation or other products that directly, or indirectly contribute to climate change.

(Picture above - 11)

Sources:

[1] https://www.c2es.org/content/wildfires-and-climate-change/

[2] https://www.nps.gov/articles/wildfire-causes-and-evaluation.htm

[3] https://theconversation.com/how-does-bushfire-smoke-affect-our-health-6-things-you-need-to-know-130126

[4] https://theconversation.com/how-does-bushfire-smoke-affect-our-health-6-things-you-need-to-know-130126

[5] https://grist.org/climate/oregons-air-quality-is-so-far-beyond-hazardous-that-no-one-knows-what-it-means-for-health/

[6] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-54130785

[7] https://theconversation.com/how-does-bushfire-smoke-affect-our-health-6-things-you-need-to-know-130126

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-53549936

[9] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-53549936

[10] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-environment-idUSKBN22K1U1

[11] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-environment-fires/brazils-amazon-fires-worsen-in-september-threaten-virgin-forests-idUSKBN2601NP

[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/24/oregon-gop-walkout/