This summer, the West Coast of the United States saw a particularly devastating wildfire season. While wildfires are common in certain western states between July and November— when dry winds are frequent—2020 saw an unprecedented amount of damage from large, sprawling fires that crews found difficult to contain. Recent fires in Australia and Siberia have also caused a particularly large amount of damage. This has prompted some experts to look at the implications regarding climate change and the environment.
Scientists and environmentalists are claiming that climate change and global warming have added to the intensity of this year’s wildfire season. According to National Geographic, increasing heat and changing weather patterns as well as shifts in plant communities are all contributing factors.
Global warming occurs when greenhouse gases and air pollutants gather in the atmosphere and begin to absorb sunlight, causing a warming effect. Hotter temperatures not only increase the chances that fires will burn stronger, but they can cause snow to melt sooner, drying out soil and plant matter.
While there are many reasons a wildfire could start and could be difficult to contain, the scientific community has agreed that global warming and climate change are exacerbating the problem.
In addition to damaging millions of acres of forest, the West Coast wildfires have destroyed houses and businesses, forced residents to evacuate their homes, and negatively impacted air quality in the area. According to National Public Radio, about 1 out of every 7 has been exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution and poor air quality as a result of the wildfires. Some researchers have estimated that between 5 and 8 percent of premature deaths from poor air quality are related to wildfire smoke. This equals up to 264,000 deaths annually, which is more than the current COVID-19 death toll in the United States.
Clearly the link between climate change and these damaging wildfires is not one to be ignored.
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