Wake up, America: California’s five-alarm climate emergency

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Wake up, America: California’s five-alarm climate emergency

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Summers of record-breaking heat sparks historic wildfires

A pyrotechnic device at gender reveal party is apparently to blame for a massive wildfire that has scorched thousands of acres of San Bernardino County, California. That eccentric origin may have given this fire more coverage than others, but it is merely one in a multitude of blazes that have burned millions of acres around the world in 2020. From the devastating Australian bushfires to the bizarre blazes across the Siberian tundra, 2020 was a banner year for wildfires. As the northern hemisphere’s summer draws to an end, we look back at some of the worst infernos that were worsened by climate change.  

In June, Russia’s aerial forest protection service reported that 3.4 million acres of the Siberian forest were burning in areas unreachable to firefighters. The ongoing tundra burns have already released 35% more carbon dioxide than the region emitted in the whole of 2019. The latest data show that as of 24th August 2020, 245 megatonnes of CO2 have been released by the wildfires this year, compared to 181 megatonnes for the entire year of 2019. Experts believe that there were 600 active wildfires in this region at the end of July, which is a whopping 200 more wildfires than recorded in 2019.

In the United States, California is no stranger to seasonal wildfires. This year, however, as record breaking temperatures were seen across the country, wildfires made their way to other parts of the nation as well. More than two dozen wildfires are currently burning across the American southwest. A few highlights:

  • Six major fires in Colorado have burned nearly 200,000 acres. 
  • In Arizona, 16 wildfires have burned nearly 100,000 acres.
  • Five fires have spread across more than 9,000 acres of Utah lands.
  • New Mexico has lost more than 4,400 acres due to four separate wildfires.

Although citizens have been evacuated from densely populated residential areas, they are still at risk of respiratory diseases caused by high levels of pollution. 

“The combination of the wildfire smoke, the increasing heat, combined with the man-made facilities spitting out coal ash, it’s really affecting people’s lungs,” researcher Nikki Cooley from Northern Arizona University, told The Guardian.

Not only have the wildfires caused health risks, droughts are another adverse result. “It’s been a weak monsoon season,” said David Simeral, a climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center. “Drought has expanded and intensified in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.”

The primary reason behind the worsening wildfires is the rising temperatures. However, according to Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, wildfire mismanagement plays a major role in the disaster. Cities’ boundaries and housing areas have extended into fire-prone wilderness, increasing the number of people living in high-risk zones.

Written by

Maheep Chawla

Maheep is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. She is pursuing a major in Psychology. Previously, she has interned with a pre-school for children with special needs based in New Delhi. In the past, she has also written for her campus newspaper and the editorial department at UBC’s Psychology Student Association.