How can we stop fires from raging war with our planet?
We all remember seeing the harrowing footage of the wildfires that blazed an inferno of destruction across the Australian bush in 2019-2020. In the wake of all the flames, nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced, whilst hundreds of families were uprooted, injured or killed. It was one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history (worldwildlife.org).
Those same years, wildfires also raged terribly in the US state of California and the Amazon rainforest, along with a very long list of other countries and areas of the world. There has been more of these fires throughout 2021 (with Canada recently taking a massive hit following a freak heatwave), though the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have overshadowed them in the media.
In the UK, disasters like wildfires seem a far and distant problem; one that we as British citizens 'need not fear', but this is absolutely not the case, and this is due to global warming. According to researchers, climate change is projected to drive a very large increase in fire danger across the whole of the UK (newscientist.com). As such, scientists warn that planning rules may need to block the building of new homes in fire-prone areas.
Already, there is evidence that warming has increased the number of fires in the UK in recent years. But now, a new study has discovered that if the globe continues to have high carbon emissions, the danger of blazes will increase, and it will hit the south and East of England hard (newscientist.com).
Data shows that the number of days with conditions hot and dry enough for severe wildfires in the south of England will soar from 20 a year today to 111 by the 2080s - even in typically wet areas of the UK, like Wales, will see a great increase in fire danger.
Whilst it shouldn't merely take the threat of danger to our own lives to gear us into action, perhaps this knowledge would encourage more people in the UK to make changes in their lives to limit global warming, to lessen the risk of wildfires for everyone (as well as other threats).
But how exactly are wildfires caused by climate change? And what can be done to reduce the danger? To get to the bottom of this, we caught up with climate expert, Oliver Bolton, CEO of Earthly (earthly.org), a platform that helps businesses to tackle climate change through investing in nature-based solutions to offset their carbon footprint).
What is the link between climate change and wildfires, and vice versa?
\"Climate change increases the risk of wildfires due to more hot and dry weather. As the climate warms, we are experiencing more heatwaves and droughts which increase the length of fire seasons and the strength of fires. Wildfires are also a driver of climate change because when land and trees burn, they release huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.\"
How are habitats and animals, and homes and people being affected?
\"Wildfires are part of the natural cycle of healthy ecosystems, however, as they become stronger and more frequent like the mega-fires in California and Australia, they take a much greater toll on wildlife sending conservation efforts back to step one. The fires are also devastating for people as they destroy homes, possessions and livelihoods, like farming .\"
What can be done?
\"Many actions can be taken. Forest managers can control the amount of 'fuel' in forests by clearing or burning biomass like branches on the ground - this can also be locally-led by communities who carry out traditional practices that stop fires from getting out-of-control.
In our own lives, we can support restoration projects that increase biodiversity and the resilience of landscapes, instead of single-species monocultures where fires spread more quickly. We can also help to curb climate change by making small changes, like choosing a green bank or reducing meat consumption, which will reduce how much the weather favours extreme events like wildfires in future.