That big ol’ bear was right: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” We, as a planet, clearly didn’t get the memo. Earlier this summer it seemed like you couldn’t turn on the news without seeing something like “wildfires continue to rage in the West” or a story about an “intense heat wave and drought.” More recently, you probably heard news stories about the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona, a wildfire that tragically killed 19 firefighters. Historically it has been common for wildfires to spring up in the Southwestern part of the United States, as the region sees higher temperatures and is prone to more droughts, especially during the summer months. In the past decade, however, the area has seen consistently HIGHER temperatures and LONGER droughts. Although there are many things that can cause an individual, specific fire or make certain forests to be prone to burning (such as variable weather, arson, and forest management practices), let’s be real: Increased wildfire intensity and occurrence can be somewhat attributed to manmade global warming.
Hot and Dangerous
As some of you may know, human actions (such as burning fossil fuels) lead to emissions of carbon and greenhouse gases. In turn, these gases get trapped in the atmosphere and warm the planet. According to a 2006 study from the University of Arizona, climate change may be the reason that large forest fires have occurred more frequently in the past 30 years. In the western United States, for example, a change in climate has led to warmer winters, an earlier melting snow and ice, and drier conditions for the forests come spring and summer. Climate Central’s Andrew Freeman indicated that, “As global average surface temperatures increase, the probability of extreme heat events increases by a greater amount.” Unfortunately, since we already emitted the carbon and greenhouse gases that have lead to a warmer planet, we may not be able to see any immediate reductions in these extreme events.
So What Can We Do?
Listen to what Smokey Bear said! Yes, the campaign’s main goal is to educate the public to be smart outdoors and to reduce forest fires caused by human error. But think of the bigger picture here: If manmade global warming is making forest fires even worse, only YOU as a person and WE as a world can prevent them.
So take steps to reduce your carbon emissions. Push your communities, business industries, and governments to work towards fossil fuel use reduction and an increase in clean energy methods. Our past environmental mistakes may be catching up to us now, so shouldn’t we at least do our part to ensure a better, safer, and slightly cooler planet for the future?