Climate Change and the Spread of Wildfires Around the World

By: Kylie Ayal

Between the Amazon Rainforest and California, the outbreak of wildfires this year has caused an insurmountable amount of damage to both homes and wildlife, sparking awareness of future similar outbreaks as a result of climate change.

In August, the global response to the burning rainforest in the Amazon brought global concern with the deteriorating ecosystem that is putting one of the world’s most significant carbon sinks at risk.[1] As of September, there were 19,925 fire outbreaks still ablaze, accounting for almost 65% of the Amazon basin.[2] The major cause of the Amazon Rainforest fires centered around deforestation of logging, where within just the first nine months of this year, “7,604 square kilometers (2,970 square miles) of rainforest were felled.”[3]

The Amazon plays a “buffer against” climate change in holding “about a quarter as much carbon as the entire atmosphere and single-handedly absorbs about 5% of all the CO2 we emit each year.”[4] These fires represent not only an impact to South America, but the entire world. Scientists are concerned if the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest continues, irreversible damage will ensue, the global warming stressors will be accelerated, and weather patterns around the world could potentially be affected.[5] In a study, California was cited as a potentially impacted state in terms of precipitation if the Amazon rainforest becomes demolished.[6] Since California is already experiencing an increase in wildfires and a drier climate, the impacts of the Amazon rainforest could have detrimental impacts for California.

In the past two years, California has experienced an increase in deadly and destructive wildfires. Scientists and researchers have directly attributed the increase in wildfires within the state to climate change. Scientists suggest that “coupled with changes in patterns of precipitation that are also expected to occur as the climate warms, it may mean that California’s wildfire season will shift from fall into winter, with longer and more intense fires later in the year.”[7] Additionally, the global temperature increase has caused the climate-changed air to become drier, leaving the trees and vegetation dry and easier to burn, allowing the fires to spread more easily.[8]

Wildfires further aggravate climate change by emitting more carbon emissions into the air. Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, explained “California’s ecosystem, including its grasslands and forests, actually emitted more greenhouse gases than it took in, becoming a net contributor to the planet’s warming.”[9] With the increase in California’s wildfires and the loss of carbon absorption from the Amazon rainforest, global climate change efforts are essential. The Amazon rainforest and California represent the global effort required in order to avoid the irreversible impacts of climate change.

Photo from National Geographic

[1] Jorge L. Ortiz, The Amazon hasn’t stopped burning There were 19,925 fire outbreaks last month, and ‘more fires’ are in the future, USA Today (Oct. 18, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/18/amazon-rainforest-still-burning-more-fires-future/4011238002/.

[2] Id.

[3] Sue Branford & Mauricio Torres, As 2019 Amazon fires die down, Brazilian deforestation roars ahead, Mongabay (October 23, 2019), https://news.mongabay.com/2019/10/as-2019-amazon-fires-die-down-brazilian-deforestation-roars-ahead/.

[4] Julia Rosen, The Amazon rainforest is on fire. Climate scientists fear a tipping point is near, L.A. Times (Aug. 26, 2019), https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-08-25/amazon-rainforest-fires-climate.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Henry Fountain, How Climate Change Could Shift California’s Santa Ana Winds, Fueling Fires, The N.Y. Times (Oct. 28, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/climate/santa-ana-winds.html.

[8] Alejandra Borunda, Climate Change is Contributing to California’s Fires, Nat’l Geographic (Oct. 25, 2019), https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/10/climate-change-california-power-outage/#close.

[9] Kendra Pierre-Louis & Nadia Popovich, Climate Change Is Fueling Wildfires Nationwide, New Report Warns, The N.Y. Times (Nov. 27, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/27/climate/wildfire-global-warming.html.

2 comments

  1. Great post Kylie! I think that the comparison between the Amazon Rainforest and California was very interesting. I was unaware how the Amazon Rainforest could directly impact California. It is really sad to see how devastating these wildfires are.

  2. I’ve heard about the increasing intensity and frequency of the wildfires in the western U.S., but hearing that the entire season may be shifting too seems incredibly drastic. The fact that California’s ecosystems are now a net carbon emitter is also quite alarming. Thanks for the great post!

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