What You Need To Know About The Fires Burning Around The World Right Now
The entire 2018 wildfire season in California—the most destructive in the state's history—burned 1.89 million acres. In the past three days alone, that many acres and then some have burned around the world in what will likely become a record-breaking week for fires.
Right now, four regions of the world are up in flames: Alaska, Siberia, the Canary Islands, and, most notably, the Amazon rainforest—where the smoke, which NASA can spot from space, has traveled over 1,500 miles to Sao Paulo, completely blanketing the city in gray on Monday afternoon.
While fires can actually be a natural and beneficial part of a forest ecosystem (they convert dead, decaying matter into nutrients to start the life cycle up again), the size and scope of these four are troubling.
The Canary Island blaze, which started on Saturday, has destroyed 25,000 acres and forced over 8,000 people to evacuate. It's Spain's worst fire this year. In Alaska, several major fires spanning 2.5 million acres have caused a state of emergency. In Siberia, month after month of uncontrolled fires have created blocks of smoke that cover an area larger than the European Union and have reached the U.S. and Canada. While we don't yet know how much of the Amazon is burning, according to satellite data, the smoke is now covering about half of Brazil.
What's causing these fires?
So why are all of these severe fires happening at once? For starters, July was the hottest month ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with massive heat waves affecting cities around the globe. The fact that Alaska and the Canary Islands and are also having abnormally dry summers doesn't help. And in South America, there's the problem of deforestation. Ricardo Galvão, a government agent in Brazil, reported (and then was promptly fired) that the country's deforestation rate increased 88% this summer to make way for large-scale agriculture and industrial logging. Starting a fire is one way to achieve the massive clear-cutting like we're seeing in the Amazon Basin, which holds 40% of the world's tropical forests.
What will their impact be?
There are several reasons to be concerned about what's happening—besides the fact that, you know, stunning natural monuments are burning down. Firstly, the smoke released during forest fires feeds carbon into the environment, further exacerbating climate change. Some researchers are also concerned that soot from the Siberia fires in particular will settle on Arctic ice sheets and cause them to melt faster. And the Amazon rainforest—also known as the lungs of the planet—produces 20% of the world's oxygen and influences global rainfall patterns. Needless to say, it's an essential ecosystem we can't stand to lose.
Stay in the loop on what's going on in the Amazon by checking the #PrayForAmazonia hashtag and consider donating to charities doing work on the ground like Amazon Watch and the Rainforest Foundation. And don't forget that all of us do play a role in global crises like these. As Henriette Walz, Deforestation Lead for the Rainforest Alliance said in a statement, “The fires in the Amazon are the result of complicated political, financial, and social factors. We need continued collaborative effort from governments, companies, and consumers to send a message."
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