Burning environmental bridges

Aug 29, 2019 | written by:

International press has been reporting about the fires on Gran Canaria, in Siberia and the Amazonian rain forest. Furthermore, the news about the catastrophic fires were spreading on social media, which lead to discussions about the impact and meaning of them for the overall status of our environment.
What can be said is that the reasons for the fires should not be underestimated or ignored, and that the entire society should be taking responsibility, as well as to start learning about potential solutions. Many familiar faces, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Gisele Bündchen, Cristiano Ronaldo and the young activist Great Thunberg are becoming ambassadors for the environment. One part of the problematic of the information process about current happenings is that much of the data about the reach, long-term implications and impacts are spread across many different channels; still, there are sources on a global level that are freely available and trustworthy (such as: http://www.globalfiredata.org). These offer reliable insights and support further education on these topics.

Interactive maps like these are useful to gain an overview of the current status quo of particular happenings and being able to understand them better and intervene more effectively. Still, it has been proven that global warming is exposing more and more valuable habitats to a higher danger of fire, and also adds on to the duration of fires happening. Forest fires and climate change are therefore closely related, as the increasing number of forest fires leads to more CO2 emissions, which is lastly responsible for climate change.
Additionally, it is known that most of the fires that have happened burned for multiple days, which emphasizes the acute danger of climate change even more.

The Amazonian rainforest offers one of the greatest areas of biodiversity in one spot, which should technically guarantee its protection from further destructive exploitation in itself. So even though in theory the protection should be given, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonario comments on the current state of his country as follows: “The fires this year are not stronger than the average of the last 15 years.”

Even though many of his followers and fans believe his statements, the brasilian National Space Research Institute (INEP) have disproved his point: Since the beginning of the year, 75.300 fires have been registered already, which is almost 80% more than the year before. According to INEP, the surface that has been burned so far in 2019 is around 40% larger than that of the year before.
Yet, the Amazonian rainforest is only partially located within the Brazilian borders; the rest of the forest is parted between Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French-Guyana. The overall situation of these parts of the Amazonian is not any less dramatic though: According to numbers from the Global Fires Atlas, which is based on data provided by NASA, 99.590 fires have been registered in the entire Amazonian area since January 1st 2019. Comparatively, it was 53.935 within the same time span in 2018.

Furthermore, NASA has collected information on the fires that happened this August on the Canary Islands and lead to the destruction of many hectares of land. The fact that the fires were able to destroy the canary pine trees (Pinus canariensis), which are some of the most fire-resistant trees in the world, shows its power and intensity. Scientists that have been watching the fire activities within the last 50 years and concluded a few trends. Collectively, the number of fires went down a bit, yet, the areas that are being destroyed grow bigger with every fire. This results in the circumstances that the areas of destruction may stay the same throughout the years, as the fires get more dangerous and intense.

Some of the areas that have been impacted the most are still Siberia and the Arctic Circle. As Mark Parrington, scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast, explained, the temperatures in these areas were constantly higher than the average of the years 2003-2018. “Although wildfires are common in the northern hemisphere between May and October, the latitude and intensity of these fires, as well as the length of time that they have been burning for, has been particularly unusual.” He continues that the temperatures in this area have been rising faster than the global average and that these circumstances create a good environment for fires to grow and remain burning, as soon as they have been lit. The website furthermore offers information that doesn’t allow much room for interpretation. In June alone, fires have offset 50 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is as much as the entire country of Sweden produces in one year. Additionally, this is more than the arctic fires produced in all of 2017 and 2018.

CONCLUSION Our planet is a complex and interconnected organism, which is why the slightest disturbances in a certain area can lead to negative impacts somewhere else in the world. At the same time, the positive aspects of planting trees can have the same power and positive effect. This is the reason why the planting of trees is gaining more and more importance nowadays. Whether it is a single person, a business or an entire country: We have to all follow the same goal, which should be stopping climate change.

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