Climate change and drought – the odds of living dangerously


The talk on climate change couldn’t be over-emphasised; so much of our forests are being burnt, causing a dangerous amount of carbon to be emitted right back into the atmosphere. Drought and wildfire are on the news again. Canada has had its fair share of wildfires this summer alone. According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, nearly 900 fires are burning across Canada, with 590 of those fires out of control. More than 24 million acres have been charred by wildfire so far. Firefighters geared up and ready to fight these wildfires have died in the act. The sudden and devastating death of a 19-year-old young boy in British Columbia has been linked to wildfire smoke by health officials. Wildfire smoke has sparked air quality issues in the United States of America, specifically in Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. According to CBS News, these states recorded some of the worst air quality in the world on June 27, 2023 as wildfire smoke from Quebec seeped into the Midwest. My question is, what are the odds of living in such dangerous ways? It is interesting to know that wildfires may not be as a result of burning bushes only as we may think; perhaps, it may be by some other causes that may appear natural on the surface. For example, the fire outbreaks in Canada are reported to have been caused by lightning; yes, lightning. In actual fact, half of the wildfires in Canada are caused by lightning and these fires are responsible for over 85 percent of wildfire destruction in the country, according to CBS News. The more carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet becomes and the more inclined it is to fuel these fires. But how do these emissions get into the atmosphere in the first place? Human causes! Human activities such as over-farming, excessive irrigation, deforestation and erosion can directly trigger worsening factors and adversely impact the land’s ability to capture and hold water, causing drought conditions. Increasing temperatures and drought conditions in the interior western United States are likely to lead to further tree mortality in woodlands, in turn affecting disturbance processes of soil erosion, insect outbreaks, fire, and additional mortality (Allen, 2007). What are the odds of living this dangerously?

The domino effect

According to a study by the US Government‘s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, over the last 40 years, climate change has caused the Mediterranean region to dry up, resulting in longer and most severe droughts. In these past years, instead of a predictable climate (i.e., what we all expect the weather to be over time), the world seems to be entering into a phase where the weather (i.e., what we get day to day) we experience appears more flustered. Farming communities can no longer predict weather patterns for the growing of their crops. Not only do farmers have to worry about that, but they also have to worry about drought and its associated conditions. Drought is a weather condition, call it disruptive, that leads to “prolonged periods of abnormally low rainfall, leading to water shortage”. These ‘disruptive’ events may be indicators that the climate is changing more gradually over the long term. The fact is, droughts can limit the growing season and create conditions that encourage insect and disease infestation in certain crops. Nevertheless, looking at the entire picture, droughts have a domino effect; they can affect everything in their way – even the livelihood of people and communities. Droughts affect each of us directly or indirectly. For the farmer, it affects them directly; but it may affect some of us in other ways that are not direct. According to the Environmental and Health Impacts of Open Burning, when wood and leaves are burned, they produce smoke, which contains vapours and particulate matter (solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air). Air pollution from smoke can impact human health. Open burning poses risks to the environment and public health as well. The smoke from these wildfires pollutes the air we breathe, and the ashes pollute our soil, groundwater, lakes, rivers and streams. This is what I call the domino effect of drought! What are the odds of living dangerously?

The wildfire effect

Yes, there is the domino-drought effect, and believe me, not just farmers in Ghana, but farmers all over the world are faced with drought conditions. But what causes this? As indicated, good old climate change, believe it or not, is and has been a key factor in increasing the risk and extent of wildfires, especially in the United States and even in the Amazon Rainforest. Moreover, the risk of wildfire may be caused by several factors, including soil moisture, temperature, the presence of trees, shrubs and other potential fuel. On the surface, these factors may seem natural; but the truth is, climate change enhances the drying of organic matter in forest materials that burn and spread wildfire. Researchers have said that the worsening fires are part of a climate-fire feedback in which carbon dioxide emissions warm the planet, creating conditions that lead to more fires and more emissions. Indeed, there are the natural causes of fire, which includes all the actions of nature that can cause fire; but so can these fires be aggravated by negligent human interventions or by accidental occurrences without the necessary presence of a human being. I call it the lifestyle aggravation of wildfire. According to Steven Davis – a University of California, Irvine (UCI) professor of Earth Science, “Boreal fires released nearly twice as much carbon dioxide as global aviation in 2021”. He explained that “if this scale of emissions from unmanaged lands becomes a new normal, stabilising the Earth’s climate will be even more challenging than we thought”. According to him, “these factors could potentially lead to further warming and create a more favourable climate for the occurrence of wildfires”. A domino effect right there! My question remains, what are the odds of living dangerously without a care for the environment? The long-term repercussions of our trying to live comfortable lives still come around to stare us in the faces; and what are we doing about it?

A possible solution

One proven solution to the problem of wildfire caught my attention. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there’s a largely untapped economic opportunity in the forest. They suggest that we reduce the risk of fire by removing vegetation that can fuel fires. For example, removing tree parts and plants can be turned into a renewable energy source and the creation of various products, such as paper and furniture. They also suggest that we responsibly remove dead trees for sale, which could lead to millions of dollars in vital funding for restoration efforts, such as planting trees – with emphasis on tree-planting. They call it a win-win situation that can create new revenue and jobs while improving ecological health. But again, this is just what we do in this part of the world, right? Why do we feel like that is not the right thing to do then? To my mind, we are on top of issues, let the rest of the world emulate us. The odds of living dangerously certainly do not pay off. Stop wildfires now, save the planet!

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