The world is on fire and for the most part, we are to blame

Wildfires, climate change and humans

The fires to the south of the border has everyone on the edge of their seats. Pandemic or not, people are actively donning masks to protect themselves from the deadly smoke arising out of these fires, blanketing entire states and provinces. People are sharing photos of the doomsday-like blood-red, orange skies and are preferring to stay indoors.

The smoke from the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington is so widespread that it has moved all the way to parts of New York City and even across the border to several parts of BC and Alberta. Over 200 BC firefighters have headed down, south of the border to help fight the devastating fires in Oregon and several firefighters from the US itself have descended upon the two states.

These stories are reminiscent of the Australian wildfire stories. 2020 started with the news from Australia of the massive fires engulfing the region, affecting the climate, people and more than three billion animals. The wildfires have now been declared as ‘the worst wildlife disaster in modern history’, by the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia.

Without downplaying the disaster, it is important to note however that these wildfires are not unique or new, neither to the regions nor to this year. According to Inciweb, there are as many as 125 active fire incidents in 10 US states. The Amazon rainforest fires that started earlier, are still burning, making them the worst Amazon fires in 13 years. In July, the Central Kalimantan Province in Indonesia had to declare a state of emergency due to the out-of-control wildfires. The Khanti-Masi region in western Siberia, was also engulfed in fires and extreme hot weather, breaking the wildfire records set last year in parts of the Arctic.

While some of the fires are caused due to lightning strikes, temperature rises, scientists all over the world have time and time again said how many of these fires are human-ignited — accidentally, or on purpose. Several fires in Brazil and Indonesia have been caused due to out-of-control fires during farmland practices like burning fields for soil improvement; many others are due to carelessness on the parts of us humans, like the one in California was caused as a result of pyrotechnics used at a gender-reveal party and then there are those wildfires that are caused due to the rising temperatures of the planet due to climate change, at the root of which is also us humans to an extent.

Birds dropping dead in Mexico due to wildfire smoke and extreme cold in the Colorado region, the out-of-control wildfires, the rising Arctic climates raising the water levels, animal deaths, farmland destruction, homes, families destroyed, health hazards and deaths, are just some of the many after-effects of these devastating wildfires. The sum total devastation of these fires would probably be felt, if not immediately, then in the near future at least.

What we can do on our part, is start with small things, reduce our carbon footprint as and when possible, be extra cautious when starting fires for camping or other activities, be vigilant and inform authorities when such stray fires are ignited, educate others who are unaware of the effects of wildfires and finally, educate ourselves constantly on best practices and as such. While we can’t do much about the already ignited, burning wildfires, we can at least do our part to ensure there aren’t any more such incidents.

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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