Over the last couple of decades the fires in the Western US have continued to escalate. Compared to the 1980s and 90s, the amount of area burned has more than doubled. Data before the early 1980s agrees with this upward trend, but it is important to note that regulatory agencies have deemed this data incomplete and of poor quality. With the exception of the dust-bowl of 1934, the US has consistently trended the warmest spring and summers in the last 20 years or so.
While there are many causes of fire, climate change contributes to the conditions that favor fire, such as temperature and reduced precipitation, and are considered the driving causes of increased wildfires.
The US is not the only place in the world experiencing wildfire increases. Fires in Australia this summer were deemed among the “worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”
So then, why is the US such a cause for concern? The US continues to build houses in areas that are repeatedly burned by forest fires in an effort to provide affordable housing in the West, building in what is know as the Wildland Urban Interface, or WUI. This area is prone to wildfires and has expanded dramatically since 1990. In order to reduce property damage and the danger to those living in the WUI, the West needs to have creative solutions. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough momentum to make expensive changes when these areas are also facing housing shortages.
Additionally, the GOP (acronym for the “Grand Old Party,” a common name for the US Republican Party) is the only major political party in the world that denies climate change as an existential threat. While the reason for this remains unclear and widely speculated about, this denial prevents and slows important steps the US needs to take to address climate change on the global scale. The current administration has routinely denied climate change, which President Trump infamously stating that “science doesn’t know.” In addition, the US has removed itself from the Paris Climate Accord and has appointed a long-time climate denialist to a high-level role at NOAA, which is responsible to track and analyze climate change in the US.
As with most issues of science denial, the first important step is educating others. Research has shown that calmly and respectfully engaging others is the only way to change their minds. In the United States specifically, the President-elect has made it clear that he considers climate a priority. Joe Biden has announced that his first day in office he will re-enter the US into the Paris accord, the largest climate agreement in the world. But while people is the US are starting to face the reality of climate change and wildfire surges, the work of adapting has just begun.
Kate Roberts, USA