2012 is one of the worst years on record for forest fires in Colorado. While these widespread and disastrous events are the result of weather, it signals a new trend that will affect the entire Southwest of the United States. Because of climate change the weather is changing and becoming more severe. Climate change will not ensure that weather will remain dry and hot in regions that rely on the occasional big winter snow and occasional summer rain, but it will surely make it more likely that weather like that of the summer of 2012 will happen much more frequently in the future.
In Colorado the multitude of fires that span across the entire Front Range and have devastated acres of forest thus far, have also caused thirty two thousand people to be evacuated from their homes. So far, many homes have been destroyed. The fires have not been successfully controlled even with the use of plentiful resources. The record setting temperatures and lack of moisture in the winter and in the present are accounting for most of the difficulty. Pine beetle kill is another reason the forest is burning so easily, because dead and dried out trees are ripe for the burning. Harsh weather conditions like this is unusual for this early point in the summer for the region as a whole.
For the next several decades China, the United States, and all other industrial countries are likely to pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the tons, which results in warmer and drier conditions on account of global warming. Therefore it is likely that the forest fires in Colorado are just the beginning.
At the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California at Berkeley Professor Max. A Moritz and his colleagues have tracked the long-term probability of the increase in forest fires in the American southwest and the results are very high. Moritz’s results show that Texas and Arizona are the states most at risk for future catastrophic forest fires. Colorado experiences its worst fire season in history and a 1 degree Celsius change in the global average temperature could greatly skew the current percentage of wildfires to much worse than ever expected. Even given these conditions, many still deny climate change, including many people associated with ExxonMobil. Others at Exxon accept the existence of global warming, but belittle its effects. CEO of Exxon Rex Tillerson said that climate change is not only “manageable” but also engineering possibilities make the changes entirely adaptable. Tillerson may have a optimistic viewpoint on climate change and its effects, but many in Colorado are no longer so helpful, especially with their homes burned to cinders.
Obviously there are many consequences to such devastation and it will take a long time to re-grow forests and rebuild lost homes. There are many ways to help in the present. One such way is to support the initiative of providing firefighters who help control wildfires with government provided healthcare. Because they are considered temporary workers they do not receive full benefits. To support firefighters who risk their live and help prevent the loss of the environment and the homes in it, please sign this Change.org petition.
The American Red Cross is also making huge efforts to help displaced persons and support the health of firefighters. They are helping treat people who are affected by the smoke and they are providing shelter to those who have lost their homes. Shelter is even more essential in times of extreme heat. To donate to the Red Cross, check out the local Colorado chapter at this link.
Photo credit: erh.noaa.gov/okx/pics/firewx1.jpg