Fires, floods, drought, death – our world is already in peril and we’re running out of time to reduce the effects of climate change that we’re already experiencing.
California suffered from another spate of wildfires last year. And it seems that about 90% of wildfires in the state are started by humans, or their equipment. Even when winds are high, vegetation is dry or temperatures are soaring, there needs to be some kind of ignition to jumpstart these wildfires. This statistic expands beyond the borders of California, though. Researchers found from 1992 to 2012, human activity was responsible for 84% of wildfires, and 44% of the area that burned, nationally.
Australia, also in the news recently, has already seen its fair share of climate change-related devastation with all the damage that’s been done to the Great Barrier Reef from marine heat waves. The southern part of Australia has warmed by 2.7 degrees since 1950, a statistic consistent with worldwide human-caused warming trends. Coupled with an unusually warm and dry year, Australia has also been experiencing the effects of a weather pattern known as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) for the past two years. One main effect is reduced rainfall and drier-than-average conditions, which is fueling the bushfire devastation sweeping the country. The fact that this pattern has been in play for two years in a row is unusual, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. In addition, smoke from these fires have even traveled to South America, over 9,000 miles away.
According to NBC News, approximately 32,4000 square miles (as of January 7th) have burned, exceeding the area of land burned during the Amazon rainforest fires of 2019 by 5,000 square miles. In comparison, 405 square miles of land burned during California’s wildfires.
Climate change is actively affecting us in other ways as well, including the food we all eat. The CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere due to the presence of fossil fuels is changing the composition of fruits and vegetables; in turn, it makes them less nutritious. All of the extra CO2 is speeding up photosynthesis and causing plants to grow with more sugar and less zinc, protein, and calcium, among other important vitamins. Coffee supply is also suffering in Brazil — the world’s largest coffee producer. Frequent rainstorms cause typical growing areas to be less suitable to house the crops.
Have you noticed you’ve been sneezing more frequently? That’s because allergy seasons are becoming longer and more intense. As temperatures warm, plants release pollen; as this is happening at times when allergies aren’t persistent, the season is extended. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase through the end of the century, it could extend the oak pollen season (for example) by up to 8 days in certain areas.
Relief is a distant concept at this point. As the fires ravage, the floods pour in, and the weather warms, the environment will be reshaped forever – but we can help slow the negative effects. What can you do personally? Every little bit counts: Recycle. Adopt the use of renewable energy. Take public transportation. Consider plant-based foods. Be conscious of energy use and try to cut back where you can.
If we can all pitch in and make even little changes, they will eventually go a long way. Let’s help save the world while we can.
We encourage you to help by contributing to organizations like these:
- NSW Rural Fire Service:. https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/volunteer/support-your-local-brigade
- Environmental Defense Fund: https://www.edf.org/
- Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclub.org/
- Ocean Conservancy: https://oceanconservancy.org/