First published on Plant Based News here
Are wildfires the most terrifying symptom of climate change? They create a lethal, broiling, hell-on-earth that creeps across the land destroying property and indiscriminately killing those too slow to get out of the way.
As they burn, they return millions of tonnes of carbon back to the atmosphere – a positive feedback loop that can drive more wildfires.
Their increase in frequency and the scorched earth they leave behind points to the worst possible outcome for our world – to become a parched, inhospitable, desert planet on which the bones of our civilisation poke out of the sands for the last cockroaches to cower under.
Wildfires are on the increase globally
Wildfires are, of course, a natural phenomenon. However, their frequency, intensity and duration are all increased by human activity – notably changes in land use and global warming.
The 2017 fire season is a global phenomenon. Currently, unprecedented wildfires are tearing through Greenland combusting organic matter that would have been frozen prior to human influence. Scientists claim the blaze is the worst on record. Wildfires in California have been described as a ‘public calamity’ leaving apocalyptic scenes in Wine Country with 11 people reported dead.
The recent images of wildfires around the mediterranean were ominous; juxtaposing as they did, the threat of the fire with the banality of Europeans on their summer holidays. In the foreground holiday makers clutched lilos and deck chairs not really believing what they were seeing. Holidays in Europe are supposed to be safe!
We tend not to correlate our lifestyles with catastrophe but the facts speak for themselves. The total number of trees on Earth has fallen by close to 46 percent since civilization began. This extensive interference with ecological systems changes everything from the climate to the soil. The Middle East – once the verdant and fertile “cradle of civilisation” and birthplace of agriculture is now largely dry and arid. Even the Sahara, the biggest hot desert in the world (3.6 million square miles larger than the continental United States) was lush forest only 6000 years ago before humans removed the trees. The Sahara gets bigger every year. As it shifts northwards, the mediterranean climate holidaymakers travel for, is becoming ever drier and hotter.
Forests drive the circulation of water required to wet the land
These processes are not irreversible. Ambitious, regional-scale tree planting and ecological regeneration can return the wet and green world that better suits us primates. India and China, both reeling from assaults on their environments are taking action. China has so far planted 66 billion trees to stop the advance of The Gobi Desert with “the Great Green Wall.” In India, a recent, major ecological mobilisation saw 66 million trees planted in just 12 hours.
National responses to climate change can be much more effective than simply reducing emissions as per the Paris Accord. Proactive ecological restoration sucks carbon out of the atmosphere, offers a buffer from extreme events, secures resources and creates habitat for wildlife. Large-scale kelp farming alone could replace fossil fuels (with biomethane), reverse ocean acidification and produce bountiful seafood. On land, tree planting also: sustains the water cycle, protects soil, provides shade, timber, medicines as well, of course, as beauty, inspiration and recreational opportunities.
It is well known that The Amazon Rainforest creates the conditions that keep the enormous fertile plains of North America wet and suitable for growing food. Europe’s climate is connected to Africa in a similar way and so there are immediate as well as long-term benefits for Northern money to be spent on ecological restoration in Latin America and Africa.
Planetary thinking and cooperation required
Massive investment in ecological regeneration in The Global South does many things. It transfers wealth to countries that need it. It creates jobs and drives sustainable economic growth and it is a meaningful response to migration crises. Unanswered ecological collapse is a main driver of people migrating north.
The Trump / Brexit mindset that denies changing planetary conditions whilst blaming migrants for national problems is cruel, ignorant and self-defeating. We have no hope of addressing multiple, complex planetary crises such as ecological breakdown, climate change and all their impacts upon our lives by retreating behind national borders. We need a global perspective and global actions based on international cooperation. Collaborating to plant trees where they will make the most difference is a first step.
Tree planting projects worth checking out
- Tree Sisters
- Altforest: Rainforest Microfarm Accelerator
- Water box
- Eden Reforestation Projects
- Green Belt Movement