This article discusses the factors contributing to the rise in wildfires and climate change, including rising temperatures, droughts, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, thawing permafrost, and “vapour pressure deficit” (VPD).
Factors such as rising temperatures, droughts, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and thawing permafrost contribute to this trend. Thawing permafrost releases carbon into the atmosphere and disrupts moisture balance, making regions more vulnerable to severe fires. Researchers have found that the intensity and risk of wildfires are also influenced by a factor known as “vapour pressure deficit’ (VPD). The “vapour pressure deficit” VPD measures how effectively the atmosphere extracts moisture from plants and higher VPD levels indicate a higher chance of ignition. Recent studies have linked the rise in VPD levels to climate change.
Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) have raised concerns about the potential worsening of wildfires in the face of hot, windy, and dry conditions. They warn that if climate change continues to progress, these conditions may become more common in various regions worldwide, resulting in an elevated risk and greater severity of wildfires. Climatologists stress the significance of traditional and indigenous practices involving planned or controlled burning to safeguard valuable timber resources and communities.
These traditional and indigenous practices involving controlled burning can help reduce the risk of uncontrolled fires. However, Canadian forestry policies prioritize commercial logging, which contributes to deforestation. Logging disguised as “forest thinning” does not effectively prevent large wildfires and may even intensify fire spread. Human encroachment in forested areas increases the potential for accidental fires, and there is evidence indicating that some fires are deliberately started by humans through acts of arson. A widespread conspiracy theory suggests that “ecoterrorists” intentionally ignite these fires to raise awareness about climate change and advocate for stricter climate control policies.
However, it is crucial to base our understanding of wildfire factors on credible scientific research and evidence rather than entertaining speculative notions.
According to a study published in The Lancet, individuals residing within 50 km (31 miles) of a wildfire in the past decade, particularly those living outside major cities, faced a 4.9% higher risk of developing lung cancer and a 10% higher risk of brain tumours compared to individuals with no exposure to wildfires. The study highlights the concerning health consequences associated with wildfire proximity.
Another study published in The Lancet suggested a potential connection between wildfire smoke exposure and an increase in fungal infections. Researchers hypothesized that the presence of fungal spores in the smoke may have contributed to the rise in fungal
infections that were observed six to twelve months following exposure to wildfire smoke. In a separate study featured in the journal PLOS Climate, the 2018 Camp Fire in California was found to have implications for cognitive function and brain health. The research indicated that exposure to the wildfire was linked to changes in cognition and brain functioning, shedding light on the broader impacts of wildfires on neurological health.
Wildfire exposure during pregnancy has been linked to adverse outcomes such as pregnancy loss, low birth weight, and preterm delivery. A preliminary study published in MedRxiv suggests a potential connection between wildfire exposure and cellular damage in placentas during the first and second trimesters.
These studies emphasize the far-reaching effects of wildfires on human health, including the increased risks of lung cancer and brain tumors, cognitive impacts, and potential associations with fungal infections. Understanding and mitigating these health risks is crucial in addressing the consequences of wildfire events.
The repeated and frequent occurrence of wildfires has far-reaching consequences, impacting the environment, economy, and public health. These devastating wildfires have the potential to expand the affected area twofold, resulting in significant economic losses by depleting timber supplies and causing extensive damage to the dominant tree species in forests. Moreover, they contribute to worsened air pollution conditions and can disrupt rainfall and weather patterns.
Additionally, the increasing global temperatures can disturb the jet streams flow, weakening its strength and causing prolonged stagnation of air masses in specific regions. As a result, these stagnant air masses can spread to nearby cities and countries, aggravating concerns about air quality. Consequently, higher levels of pollutants such as ozone and smoke particles persist near the ground for extended periods, posing significant risks to human health. Recognizing and addressing these interconnected impacts of wildfires is crucial to safeguard both the environment and human well-being.
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Pranab Kumar, a professor of English at Edmonds College, Washington, teaches composition, literature, and world mythology. With a Ph.D. in English Literature, he specializes in Modern American Drama, notably Tennessee Williams’s plays, delivering lectures and writing extensively on that subject.