The unprecedented fires aren’t just caused by the climate crisis. Land use –especially real estate and animal husbandry – have a lot to answer for
A good, natural fire can be a cleansing force. Yet, the recent and ongoing catastrophic fires around the world – including in Brazil, the US, Sweden, Russia and Australia – are not moments of a healthy fire cycle but conflagrations of a dying biosphere.
Terrible as they are, the fires in the western American states are only middling on a global scale. As of early November, 8.6m acres (3.5m hectares) had burned nationally, with half of that total in California. This year has been the worst fire season on record for Colorado and California, the latter enduring five of its six largest fires since colonization. But the American catastrophe pales in comparison to Australia’s wildfires last summer, which incinerated an eye-watering 46m acres. More than a fifth of the country’s forests were destroyed in a single year. Siberia’s fires in 2020 were even bigger – 47m acres. A tenth of South America’s largest wetland, the Pantanal, went up in smoke this year – some 6m acres – coupled with the Amazon losing 8.5m acres. That latter figure is only half the size of last year’s fiery nightmare.