The West Is Literally On Fire, And The Impacts Could Be Widespread | ThinkProgress

by Natasha Geiling Posted on July 1, 2015 at 8:00 am

As expected, the 2015 wildfire season has meant more bad news for drought-stricken Western states. As of June 30, 45 wildfires large active wildfires burned from Alaska down to Arizona and as far east as Colorado. Wildfires in Southern California had driven thousands from their homes, while fires in Alaska have burned more than one million acres this year.

Separate from human interference, wildfires are a completely natural occurrence that help a forest ecosystem with regeneration and growth. But decades of fire suppression tactics combined with climate change have provided wildfires with an abundance of dry, dead fuel, leading to more fires and a longer fire season. Fighting wildfires also comes with a large price tag, with an average of $1.13 billion spent on wildfire suppression each year. With climate change, that price could increase to $62.5 billion annually by 2050.

But wildfires impact more than just forests and the economy — they can have far-reaching impacts on public health, water quality, and climate change.

“These cascading impacts are the things that keep me up at night,” Jason Funk, a senior climate scientist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “We haven’t been looking at them so much.”

Fires Can Cause Choking Pollution That Rivals Beijing

Wildfires come with smoke — and as residential developments continue to blur the boundaries between forest and urban, communities are increasingly facing health risks associated with smoke pollution.

“In the West, we have a lot of development and people living in the wildland-urban interface, and they’re in a position to be exposed to smoke and wildfire risk when it happens,” Funk said. “It’s rather difficult to predict where these smoke plumes are going to end up.”

…(read more).

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

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