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 tons 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 civilization poke out of the sands for the last cockroaches to cower under.
Worst on record
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.
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.
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, holidaymakers 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 per cent 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 a lush forest only 6,000 years ago before humans removed the trees.
The Sahara gets bigger every year. As it shifts northwards, the Mediterranean climate that holidaymakers travel for is becoming ever drier and hotter.
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.
Europe’s response 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 sustains the water cycle, protects soil, provides shade, timber, medicines, as well as, of course, 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 and long-term benefits for European money to be spent on ecological restoration in Africa.
Massive investment in ecological regeneration in Africa 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 the migration crisis.
Unanswered ecological collapse is a main driver of people moving out of Africa.
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 examples in Africa
Find out more about the Water Box project here.
Find out more about the Eden Reforestation Projects here.
Find out more about the Green Belt Movement here.