A recent study has found a significant link between carbon emissions from major fossil fuel producers and the increase in wildfire intensity in the western United States and southwestern Canada over the past 40 years.
The research, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, attributes almost 40% of the forest area burned by wildfire in the western US and southwestern Canada in the last 40 years to carbon emissions associated with the world’s 88 largest fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers. The study underscores the role of these companies in climate change and their potential accountability for the escalating wildfire crisis.
The Role of Fossil Fuel Emissions
The study focused on the emissions generated in the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, which have raised global temperatures and amplified dry conditions across the West. This increased aridity has caused the atmosphere to become “thirstier” for water, draining moisture from trees and brush and making them more vulnerable to fire.
The Science Behind the Findings
The researchers used a growing body of research known as extreme event attribution, or attribution science, to determine how much global warming has contributed to events such as wildfires. They found that emissions from the major carbon producers contributed to 48% of the increase in the vapor pressure deficit observed over the last 120 years, which is strongly associated with an increase in burned forest lands.
Accountability and Implications
The findings of the study highlight the need for holding fossil fuel companies accountable for their role in climate change and its devastating consequences. The research also points out that the impacts of climate-driven disasters have not been borne equally, with the public often left to cover much of the cost through higher taxes and utility bill surcharges.
This study opens up new avenues for research into the link between fossil fuel emissions and wildfires. Future research could focus on quantifying the contribution of individual fossil fuel companies to global warming and exploring legal avenues for holding these companies accountable for their role in climate change.