As forests dry up and snowmelt is earlier, wildfires spread more quickly and more dangerously, costing billions of dollars, destroying livelihoods, and threatening ecosystems.
As climate change warms the world, wildfire conditions are worsened. The National Climate Assessment concludes simply that a warmer climate leads to drier forests, which increase the potential and intensity of wildfires. This is because dry vegetation is highly flammable, creating a spreading ground for wildfires. In addition, the "wildfire season" is expanding. Both earlier snowmelt and decreased precipitation in drier areas lead to an expansion of the season because there is less water available during the summer. For the same reasons, the geographical area where wildfires take place in the United States is expanding. Similarly, worsening drought has increased wildfire risk.
In the western United States, the area burned by wildfires could increase by 2-6 times (depending on location). Already, this effect has been experienced; a 2018 study estimates that climate change has doubled the area burned by wildfires since 1984. Destroying forests is very damaging to ecosystems, threatening animals' habitats. Stable ecosystems are vital, as they provide stable drinking water and fertile soil for agriculture, among other important things. Wildfires also cost more than $1 billion each since the year 2000, not to mention the thousands of neighborhoods and small towns burned by each one. Wildfires also have a negative impact on public health because smoke reduces air quality, increasing the risk of illness.
Abatzoglou, John T., and A. Park Williams. “Impact of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Wildfire across Western US Forests.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 42 (October 10, 2016): 11770–75. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1607171113.
Domke, Grant M., Christopher J. Fettig, James M. Vose, David L. Peterson, Linda A. Joyce, Robert E. Keane, Charles H. Luce, Jeffrey P. Prestemon, and Gregg Marland. “Forests.” Chapter. In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment II, II:232–67. Washington, DC: U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2018. 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH6.
Pierre-louis, Kendra, and Nadja Popovich. “Climate Change Is Fueling Wildfires Nationwide, New Report Warns.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, November 27, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/11/27/climate/wildfire-global-warming.html.
“Why Do We Need to Protect Biodiversity?” European Commission. European Union. Accessed March 15, 2021. https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/biodiversity/intro/index_en.htm.
“Wildfires and Climate Change.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, February 25, 2021. https://www.c2es.org/content/wildfires-and-climate-change/.
Image: Held, Michael. Burning Building at Nighttime. September 7, 2016. Unsplash. https://unsplash.com/photos/Of-NXuECJbE.