Megan Snow ‘20
This past month, California has experienced detrimental wildfires throughout the state in areas surrounding San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose. Although wildfires have always been something to worry about on the west coast, these have been extreme, and the effects they’ll have on human health and the environment are crucial to understand for the future of our country.
California has had almost 5,000 wildfires ignite since the beginning of this year, however the fire that has been ablaze since Nov. 6 in Chico, California, has been the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California state history. It’s engulfed over 150,000 acres of land, destroying communities, neighborhoods, schools and businesses throughout the area.
Although wildfires occur naturally and help restore nutrients to the soil and clear out decay, 2018 has been significantly worse than past years. This can be contributed to population growth within the state, human occupancy expansion into areas that are at risk for cultivating wildfires, and climate change. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 84 percent of the wildfires from 1992 to 2012 were caused by humans, whether that be accidental or intentional.
Wildfires are destructive to not only human infrastructure and the environment, but also to human health. Wildfire smoke particles are very tiny, giving them the ability to enter into every inch of the human lung. For this reason, wildfire smoke is very dangerous to breathe in, meaning California’s air quality is far from healthy. Breathing in this type of smoke can cause illnesses like bronchitis, and also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases.
Amanda Gallagher, a junior at Merrimack, says her sister had to evacuate from her home in Pasadena, California.
“[Her sister] believes it’s due to climate change and has very strong opinions about that,” says Amanda. There has been controversy whether climate change has any effect on these wildfires, but scientific evidence proves climate change to be a significant role.
Hotter temperatures throughout the spring and summer contribute to dryer soil and increase the likelihood of drought. Dryer soil also contributes to longer burning fires after initial ignition. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, areas that are protected from human activity, such as Yosemite National Park, have seen a significant increase in wildfire activity, proving that climate change is a significant factor.
Climate change is not determined by current temperatures or extreme weather, but rather by long-term trends. Although New England has been experiencing extremely cold temperatures this fall, temperatures are predicted to increase, leading to hotter and drier summers. The effects of climate change won’t just make an impact on the environment, it’ll also be very costly down the line. Costs of hospital visits from respiratory infections, asthma treatments and disaster relief from extreme weather, which is just a few examples of hundreds, could add up to billions of dollars per year.
Although climate change seems difficult to tackle, the small things individuals do everyday can help reduce the effects of climate change. Supporting businesses that are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, buying meat and produce from local farms, using reusable straws and electing officials that make combating climate change a priority are all simple things that can make an impact.
Image Credit: “America is warming fast. See how your city’s weather will be different in just one generation,” Vox.com, Nov. 28 2018.