On forest fires and global warming

by Daniel Kessler

October 25, 2007

I’m writing as Southern California burns. There’s been a lot of talk within the environmental community and in the media about whether or not these fires can be linked to rising temperatures caused by global warming. What’s beyond dispute, however, is the scary reality that as temperatures rise, the frequency of massive fires and other horrific natural disasters will rise along with the mercury.    

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported earlier this year that North America’s annual window of high fire ignition risk could increase by 30 percent this century. They said fires and insect outbreaks are likely to intensify as temperatures rise, which will cause drier soils and longer growing seasons. Add that to the findings of U.S. Geological Survey scientists who said recently that rising temperatures have increased the death rate for old-growth conifers, firs and pines in the Sierra Nevada, making more fuel for fires.

So what can we do? First, we can recognize our immediate vulnerabilities. Together, population growth and development into the wildland-urban interface is tempting fate. People need to make smart choices about how much land they need, how far from population centers they want to go and how their decisions affect the land, wildlife, and other people; in my mind there’s no reason to put a firefighter’s life at risk for a swimming pool and a nice view.

On a larger scale, we continue our push to make Congress take immediate action on global warming. Nov. 3 is Step It Up, a national day of action on global warming that will make it clear just who are our leaders on the defining environmental issue of our time. Please go to  to find out about an event in your area.


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