Fires intensifying climate change

Forest fires are becoming more frequent and intense. Again, global heating can cause more heating. In this self-amplifying feedback loop:

  • Further climate change tends to generate more high temperatures and droughts
  • These tend to extend fire seasons, generating fires that are too frequent, too intense and too severe.
  • This burning releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Increasingly, this burning also tends to destroy forests and even the forest floor, because the fires are becoming more intense. After these mega-fires, the trees are not there to consume carbon dioxide by photosynthesis.
  • This tends to increase the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • As carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, this tends to further climate change. And this cycle of cause and effect can then repeat.

Extreme fires are happening in many places.

We are seeing an alarming surge in mega-fires which destroy ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia. Whole forests have been turned into entirely different landscapes.
Earth on Fire
(ABC TV: Catalyst: 3 June 2014)

I never thought I’d see the Australian rainforest burning. What will it take for us to wake up to the climate crisis? (The Guardian: 10 Sep 2019)

In the UK, wildfires can now happen throughout the year, rather than during just March to September.
The UK has already, in April, had more wildfires in 2019 than any year on record
(New Scientist: 23 April 2019)

NASA Studies How Arctic Wildfires Change the World
(NASA: 13 August 2019)

Fires in Tasmania’s ancient forests are a warning for all of us.
(The Conversation: 29 January 2019)

The era of mega-fires: the crisis facing California and what will happen next
(The Guardian: 8 August 2018)

Huge wildfires in the Arctic and the far North send a planetary warning
(The Conversation: 14 August 2019)

Greek wildfires: dry winter and strong winds led to tinderbox conditions
(The Guardian: 25 July 2018)

Forests are becoming less able to bounce back from fires
(New Scientist: 11 March 2019)


Running this cycle in reverse to limit climate change

This is one climate feedback that can run in reverse. By radically expanding forests we can drawdown carbon dioxide and reduce extreme heat, drought, and fire. It’s one way to reduce the impact of climate change. However, there are still too many developers, arsonists and careless humans who are burning our forests. We need to expand forests before drought and fires become too dominant.


Other self-amplifying feedbacks

See my page on other self-amplifying feedbacks and our climate


Updated 26 August 2019