More Frequent Forest Fires, More Frequent Floods…Is That the Future?

Image by Marek Piwnicki.

While no one can ascribe specific natural catastrophic events to global warming, their frequency appears to have increased. England recorded its highest temperature ever of 102.4F recently, and it experienced some of the worst flooding historically just a little over a year ago. Coastal flooding in Florida has also become more frequent. More frequent also are forest fires, which have increased in intensity. Southern Europe, particularly the Iberian peninsula, is a current example although the dessicated countryside stretches all the way to Italy. So it is that forest fire seasons have lengthened, and more fires occur more often and of greater intensity.

The current disaster in the news is in the Iberian peninsula and across to southwest France. Almost uncontrollable wildfires have devastated thousands of acres, and one observer pilot flying too close has been killed reports the BBC. The fires in La Teste-de-Buch and south of Bordeaux have destroyed 25,000 acres.

In Portugal, 75,000 acres have been devastated by fires this year. One cause is the dry heat and soaring temperatures, drying out the countryside. They have hit 47C (117F) in Portugal and above 40C (104F) in Spain. Residents have been evacuated from the danger areas and a pet rescue operation is ongoing.

Planes are dropping fire retardant chemicals, and helicopters collect sea water from the coast then return to douse the flames. The high temperatures, the drought and their consequences have not spared neighboring countries.

In Italy, the country’s longest river, the Po, has diminished to a trickle in places and the tinder-dried countryside in its valley is under a state of emergency.

Along other parts of the Mediterranean, the conditions are similar. In Greece, there are fires southeast of Athens about 30 miles away in Feriza; also on the northern coast in the island of Crete where seven villages near Rethymno have been evacuated.

The opposite side of the Mediterranean has not been spared. Fires swept through several provinces in Morocco and one village in the Ksar el-Kebir area was destroyed.

According to James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, the earth should respond naturally to ameliorate global warming. Unfortunately, human interventions like cutting down forests have damaged its ability to do so. Is runaway global warming then our future?

The answer has to lie with the same humans, being the only species with the knowledge and faculty to respond to the challenges. The means are available, from CO2 capture to altering our own behavior.

Work on additives (like oil and fats) for cow feed have helped reduce emissions by 18 percent in Australia where almost 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from ruminants. Even more promising has been the addition of seaweed which when mixed in small quantities (3 percent) to the diet have reduced their emissions by 80 percent.

In the meantime, we have to change our ways: Growing our own vegetables — delicious and easy as they grow themselves with minimum care … and have you tried ripe tomatoes fresh from a vine? Even easier to buy now as plants are sold at food supermarkets.

Eating less meat, walking or cycling instead of driving for short trips and so on. It is easy and just a matter of habit. In the end, it is up to us as to the kind of earth we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.