This past weekend, as a mentor for the Climate Reality Project’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps Virtual US training, I was watching a broadcast by former Vice President Gore of his most updated climate change presentation. At one point, he had a slide up for just a few seconds showing forest losses by driving force (urbanization, agriculture, forestry, etc). I knew that deforestation driven by commodities was wreaking havoc on rainforests, so that part of the map was not a surprise. But I was astounded by the losses of forest to wildfires across Canada and Alaska. Extensive wildfires in cold places? What is going on? The slide was up so briefly, that I had to go back and look again. The source of the map was a group called Global Forest Watch, so naturally I had to go to the source. Global Forest Watch has an interactive map on their website. I went into the menu for land cover and chose “tree cover loss by dominant driver.” This is what came up for North America:
There is a similar trend across Russia; wildfires are driving a lot of forest loss. Fires in boreal forests are not a new occurrence, but they are happening at higher frequency, most likely due to human-caused global warming. Warmer, drier conditions are highly correlated with fire frequency. This is worrisome because northern forests play a big role in carbon sequestration plans for countries trying to meet Paris Agreement emission targets. Of course you know this already, but when forests burn, they release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and they result in the loss of the best carbon removal system we have going for us: trees. This is predicted to get worse in the future, of course, as temperatures rise even more and precipitation patterns shift. This is part of a positive feedback loop that is ramping up the speed of change. Don’t confuse “positive” for good here. A positive feedback loop is a phenomenon in which there is a reinforcing/intensifying cycle. In this case, since the atmosphere is warmer and drier, there are more fires in the boreal forest. Those fires release carbon dioxide which causes the atmosphere to warm faster and the loss of forest results in reduced precipitation (trees are a vital part of the water cycle!), creating drier conditions. Now it’s warmer and drier, so more fires occur, and so on and so forth.
What can we do? You know the drill. Personal actions add up (plant-based diet, reduced energy use, reduced plastic use, composting, etc, etc); make changes to your own lifestyle and have (gentle) conversations with your friends and family about how they can make changes to their lifestyles. Activism is also critical right now. The Biden administration has committed to action on greenhouse gases. We have to apply pressure at all levels of the government to make sure they follow through. Urge your federal legislators to support the proposed jobs and infrastructure bill that includes provisions for renewable energy, grid updates to support renewables, retrofitting of buildings to reduce energy use, etc. Check to see what climate-related bills have been introduced to your state legislature and call your state reps and senators to sponsor and vote for those bills.
Side note, it was my Climate Reality Leadership Corps training a couple of years ago in Atlanta that inspired this blog. There is so much bad news about climate, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and fall into despair. The training renewed a bit of hope for me. It’s helpful to work with and be around other people that share the same concerns and the same desire to do something. If you are feeling overwhelmed by it all, I encourage you to join a group, do a training, etc. It will help to be part of something bigger than yourself.
Commentary on environmental news/issues plus thoughts and stories about my journey to lower my environmental footprint and raise my voice.
-Another vegan environmentalist