World On Fire: the Forgotten Crisis of 2020
Before the Coronavirus Pandemic, 2020 was already facing another crisis. A Climate Crisis.
Back in June 2019, news first broke out about the wildfires in Australia. With nearly 18.6 million hectares burnt, 9,352 buildings destroyed, and 479 people dead(34 direct; 445 indirect due to smoke), footage of the fire was seen on every new channel. Our Instagram feeds were filled with links to donate to Australia, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio donated millions of dollars to help.
But, when the Pandemic hit the world, news outlets shifted their focus to COVID-19. However, until May of this year, the fire was still raging.
5 of the 6 largest wildfire in California’s history happened in 2020. In America alone, fires consumed more than 5 million acres of land; the lost land is larger than the entire state of New Jersey. Increased temperatures, along with less rain & snow, have turned our forest into prime tinder. As a result, fires have been more frequent, more deadly, and consumed a much larger area.
The Australian Bushfire, or Black Summer, was unprecedented. Areas as big as the state of Iowa was left incinerated. Firefighters worked day and night, struggling to combat the massive fires; Farmers wrestled as parched land turned to fire fuel due to the drought. It was a nightmarish hell on earth. The sun disappeared into the ash, the sky turned blood-red, and sometimes there were even fire tornadoes. The fire was the great equalizer. It didn’t discriminate. It didn’t matter whether you were a human, wildlife, or a plant. Kangaroos, Wombats, Wallabies, Birds, and Koalas all suffocated in the ash, burned, and lost their homes. A conservative estimate showed that a billion animals were erased out of existence. University of Sydney Ecology Professor, Chris Dickman says,
“If you walk into [a place] after a fire, it’s like walking into a silent dark room”
Then, nature hit the United States. For almost half a year, the fires raged through the west. Even with airplanes dropping immeasurable amounts of water onto the forest, the fires continued to pillage on.
“What used to happen only a few times a year is now happening year round”
Many towns in California were wiped off the map this year. There were 9,639 reported fires in the California region alone. With 10,488 buildings destroyed, and 4 million acres of land destroyed, it is estimated that the fires have costed us upwards of 2 billion dollars. Complicated response, due to COVID-19 and record-breaking heat waves, 33 people died, and 37 were injured. Over 3,400 firefighters assisted in battling the fire. Looking at the entire west coast, over 8 million acres of land burned, 13,887 buildings were destroyed, and 46 were killed.
But more than that, the fires resulted in worsened air pollution in much of the western US, and Canada. Some flights were cancelled, and the smoke even travelled to some parts of Europe, resulting in yellowed skies. Red skies have appeared over many cities over the West and an estimated 3,000 deaths have resulted as an indirect consequence of the smoke.
Many experts have cited climate change as a result of the increasing wildfires around the world. Yet, part of the generation that is responsible for global warming, does not even acknowledge its existence. Now, it’s up to the new generations to clean up this mess. The fear for the fate of our future being in our hands is entirely too real. We’ve been told that we should let our opinions and thoughts be heard; Well, now we are in charge.
It’s hard to imagine that something so closely related to our well-being and livelihood has been ignored and put on the side for so long. Changes need to be made now. In fact, climate scientist are warning us that it’s already too late. But the change I’m talking about is not “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” or turning the lights off. While certainly these things are important, what we need now is a fundamental change to the system that promotes destroying our environment with economic gain; and we need it now.