High Point University

California wildfires are induced by humans

Today’s wildfires have been historically hotter and more destructive, specifically in California. Photo by NPR

By Corinne Gumpman

Staff Writer


In the world of environmental science, a pressing question that has been floating around the media is whether or not wildfires, specifically those in California, have been exacerbated by climate change. 

Experimentalists and researchers are hesitant to say that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between increased temperature and global warming caused by humans. However, it is quite naive to ignore the fact that the number of wildfires has spiked, as fossil fuel consumption and global temperatures have increased throughout the world. 

August 2020 was quite the season of wildfires. In San Francisco, multiple megafires burned more than three million acres. These intensely hot wildfires stripped thousands of people from their homes and caused dangerous chemicals to find their way into drinking water. Water is essential; and without it, life on Earth would not exist. 

Wildfires harm the economy and society’s well-being, especially during a global pandemic. Wildfires cause excessive heat and air pollution, affecting the oxygen levels of our general population — as if we weren’t already being affected by the coronavirus. 

According to the American Lung Association, the particle pollution in wildfire smoke triggers asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and could potentially lead to death. In addition, the carbon monoxide that exists during the smoldering stages of a fire reduces oxygen delivery to vital organs, resulting in headaches, nausea and dizziness.

The combination of being in a global pandemic and having wildfires is a recipe for disaster. Earth’s carbon footprint has increased greatly, and the increase in carbon emissions does not only harm humans but it affects all forms of life on Earth. Because the consequences of wildfires can be severe for all organisms, everyone wants to know the reason for their occurrence.

I think the answer is quite clear. According to an article published by E&E News, temperatures in California have risen 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980, while precipitation has decreased by 30%. With the way temperatures have been rising since the 1900s, climate models estimate that average state temperatures will continue to climb and reach an increase of 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2050. High Point University’s Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Niky Hughes also agrees that the great increase in wildfires is caused by the record-breaking rise in temperatures. 

“The combination of record heat waves and drought turns the vegetation in these regions into kindling,” Hughes said. “Pair that with decades of fire suppression and strong winds, and you have the perfect recipe for a deadly fire season.” 

I could not have given a better explanation. During the summer season, vegetation is formed into the perfect fuel for wind. Hotter air dehydrates plants and soils which are then prone to burning in the wind. Therefore, if temperatures continue to increase and summers become even hotter, vegetation will become increasingly arid and can easily catch on fire. Wind patterns have also changed because of global warming, making it more likely that the dry vegetation will catch fire. Global warming has harmed and will continue to harm our ecosystems if we do not reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include nitrous oxide, water vapor, methane and carbon dioxide. The one that we hear most about is carbon dioxide. It is released into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, deforestation and land use changes. The negative effects of these human activities have a wide range. 

NASA claims that industry in the modern world has caused atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to go from 280 parts per million to 414 ppm in the past 150 years. NASA’s panel concluded that there is more than a 95% probability that greenhouse gases have caused the Earth’s temperatures to rise over the past 50 years. The increase of global temperatures caused by humans affects the planet at all levels.

It is clear that global warming produced by humans is the reason for this increase of wildfires in California, as all sources point to that fact. We all must change to sustain the community, economy and planet.