Top Stories of 2019: Forests on Fire All Over the World
Photo: CBS News
This year will be remembered for searing images of the Amazon burning at an unprecedented rate (there were so many fires you could see them from space), with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro alternating between downplaying the severity of them and then sending in Brazilian military troops to fight the tens of thousands of fires burning there. As we reported, world leaders and environmental organizations — even the Pope — pushed Brazil to take action — and the worst part was most of the fires were started by people who wanted to clear land for agriculture and other development. But fires were bad all over the planet — from the Arctic tundra in Greenland, Alaska, and Siberia, to Australia, and of course, California. This year all those metaphors about the climate crisis causing the world to be on fire were unfortunately true. And the loss of trees is not just tragic for their decrease in carbon storage, but also because they provide a home for millions of other plant and animal species — which was poignantly made clear by the story of Australia’s iconic koalas lost to fire.
There were some bright spots, however. In July, Ethiopians around the nation planted trees — and not just a few — the citizens of the second-largest African nation planted 353 million trees in just 12 hours as part of the “Green Legacy” initiative led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. This is believed to be a new world record for the number of trees planted in a day, and it exceeded the 200 million tree goal. And here in the U.S., we reported on the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) between national, regional, state, and local agencies, conservation organizations, outdoors enthusiasts, businesses, and citizens that have committed to improving Pennsylvania’s communities, economy, and ecology by planting of 10 million new trees in priority landscapes in Pennsylvania by the end of 2025.
Why This Matters: While the fires are most often started by humans, they are clearly linked to rising temperatures and dangerously dry conditions — and they are happening in increasingly remote and extreme places too and that makes them very difficult to fight — requiring the use of military troops like in Brazil. In Siberia, the government even had to declare a state of emergency — and millions of people were impacted with respiratory problems from small towns to major cities. Not to mention the enormous amount of carbon that all those fires released into the atmosphere — 300 megatons in July alone. Plus, there were seemingly unending blackouts by PG&E in California in order to prevent wildfires there that also had a huge impact on millions who struggled to stay cool and carry on without power. There is a growing recognition, however, that reforestation is also an achievable way to fight the climate crisis thanks to new research and important new funding by global financial institutions, providing hope for a greener future.
Photo: Sustainability Times