Top Ten Stories of 2020: The World On Fire

This year will be remembered for literally turning the sky red — wildfires in California were so severe that they cast a red pall across large areas of the state — and the photos were the most vivid sign yet that climate change is not some future apocalypse, but is already upon us.

The year began with the worst wildfire season ever experienced “Down Under.”  As we wrote last January, the world watched in disbelief at images of people and animals fleeing for their lives as more than 200 fires have burned roughly 12 million acres. As CBS News reported, the fires forced more than 100,000 residents and tourists to flee in one of the largest evacuations in Australia’s history.  Our hearts were warmed by this story of seamstresses in Minnesota using donated cotton and flannel fabric to make hundreds of cloth wraps that they sent to carers in Australia so they could “cuddle and comfort” injured and displaced wildlife like koalas and kangaroos.

Fire was a global phenomenon.  In August we reported that fires had ravaged the biodiversity-rich Pantanal region of Brazil. In the first fifteen days of August alone, the national space research agency of Brazil recorded 3,121 fires, which is almost five times greater than last year.  At the end of June, we wrote that a record-breaking high temperature of 100° F was detected in the northeastern Siberian town of Verkhoyansk.  European scientists found that intense wildfires in the Arctic in June released more polluting gases into the Earth’s atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection. In fact, we learned that some of these fires were zombie or “holdover” fires are those that continue to burn underground and then reignite on the surface after a period of time — sometimes many months or even years later.

And then it was the fall from hell for the Western U.S.  Before the season had officially begun, it was out of control — in early September there were 25 major fires burning across the state. As UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain said in a tweet, the wildfire situation has “escalated to the point that I can no longer keep track of the countless massive, fast-moving, and potentially very dangerous fires. The geographic scale and intensity of what is transpiring is truly jarring.” Air quality dropped exacerbating the problems for people suffering from COVID-related and other breathing illnesses like asthma.  Fires raged in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona.  And in Arizona, the temperature reached a high of more than 100 degrees for months on end, and Phoenix by late August had seen 50 days when the temperature reached 110 degrees or more, shattering the old record of 33.

The only silver lining was that all the heat and fire began to raise public awareness of its dangers.  Heat is considered a “silent killer” because there is little awareness about its health risks. To raise awareness many experts have recommended naming heat waves just like we do hurricanes and now winter storms.  We have now vividly seen our future and it will continue to be on fire unless we make needed changes and soon.

Up Next

Can a New Satellite Company Shore Up Forest Carbon Offsets?

Can a New Satellite Company Shore Up Forest Carbon Offsets?

Corporations attempting to reduce their carbon footprint in the short run are restoring forests as a way of offsetting the carbon they release into the atmosphere. But some of these initiatives may be less effective than advertised. They are alleged to have inflated the amount of carbon saved from corporate ownership or claimed to protect land that was never under threat of logging. 

Why this Matters:  In 2020, companies bought more than 93 million carbon credits, equivalent to the pollution from 20 million cars in a year, a 33% increase over 2019.

Continue Reading 418 words
U.S., Britain, Norway Announce Coalition to Protect Tropical Forests

U.S., Britain, Norway Announce Coalition to Protect Tropical Forests

On the first day of President Biden’s Global Climate Summit, the United States, Britain, and Norway announced that they are teaming up with the world’s most influential companies to incentivize nations to protect tropical forests by mobilizing at least $1 billion this year for large-scale projects. 

Why This Matters: Tropical forests are one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and one of the most quickly deteriorating.

Continue Reading 472 words
Mexican President López Obrador to Propose Cooperative Immigration Plan During Climate Summit

Mexican President López Obrador to Propose Cooperative Immigration Plan During Climate Summit

As President Biden’s April 22 climate summit approaches, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico has announced by video that he will propose a new migration agreement between the nations of North America this week. This proposal would ask Central American and Mexican emigrants to work planting trees and crops in Mexico for three years in exchange for a six-month U.S. work visa and eventually the right to apply for U.S. citizenship. 

Why This Matters: As global temperatures warm, there will be a surge of predominantly impoverished climate refugees and migrants to many countries including here.

Continue Reading 641 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.