A wildfire burning in Russia’s northern Siberia region.  Photo: Reuters, via CBS News

By Alexandra Patel and Monica Medina

Wildfires raging across Siberia this year have reached historic levels — It is estimated that the fires released 300 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in July, the most since satellite records began around two decades ago. In response, the government declared a state of emergency for five regions of Siberia — with the “acrid smoke” impacting both small settlements and “major cities in Western Siberia and the Altai region as well as the Urals such as Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg,” and even disrupting air travel.

  • In reaction, 1 million people within the area signed a petition demanding government action.  Many people are falling ill with respiratory problems due to the smoke.
  • While some firefighters have been deployed to fight the flames, mostly the government is just monitoring the fires because apparently, they do not have the money to contain them.
  • 12 million hectares of forest have been destroyed by the wildfires, while 3 million hectares are still currently engulfed in flames.

Why This Matters: Alexander Uss, the governor of the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, stated in response to the growing wildfires, “This is a normal, natural phenomenon. It’s pointless to fight it and perhaps even in some places also harmful,” according to the RIA news. While wildfires in themselves are natural, the growing incidence and intensity of the fires are exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change. As we reported last month, across many parts of Alaska and Canada fires are burning well above the Arctic circle at unprecedented rates and times in the year. The smoke from the Arctic fires has even now begun to reach neighboring Kazakhstan.  These devastating fires in Siberia once again demonstrate that climate change is a global problem demanding funding, actions, and solutions at all levels — local, regional, national and international.  

An Environmental Catastrophe.

Triggered by dry thunderstorms and temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the fires were then spread by strong winds across the different regions of Siberia. Beyond the devastating short term effects, like the destroyed lands and clouds of noxious fumes in the air making it difficult for people in the region to breathe, environmentalists particularly fear the potential long-term effects of such frequent and intense wildfires – the acceleration of Arctic melting.

Moreover, CBS News recently reported that according to a recent study, as the climate continues to warm, wildfires will grow exponentially. This creates a vicious cycle, as carbon accumulated over hundreds and thousands of years is being released into the atmosphere as trees and even dried-out peat continues to burn.

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