For a large portion of the western United States, the last several weeks have been filled with smoky skies and worry.
Over the last several years, I have yet to see the Pacific Northwest enter the fall season without even the slightest haze in the sky.
Many people know all too well the Smokey the Bear signs placed in bulk alongside the roads that cut through forests and fields. And as the year moves from early spring to late summer, Smokey the Bear’s arrow moves from a lush green color to fiery red.
Just when we think the smoke has dissipated and the fires have been put to sleep, another man-made or naturally occurring fire sparks again. But eventually, when fall finally appears, the smoke actually does clear, giving us another six months before we must begin worrying again.
This, however, is the root of the problem. The problem is apathy. The problem is not giving much thought to the implications and driving components of wildfires, and then completely forgetting about those factors for those worry-free months of the year.
That problem needs put to rest.
It would seem there is little the average person can do to eradicate wildfires other than adhering to Smokey the Bear’s clearly marked rules — “be careful with fires, don’t play with matches, always put out your campfire.”
While these things all require action, the need for educated conversation and an understanding of general environmentalism is one of the greatest ways to prevent the further spread of unintended wildfires and environmental damage.
According to a recent Atlantic article, “Has Climate Change Intensified 2017’s Wildfires,” this summer season was expected to be calm regarding fire damage. Last winter’s heavy precipitation infiltrated the west, providing for irregularly wet soil and ending California’s long-lasting drought.
The article even quotes John Abatzoglou, a University of Idaho professor of geography who noted these last few fiery months could have been quashed by the wet winter but were instead prompted by an unexpected heat wave.
The dry heat over the last several months is what propelled wildfire season off to a blazing start.
But, according to a paper published last year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), researchers found wildfire activity heightened in both frequency and duration by the mid-1980s — a time when researchers began actively analyzing climate change.
The same researchers in the AAAS article, “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity,” also found the area of forests burned in the PNW have increased by approximately 5,000 percent since the early 1970s.
The statistic is shocking, but it is one that should be fathomable with the help of educated conversation provided by people like the researchers who originally found that number.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, Idaho is currently reporting six large fires. From these fires, approximately 149,771 acres of Idaho land have burned, contributing to the 8,132,724 acres of land burned via wildfire from January 2017 to now.
This isn’t to say all wildfires are directly linked to climate change. Some wildfires are in part due to the natural cycle of certain ecosystems, and others are completely propagated by human recklessness.
It can be difficult to fully understand the ins and outs of climate change and what exactly climate change can affect. There are countless studies and opinions out there that take countless stances — some derived from actual science and others not so much.
But the fact is, the evidence of our environment’s state of turmoil is incredibly noticeable — just look outside.The haze that sweeps across the west this time every year is no coincidence — it is determined by many factors.
In the Atlantic article, Park Williams, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, notes climate models predict the western United States will warm by approximately another 38 degrees Fahrenheit in the next 50 years.
That time frame, which seems both short and lengthy, gives us all the time to make changes, but only when we communicate in an educated manner.
Action can be taken when it comes to attentively harnessing possible fire starters, and action can be taken when it comes to educating oneself on the topic of environmentalism.
The evidence is literally in the air — we can no longer stop ignoring the signs.
Hailey Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Hailey_ann97