Isn’t this a lovely example of a catastrophic threshold effect? Humans produce excess carbon in the atmosphere, warming the planet; warming the planet dries out gigantic swathes of peat in the arctic, which catches fire and releases more carbon into the atmosphere. The Earth has all these colossal reservoirs of sequestered carbon, and we burn through one, the buried fossil fuels, and it unlocks all the others, such as the peat bogs.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, leading to the desiccation of vegetation, which fuels huge blazes. Fortunately for us, these wildfires typically threaten remote, sparsely populated areas. But unfortunately for the whole of humanity, so far this year Arctic fires have released some 121 megatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, more than what Belgium emits annually. That beats the previous Arctic record of 110 megatonnes of CO2, set in 2004—and we’re only in June.
Yes, that article is from June, and being late in paying attention to it by a mere two months feels like I’m disgracefully tardy. We’re talking about climate events on a planetary scale, and they’re moving so fast that we need to be talking on a time scale of months. Usually, scientists and science reporters are telling you that geology moves incredibly slowly, but humans have effectively goosed the planet into bringing change so fast that we’re seeing it in a fraction of a lifetime.
These fires are largely happening where few people live, so we don’t see the effects directly. Aren’t we fortunate that we have satellites that let us see what destruction we have wrought?
All those fires are producing clouds of soot that darken the arctic ice, absorbing heat from the sun and increasing warming and melting. These are “some of the biggest fires on the planet”, and I don’t think anyone is going to put them out.
Meanwhile, back in the American fantasyland, we have a leadership that is denying that climate change is occurring, or that it’s entirely natural, or part of a normal cycle, and besides, even if it is happening, it would hurt the economy to do anything about it. Someone ought to explain to them that gradual change can lead to a crisis point and catastrophe…and that can happen in politics, too. There are fires smoldering everywhere.