World on fire: how to adapt to a hotter planet?

World on fire: how to adapt to a hotter planet?


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public domain

Researchers around the world agree: the Earth is getting warmer and warmer, extreme weather conditions such as heat waves and long droughts increase the risk of wildfires. The Wildfires in the Anthropocene group at the Pufendorf Institute brings together researchers from across Lund University who study wildfires from different perspectives: climate change, health, environmental security, fire safety and biodiversity.

Each year, the wildfire season is getting longer in California, fires in the Amazon and Australia are increasing dramatically, and this summer large fires have gripped southern Europe. These more extreme and unpredictable fires occur more frequently and are harder to fight.

The Wildfires in the Anthropocene group at the Pufendorf Institute links researchers from across Lund University. Together they want to investigate the causes and effects of forest fires.

Forest fires: a revelation?

“We can’t ignore wildfires,” says Lina Eklund, a researcher in the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Sciences and the Center for Advanced Middle East Studies.

“We can see how deeply the damage affects us, maybe this will open our eyes; start more discussions about climate change on Earth. Wildfires are here to stay. How do we learn to live with them? this, and what do we need to do to reduce the number of fires?”

The debate about the causes of wildfires is ongoing on several levels. Should researchers rely on hard environmental data or should they research how political and economic systems drive and affect climate?

Political scientist Pinar Dinc, from the Center for Advanced Middle East Studies, studies the relationship between conflict and fires in the Middle East. Can we find correlations between different levels of conflict and the increasing incidence of fires? A deeper analysis of the underlying reasons for conflict and climate change has attracted more attention in recent years.

“It’s not simple though. Who or what actually starts a fire? Is it the state, a marginalized group of people, drought? As far as we can tell, political issues combined with environmental factors cause forest fires.”

Political pressure

Lina Eklund specializes in remote analytics, in which she studies satellite imagery and data, allowing her to see what has happened over large swaths of land over time. It is a work that she has applied to conflict zones in the Middle East, where political and religious factors are usually analysed.

“I focus on how the landscape, for example farmland, changes over time. My research also shows that when conflict escalates and more people die, so do the number of fires.”

Both Lina Eklund and Pinar Dinc note that the deforestation that takes place after a great fire challenges society to find new ways of living and exerts political pressure to effect change.

“The more we work in this area, the more I think about how groups – and marginalized groups in particular – should resist what is happening on their lands,” says Pinar Dinc.

Using satellite images, Lina Eklund was able to see fires in the Chernobyl region. Fires which, presumably, were caused by conflicts in the region. These fires could cause the release of radioactive particles present in the ground since the nuclear accident of 1986.

“What do these fires mean in terms of hazardous substances that could end up in the atmosphere? Previous fires around Chernobyl have not resulted in particulates being released to dangerous levels, but it is frightening that they can burn in a area as critical as this.”

Fires without borders

Fire does not respect national borders; a forest fire can spread from one country to another. Buildings are destroyed, agricultural land devastated and this can lead to forced migration. How to deal with it, what are the necessary strategies in each country and together, internationally? In several countries there is a lack of centralisation, which became very apparent in Sweden during the hot summer of 2018. About 50 fires broke out and, in order to bring the situation under control, the EU helped to fight against fires with resources from Italy, France and elsewhere. And it’s that kind of cooperation that Pinar Dinc and Lina Eklund hope to see.

“It is important that we also broaden our perspectives in research and look at the political and economic factors that can cause fires. It is frustrating, however, that we researchers produce facts that could be used to make the world a better place, but politicians are not always receptive,” explains Pinar Dinc.

Lina Eklund and Pinar Dinc envision a future in which we learn more about what causes wildfires and how to fight them, while finding ways to live with them to better adapt our societies to a warmer world. .

“At the end of the day, it is not nature that will be destroyed, but humanity. Nature will always come out on top,” says Pinar Dinc.

Provided by Lund University

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