|David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press|
Fires are a fact of life in the arid American southwest, but they are growing more frequent, hotter, and more severe. The reason: a warming planet.
As Climate Central reports, Arizona's average temperature has been rising by 0.72 degrees per decade since 1970. When winters are cold, precipitation falls as snow, which seeps into the soil as it melts. When winters are warmer, more precipitation falls as rain and runs off into streams and rivers. Less water seeps into the soil, leading to the drier conditions that help fires spread. The warmer winters also give the growing season a head start, leading to thicker undergrowth that can serve as kindling.
The New York Times notes that wildfires in the first decade of the twenty-first century covered on average twice as much U.S. acreage than in the 1990s. This figure is expected to increase as hotter, drier weather becomes commonplace with rising global temperatures.
As I've said before, this is what climate change looks like. Welcome to the new "normal".
It is too late at this point to completely avoid damaging climate change. However, we still have an opportunity to reduce emissions and forestall the most catastrophic impacts. We don't need any more "teachable moments" - now is the time to take action to control our carbon impact.