California, USA — California works hard to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but greater efforts to prevent forest fires could help keep our air cleaner.
A recent study by the Forest Foundation, a nonprofit that studies forests, shows that greenhouse emissions from four large California wildfires can release about 38 million tons of harmful greenhouse gases to the air, which is the emissions equivalent of about 7 million cars per year.
It’s a staggering figure that also shows us a new way of thinking about dangerous emissions.
As wildfire season approaches, the state has an opportunity to continue to reduce fire danger and also reduce dangerous emissions by thinning forests and ensuring other measures are implemented to keep open spaces clear of dry debris.
Removing dead trees and reusing the wood would cut total carbon dioxide by 15 percent. Even when fires start in forests that have been thinned, the severity is far less devastating than when fire spreads through dense forest. Replanting forests destroyed by fire is another good way to help absorb lingering toxins emitted by decaying areas that have burned.
Some experts, and lay people in general, may say forest fire is a natural occurrence that should be accepted, but that is not a very productive stance on the issue of wildfires. An industrialized world can’t live with wildfires. The risk to human life and property is too great. What’s more, people would have to abandon forest land completely and stop driving because the combined amount of tailpipe gases and forest fire emissions would be too dangerous and would threaten the survival of all living things.
Reducing greenhouse gases is a statewide priority. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has certainly made reducing greenhouse gases a priority, and reducing the number and severity of forest fires will help California meet its goals.