Wildfires threaten more than land and homes. The smoke they produce contains fine particles (PM2.5) that can poison the air for hundreds of miles. Air pollution from the 2016 Fort McMurray fire in northern Alberta, Canada sent people in Michigan to the hospital with respiratory illnesses. As wildfires increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, more and more communities are at risk of prolonged exposure to harmful levels of smoke. Harvard University researchers, in collaboration with colleagues at Yale University, have created a watch list of hundreds of counties in the western United States at the highest risk of exposure to dangerous levels of pollution from wildfires in the coming decades. Among those counties, heavily populated counties such as San Francisco County, CA, King County, WA, Alameda County, CA, and Contra Costa County, CA are estimated to face the highest level of risk of wildfire smoke exposure in the coming decades.
2016-10-12. Significant deforestation in Brazilian Amazon goes undetected, study finds. Kevin Stacey. phys.org
These maps show where the Earth’s forests are vanishing Washington Post.
As we return to wood as our major fuel source as we did before the 14th century, we are likely to cut most of the forests down to heat, cook, build homes, furniture, and so on with what little forest remains.
Scientific American. Nov 2012.
From logging, agricultural production and other economic activities, deforestation adds more atmospheric CO2 than the sum total of cars and trucks on the world’s roads. Scientific American.
May 6, 2014. Jack Hannah, CNN. Poachers take chunks from California redwoods, put majestic trees at risk
America’s magnificent redwood forests face a piecemeal but steady assault by poachers too. Thieves are cutting massive chunks from the base of the champion trees, the tallest on Earth and up to 2,000 years old. Under the cloak of darkness, bandits are poaching the burl from the old-growth redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks in California, and selling them for thousands of dollars to make furniture, bowls and souvenirs. Burls are crucial to the survival of the redwoods. When a burl cutting occurs, a lot of the bark is damaged or removed, and that bark is critical to protecting the redwoods from insect infestation and fire.
New York Times, 23 March 2003
Once blanketed by lush forests, Haiti is now nearly 90% deforested. Competing against a demand that has far exceeded supply, the Caribbean nation loses more than 30 million trees a year to provide wood, fuel and work to a desperate population.
“We face a total ecological disaster,” Haiti’s president, Mr. Aristide said last month. “Misery and the lack of education are making people cut more trees.”
Political instability has also accentuated the despair, pushing hundreds to the forests for a source of income. “When there are political problems in Port-au-Prince, more people come up here with chain saws,” Mr. Joseph said.
The scarcity also affects farmers. With no tree roots to hold the soil, topsoil has disappeared and fewer vegetables can grow. Some farmers also report a change in weather. “Because there are fewer trees, there’s also less rain,” said a 40- year-old farmer, Cedner Jean. “Dew allows us to grow cabbage, potatoes and beans but we can’t grow anything else anymore.”
Bardi, Ugo. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Ancient Irish forests were destroyed by the late 18th century, when less than 1% of the island’s surface had trees (Bardi “A distant mirror: ireland’s great famine” Dec 12, 2008, oildrum). Deforestation there had especially tragic consequences: trees take a long time to regrow in the cold irish climate, and bare soil is washed away by rain. This loss of fertile soil was an important factor in generating the famines that started in 1848 and killed over a million people.