The study discovered 88 companies in the fossil fuel and cement industries that are a part of the world’s Carbon Majors, or companies responsible for the vast majority of harmful greenhouse gas emissions globally, were responsible for about 19.8 million acres of burned forests in the western U.S. and southwestern Canada, or about 37% of all areas burned by wildfires since 1986.
According to Kristina Dahl, a lead climate scientist at UCS and author of the research, typical Western wildfires have evolved into extraordinarily devastating events over the past few decades due to human-caused climate change. Livelihoods are being destroyed when towns burn to the ground.
According to UCS, emissions from these major producers of fossil fuels and cement may also be responsible for nearly 50% of the region’s increasing drought and high fire risk circumstances since 1901.
The vapor pressure deficit (VPD), a measurement of how air takes water from plants and the soil, allowed scientists to pinpoint the main polluters responsible for the emissions. The team then looked at variations in VPD, discovering that emissions from businesses were responsible for around 48% of the increase in VPD between 1901 and 2021 and that this increase was associated with more fires and megadroughts.
The study adds to previous research that has connected these major polluters’ emissions of carbon dioxide and methane to climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. According to DeSmog, this rising corpus of research serves as an illustration of attribution science, which links polluters to their climate impacts.
The main contribution of this work is to draw a direct line from certain human-related carbon emission sources to recent increases in the frequency of forest fires across a substantial area of western North America. According to Philip Higuera, a fire ecologist at the University of Montana, the majority of the connections have been well-known for a long time, but this is the first time all the dots have been joined quantitatively.
Communities of color and low-income areas, which also have less access to resources to recover from wildfires, are said to face the greatest health hazards from smoke pollution and wildfires. According to Jos Pablo Ortiz-Partida, a senior bilingual water and climate scientist at UCS, these communities must be given top attention when thinking about solutions like holding Carbon Majors accountable and investing in fire preparedness.
The new report is intended to inform policymaking and hold polluters accountable for the increasingly harmful and devastating effects of climate change.
According to Dahl, our study provides fact-based responses to the concerns of who is accountable for this horrible destruction. We believe that with the new information at their disposal, policymakers, elected officials, and legal professionals will be better able to hold fossil fuel businesses liable in the public, political, and legal spheres.