Wildfires are affecting the quality of our air in Bozeman and throughout the West. This year again provides a wakeup call. Record breaking temperatures in the U.S. (Death Valley 130°F) and around the world have us heading towards one of the five hottest years on record. In June alone, wildfires in the Arctic released more carbon than in any other month in 18 years of data collection.
These higher temperatures and drier surface conditions are providing ideal conditions for fires to burn longer over very large areas. It is a mistake to ignore the threat of wildfire smoke on health. A Montana study found that smoky summers led to more severe flu seasons the following winter and medical experts fear that lung damage from smoke may linger for months. There is strong evidence from studies of influenza and other viruses that smoke can increase the risk of deep-lung infections like pneumonia, which occurs in severe cases of COVID-19.
The dual crises of climate change and the pandemic have something else in common: Both disproportionately hurt minorities and are not being addressed sufficiently. We should prepare for wildfires and prioritize resilient forest management that considers climate change and the vital role forests play in sequestering carbon and regulating ecosystems.
Mitigating the main drivers of forest fires and the rising temperatures from CO2 emissions must be a priority. We need real solutions like a carbon fee that help our community prepare for wildfires. Carbon fee and dividend is a proven policy to lower emissions, and the individual dividends could be used to meet family priorities, including health costs, and fire and smoke proofing homes. Other policies, such as the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act could be used to improve and expand resilient forest manage practices. We need action now.
Bozeman Daily Chronicle Letter to the Editor 9/3/20