I. California wildfires
Thousands of lightning strikes triggered massive wildfires in California throughout August, a month earlier than wildfire seasons of years past.
Several large wildfires started near the San Francisco Bay Area, covering tens of thousands of acres of land in flames. 170,000 people evacuated from the area as smoke and ash fell from the sky.
The fire expanded over 10 times in 36 hours and ultimately burned 1.2 million acres, killing seven people and destroying 2,100 homes. Californian forests, combined with dry weather and the summer heat, were reduced to timber.
About 4,300 fires broke out in 2019, burning 60,000 acres, but about 7,000 fires broke out from January to August 2020 alone, burning 1.4 million acres (i.e., more than nine times the size of Seoul). Local residents are suffering from air quality, which has become far worse than that of Beijing or New Delhi.
There are growing concerns that such occurrences are becoming the new normal , with massive fires leading to property damage and casualties have continued for four consecutive years since 2017.
Climate change has been identified as the cause of these recurring  mega wildfires.
Wildfires are becoming more frequent and destructive. While climate change itself does not cause wildfires, heat is the common factor in the terrain, fuel, and weather that leads to wildfires.
Summer heatwaves, an increased by climate change, create thunderstorms when met with typhoons and wildfires with lightning. Historically speaking, California has frequently experienced wildfires as dry, strong winds began to blow in the fall; however, climate change is exacerbating the fires by extending the period when the summer dry air and autumn winds coexist.
Even excluding the wildfires of August 2020, burned areas have increased by more than five times since 1972. Due to climate change, specifically reduced precipitation, areas impacted by drought have expanded and overall air congestion has intensified, resulting in increased risk of fire.
According to a study, the frequency of lightning increases by about 12% for every 1°C rise in temperature. The average dry temperature in California has actually increased by 1.5°C and wildfires have increased by 8 times since the 1970s. If the temperature continues to rise, the frequency of fires will increase and become more difficult to prevent or stop. Fires have already broken out in areas where there were previously no fires.
As the temperature rises, more moisture evaporates and forests become dehydrated. Plants in California have increased their transpiration by more than 10% compared to 100 years ago. With both plants and the air losing moisture due to drought, various areas have turned into fuel tanks.
However, some argue that the root cause of wildfires is not climate change, but population growth and flawed administrative policies.
However, some argue that the fundamental cause of these fires is not climate change. In 2019, President Trump tweeted that the governor of California caused the wildfire by not clearing forest floors in advance.
It’s said that large forest fires, while they don’t occur every year, are a regular occurrence
, including in 2008. These people claim that the fundamental cause of such large-scale fires lies in changes in human behavior rather than in climate change.
They argue that California excessively suppresses fires in general. Smaller fires have the positive effect of burning fallen pieces of wood and reducing the density of overcrowded forests, and putting out these small fires can make forests vulnerable to bigger fires.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where a big fire broke out this year, is full of trees that are hundreds of years old. Cedar trees in this area rely on such fires for seed dispersal and germination. Seeds spread to nearby areas with the flames, and residual fires burn twigs off the floor, creating an environment where trees could grow better.
The trees in this state park bear traces of past large fires, estimated to have occurred every 6-25 years even before Europeans colonized the Americas. Redwoods have survived these recurring fires without burning down entirely. However, the excessive suppression of small fires has resulted in wood fuel piling up in the forest and wildfires getting out of hand .
Smaller fires have become difficult to tolerate since new homes are built closer and closer to forests due to population growth. Meanwhile, people are now more alert to wildfires and put out even small fires that could remove twigs, thereby making mountains easily flammable.
II. Climate change
Concerns persist that natural disasters—such as the massive fires in Australia, Brazil, and the U.S. and the massive flood damage in China, Korea, and other parts of Asia—will worsen as their cause lies in climate change.
Human-induced climate change appears to be the undeniable root cause of these natural disasters, given that large wildfires and typhoons have occurred not only in the U.S. but also in Australia and Brazil in recent years. Recurring droughts, dry air, and insufficient rainfall are gradually weakening forests’ ability to withstand fire.
In fact, absolute humidity (i.e., water vapor in the air) increases 7% for every 1°C that the Earth’s temperature rises, including an increased possibility of flooding. The rise in temperature is also directly related to various natural disasters such as drought and heat waves as the impacted area becomes much drier due to high air pressure.
Massive flood damage is also evidence of climate change. In 2020, heavy rain and floods from June to August have left 70 million people homeless and cost about 37 trillion won in economic damage. In Korea, the 54-day rainy season caused human and physical damages.
For the first time since 1973, when Korea began national weather surveys, the average temperature in July was lower than the average temperature in June. Jet streams are blamed for causing both this reversal and the long rainy season. These winds from 10,000 meters above ground are generated near 50 degrees north latitude, preventing cold air from coming down from the North Pole and meeting with the hot air of the South Pole.
However, due to abnormally high temperatures in the North Pole, a large mass of air pushed the jet streams south. This created a stagnant front where the high-altitude cold air met the North Pacific High and caused extreme rainfall in the Korean Peninsula.
Some scientists predict that the power of jet streams will be further weakened as Arctic temperatures rise faster than in other parts of the Earth, intensifying abnormal climate phenomena. The project that changes in jet streams and consequent atmospheric congestion will be at the center of extreme weather events in the mid-latitudes over the next few decades.
Australia, which suffered from severe wildfires from October 2019 to February 2020, is expecting a gloomy forecast  of similar or worse fires in the coming years. The main cause of wildfires in Australia is climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, and the government has allocated 45 million Australian dollars to prepare for the next set of fires.
Governments and companies are trying to make significant changes despite the failure of the Paris Climate Agreement following U.S. withdrawal.
International response to climate change has been stalled by President Trump leaving the Paris Climate Agreement in 2019 with the claim that it undermines U.S. national interests. Nonetheless, leaders and businesses across many countries are pushing for real change.
The EU decided to spend 550 billion euros on solving climate change, supporting low carbon transformation of green industries and businesses through EU investment banks. Air France received 7 billion euros in funding after promising to cut carbon emissions by more than 50% by 2024. Battery companies throughout Europe and around the world are being funded to expand their factories.
Over 200 companies around the world are participating in a project called RE100, which aims to convert all power into 100% renewable energy. Apple already accomplished RE100 in 2016 and has set the challenging goal of achieving carbon neutrality in 2030. Apple recruited other companies in its product manufacturing value chain (e.g., Foxconn, TSMC, and SK Hynix) in zero carbon emissions.
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