Fossil fuels contributed to more than one-third of western wildfires

Tree in wildfire.
(Image credit: chuchart duangdaw/Getty Images)

Approximately 37% of the total area burned by wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada can be attributed to the emissions produced by the top 88 fossil fuel producers and cement companies, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study also found these companies' emissions "contributed to nearly half of the increase in drought- and fire-danger conditions across the region since 1901." Cement companies alone produce close to 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions, per CNN. "We hope that people who are in communities that have been affected by wildfires will see this work and think about whether they want to hold these companies accountable," remarked study lead author Kristina Dahl.

Fossil fuels are the top cause of climate change globally and have singlehandedly raised the average global temperature by 0.5 degrees Celsius since the early 1900s, CNN continued. "We know that many of these companies have known for decades about the consequences of climate change," study co-author Carly Phillips told CNN. "But instead of sharing that information with the public, they engaged in this deliberate misinformation campaign to deceive the general public and cast doubt on climate science."

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"The study takes what we know about the strong relationship between climate and burned area, and extends this understanding to the role of big fossil fuel emitters," explained Caroline Juang, a researcher with the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, to CNN. Jatan Buch, a research scientist at the same observatory added, "The continued greenhouse gas emissions due to these companies' products in the late 20th century resulted in loading the dice for the western U.S. climate toward a hotter and drier future with a higher likelihood of catastrophic wildfires."

Editor's note: The original version of this article contained inaccurate statistics and has since been corrected. We regret the error.

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