University of Montana scientists suggest that wildfires such as the one that is making its way through the boreal forests of Canada will continue to do so due to the effects of climate change. (Photo : Getty Images)

Global Issues: Climate Change

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Climate change is a global problem that has been plaguing us for years. And while experts around the world are persistent in finding ways to curb the effects of climate change, Cambridge engineering professor Michael Kelly says the attempts to fix it could actually be making the situation worse than it already is.

In his peer-reviewed article published at Review Journal, MRS Energy & Sustainability, Kelly describes the efforts to cut carbon emissions as “total madness” and argues that it would not make “serious reduction.”

New research from University of Montana scientists suggests that the wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray and continues to makes its way through the boreal forests of Alberta, Canada, isn’t a one-time affair. The data suggests that such events will continue to become more common due to the effects of climate change.

The recent Canadian fire led to the evacuation of 88,000 people and a decrease in the nation’s oil production by one-third. The new study indicates that northern boreal forests in the U.S. state of Alaska and other high altitude locations will continue to be vulnerable to such fires due to global warming.

Although the new study focused on Alaska, the findings – which have been accepted for publication in the journal Ecography: Pattern And Diversity in Ecology – suggest that climate change will continue to increase the risks of such fires in all high altitude regions around the world. Specifically, they found that the risk of a fire in northern regions will likely increase up to four times in comparison to recent decades.

“We looked at the location of wildfires across Alaska during the past 60 years and, not surprisingly, found that they were most common in regions with warm, dry summers,” said Adam Young, a University of Montana scientist and co-author of the research.

Young claims that as regions get warmer due to climate change, there will be “a sharp increase in the likelihood that a fire will occur in a region.”

Despite the fact that forest fires are a part of the history of the boreal forest and occur naturally, the data from recent decades points to a surge that might be reaching an unnatural level of frequency and intensity, suggesting a link to global warming and climate change.

“The Alberta wildfires are an excellent example of what we’re seeing more and more of: warming means snow melts earlier, soils and vegetation dries out earlier, and the fire season starts earlier,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist from the University of Arizona. “It’s a train wreck.”

Boreal forests and Tundra in the northern areas of the world contain a huge amount of carbon, storing around 50 percent of the total soil carbon on Earth. A higher frequency of fires will lead to more carbon in the atmosphere, increasing the concentration of climate changing gases and creating a dangerous negative feedback loop.

“Globally we are seeing more fires, bigger fires, more severe fires,” said Kevin Ryan, a retired U.S. Forest Service scientist who now works as a fire consultant.

In December, nearly 200 nations signed the Paris Agreement, the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal that aims to end fossil fuel era. The pact set a new goal to reach net zero emissions in the second half of the century, conveying a strong command that all global markets shall speed up the shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

Kelly argues in the paper that decarbonization will simply not be possible without a significant reduction in standards of living.

According to him, high culture would be quite impossible without fossil fuels.

“The call to decarbonize the global economy by 80% by 2050 can now only be described as glib in my opinion, as the underlying analysis shows it is only possible if we wish to see large parts of the population die from starvation, destitution or violence in the absence of enough low-carbon energy to sustain society,” he writes in the review.

As mentioned by Ecology.com, statistics from Energy Information Agency show that only about 7 percent of the world’s energy needs is supplied by renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and hydro power.

This means that the other 93 percent of the world’s energy resources come from fossil fuels, along with nuclear energy.

Because of that quantity Kelly believes that removing fossil fuels from the equation is not that easy and will take longer than predicted by some experts.

Alternative energy is an attractive concept when you think about it. But the trouble is that fossil fuels are limited. Whether we like it or not, they will be depleted.

Aside from that, he also said the some steps to curb the effects of climate change are actually making things worse. Citing the closure of UK’s aluminum smelters as an example, he said that while it indeed reduced nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, aluminum imported from China is making the global emission problem worse since China uses more primitive coal-based sources of energy.

Kelly suggests that a more feasible alternative is to utilize another generation of fossil fuels-as to not weaken the already crumbling economic conditions of the world, especially those in the third world countries.

Kelly believes there are more alternate solutions which can be explored and developed, rather than looking for fossil fuel subsidies. As the global population is set to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion in 2050, there is a need to rethink about it as alternative source of energy may not be enough to fend for the whole population.

By Tyler MacDonald

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