Friday, December 3

The flames warn | Opinion

Hills burned by one of the forest fires on the Greek island of Euboea on the 12th.
Hills burned by one of the forest fires on the Greek island of Euboea on the 12th.ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS / Reuters

The landscape of provisional figures that the fire leaves behind this summer in the Mediterranean is difficult to assimilate. In Greece there are 116,000 hectares devastated since the end of July, two dead and hundreds of houses destroyed in Euboea, the Peloponnese and Athens. Entire populations have lost all their livelihoods. The country managed to take the situation under control on Friday (there are no major active sources), thanks to the truce facilitated by the rain and a drop in temperatures. At the same time, eight people trapped in the fire have died in Turkey. In Italy, where 48.8 degrees have been recorded, five people lost their lives in fires. Across the sea, in Algeria, the flames left more than 70 dead. In much of Spain and Portugal, the situation in the face of the heat wave is extremely risky. The chain of horrors, which may not be over, reminds us that the Mediterranean must adapt as soon as possible to being Europe’s trench in the consequences of climate change.

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It is wrong to blame climate change for a particular fire, as it diverts the debate. The culprit is recklessness, accident or arsonist, who have been successfully fought through awareness raising and sanctions. The number of fires is going down. But what the climate emergency is doing is turning any fire into potentially devastating, fires in which emergency crews can do nothing more than evacuate populations along the way. Experts began to see this phenomenon in 2017. In the last four years, Portugal, California and Australia have been the tragic laboratories of this type of uncontrollable fires. Firefighters with decades of experience face fires that surpass anything they learned when they started out in the trade.

These megafires explode on the dryness and high temperatures caused by climate change, without which they cannot be explained. According to the latest report from the UN Climate Change Panel, presented this week, extreme events will continue to increase in intensity and frequency for at least this entire century, in the best possible scenario. That no longer has a remedy. More droughts and heat will make the risk of gigantic fires extreme for decades. The question now is to adapt to that world.

Although no investment in human and material means of extinction is superfluous, the tactical response has been overwhelmed by reality. The countries in the forefront of this phenomenon must focus on strategic prevention. Forest management historically focused on extinction contributes to the perfect storm. You should focus on cleaning combustible material from the bush before the high temperatures turn it into a pyre ready to burn. In the European case, it is already common to mobilize resources from one country to another in these emergencies, an essential solidarity coordination, since it can be expected that more and more large fires exceed the local and even national scope, overflowing the resources of the countries. One can only wonder which country will be next. The Mediterranean is on the front lines of climate change. What we are seeing is a rehearsal of the future. Governments and the EU must now think and articulate responses to the fires of that future.

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