Inside the Arctic Circle, in Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Norway, and – with particularly devastating consequences – Greece, forest fires burnt with ferocious intensity across Europe this summer. While such fires are predominantly sparked by lightning or people, they were driven by a heatwave that scientists say may soon be the norm. The question is, what can be done?
It is important to note that forest fires are not inherently bad: in fact, they can be a natural phenomenon that boreal and Mediterranean ecosystems have adapted to, and that have ecological benefits contributing to forests’ long-term vitality. Yet the out-of-control infernos that engulfed parts of Europe signified something else entirely.
One important step to help prevent them would be to halt the expansion of monoculture tree plantations, typically made up of pine or eucalyptus trees. These are generally more susceptible to the spread of fire than mixed or old-growth forests. A diverse landscape with diverse forests provides a greater bulwark or natural barrier against the large-scale and uncontrollable forest fires we are now witnessing.
The European Union and national governments must promote the restoration of diverse forests; this would benefit fire prevention and containment as well as increase the carbon European forests hold, providing a vital weapon in the fight against climate change.