Wildfires have raged through southern Europe in the past few weeks, and the apocalyptic scenes are just the beginning, reports Borzou Daragahi
一世t is the storied sea traversed by Odysseus and the Vikings, a body of water that has been the wellspring of civilisations, culture and commerce, as well as countless myths and legends. It is the vacation destination for millions of 人们 who enjoy its splendid beaches, verdant islands and ancient ruins.
But the Mediterranean Sea littoral is turning into a wasteland, and as shown by the vast fires engulfing parts of Greece, 火鸡, 意大利, Algeria and Tunisia.
Scientists say the region’s unique geographic location — a body of water sandwiched between three giant land masses — make it particularly vulnerable to climate change. The region is already outpacing global average temperature increases by more than 20 per cent since the end of the 19th century. Researchers have detected numerous disturbing patterns that have included hotter temperatures and altered rainfall patterns.
“I am definitely seeing varying trends in the Mediterranean basin in terms of droughts getting harsher, a bit more unpredictable and frequent, average temperatures increasing and extreme heat waves,” said California-based climate researcher Gokce Sencan.
Fires have laid waste to tens of thousands of hectares of woodlands in vast stretches along the Mediterranean in the past few weeks. At least eight people have died in Turkey, where fires have been concentrated in the southwest. Four people have been killed in wildfires in the wooded mountain Kabylie region of Algeria east of the capital.
Tunisia’s Bizerte province was hit by a wildfire Monday amid strong winds and temperatures blasting as high as 122 degrees fahrenheit (50 degrees centigrade). Morocco suffered wildfires in July which destroyed 1,200 hectares of forest.
Greece’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said 586 fires had erupted over the last week throughout the country.
“It is a disaster without precedent,” said Christian Solinas, the governor of Italy’s Sardinia Island.
The fires have displaced thousands, scorched treasured forests, and killed untold numbers of living creatures.
“Tens of thousands of animals died in the fires for no reason,” said Emir Eksioglu, a spokesperson for Turkey’s Green Party, which the government in Ankara has refused to recognise as an official political grouping despite surging support in opinion polls. “Bears, deer, squirrels, pigs, 海龟. People’s love for animals gives me hope. But I do not see the same hope in government policies.”
Though Spain and Portugal have been spared the worst of the wildfires so far this year, Professor Kurmaz cautioned that anticipated hot temperatures could prompt severe blazes in the Iberian peninsula as well.
Though rising atmospheric temperatures are contributing to drier forests more susceptible to wildfires, uncontrolled land-use has exacerbated the problem, says Irem Daloglu Cetinkaya, an environmental scientist at Istanbul’s Bogazici University.
“These forest fires are not only because of the changes in climate,“ 她说. “There is also the accumulation of too much garbage and land use changes, and development. There are two things happening at the same time.”
Experts have warned of the effects of rising temperatures on the Mediterranean for years. A study prepared last year by McKinsey and Associates forecast rising numbers of heatwaves, increased drought and decreased precipitation devastating food production and decimating tourism throughout the Mediterranean states.
“The Mediterranean basin is often perceived as the ultimate in climate, comfort, and culture,” said the report. “然而, climate change may harshen the Mediterranean climate and disrupt vital industries such as tourism and agriculture.”
In a study published last year, a pair of MIT scientists argued that the unique location of the Meditarranean made it particularly vulnerable to climate change. While rising temperatures will be coupled with increased rainfall throughout much of the world, the Meditarranean is being saddled with both hotter and drier weather.
Wind patterns create a natural higher pressure system associated with hot dry weather over the Meditarranean. 同时, the temperature differential between land and sea is closing faster in the Meditarranean than other places because it is surrounded by three land masses.
“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography,” researcher Alexandre Tuel told an MIT journal. “Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.”
Professor Kurmaz, whose team is about to release a paper on wildfires, predicted that by century’s end, the climate in southern Turkey, southern Greece and southern Italy will be similar to Cairo and the southern Iraqi city of Basra now.
“We’re moving toward that,“ 他说. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Scientists say governments can make efforts to mitigate, accommodate and perhaps even reverse some of the disastrous changes. Turks have criticised their government for failing to have allocated enough planes specialised in putting out forest fires.
Governments can also limit development on vulnerable lands and allocate more undisturbed green spaces. “We interfere in the forest areas,” said Ms Cetinkaya. “We use them for recreation. We pollute them. Climate change is kind of unavoidable, but we can reduce the impact of it.”
But instead of coming to grips with the reality of the changing climate, those living in the wildfire-stricken countries are instead casting about for conspiracies. Turks for example have alleged that Kurdish separatists associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) set the fires.
“People in Italy think it’s the mafia,” said Ms Sencan. “People in Greece think it’s the Turks. People in Turkey think it’s the PKK. But no one stops to think: did they all organize to start the fires around the same week? People don’t like to focus on the big picture.”