By Dave Sewell
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A song of ice on fire—Greenland burns

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Issue 2568
The fire in Greenland raises a stark vision of the future
The fire in Greenland raises a stark vision of the future (Pic: European Space Agency (ESA))

What appears to be Greenland’s largest ever fire is now burning into its fourth week. First spotted on 31 July, it’s expected to stay ablaze well into September.

Some 80 percent of the surface of Greenland is now covered in ice.

On the remaining tundra wildfires are uncommon and generally small. But a hot, dry summer has made 2017 a record year for fires.

The average temperature in July of this year was 7.1 degrees Celsius, compared to 6.3 degrees for 1961-1990.

According to Nasa, almost no rain fell in Sisimiut, the nearest city to the fire, in June and half the usual amount in July.

The smoke could speed up the destruction of the Greenland ice cap.

Crucially, it fits into a broader pattern of major fires all over the northern hemisphere this summer.

More than 60 people were killed by huge forest fires in Portugal in June.

This was part of a heatwave that saw 60 wildfires blazing across the small country in just one night.

That heatwave generated an arc of fires stretching from northern Algeria to southern Ukraine.

In Romania and Italy there were almost three times the usual amount of wildfires.

Similar dramatic increases in wildfires took place in the US and Canada.

Scientists are working out whether the Greenland fire can be firmly attributed to climate change.


The same question hangs over a “mega-tsunami” that destroyed a Greenland fishing village in June.

Massive chunks of glacier-held rock fell for more than a kilometre into the sea, kicking up a wave 100 metres high.

How can we save the planet and stop catastrophic climate change?
How can we save the planet and stop catastrophic climate change?
  Read More

Water from melting glaciers is the number one suspect for causing the landslide, and climate change models predict this kind of disaster.

Any given fire can have any number of causes, from a lightning strike to a discarded piece of glass, and there have always been heatwaves. But the pattern is undeniable.

The climate is getting hotter due to greenhouse gas emissions.

This summer’s fires sound an urgent warning of how far down this path we’ve already come.

Warming that turns even icebound Greenland into kindling is deadliest in poorer and hotter parts of the world.

One recent study predicted that by 2100 parts of the Indian subcontinent could see regular humid heatwaves hard even for healthy adults to survive.

Adapting to survive in such a hot world would mean a complete transformation in how society is organised.

Everything from food production to housing would need to change—and hundreds of millions of people may need to migrate.

Even this would be in vain without ending the fossil fuel-addicted economy that continues to pump out more emissions.

But the capitalist system that puts profit first stands in the way of such adaptations—and with them, the survival of billions.

Failing to confront it means fiddling while the world burns.

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