Siberian forests on fire. To extinguish or not to extinguish? When as says a leading German expert on fires in Russia Professor Johann Georg Goldammer. Exclusive interview with DW.
Forest fires in Siberia Johann Georg Goldammer (Johann Georg Goldammer) monitors for more than twenty five years. Such large-scale fires, like this year, the scientist had predicted back in 1993. “But no one listened,” says in a conversation with DW Professor Goldammer. Today he is head of the Center for global fire monitoring in Freiburg and one of the most sought-after professionals in the world on forest fire.
Fires in the Arctic and in Siberia, forced to revisit his experience. People often want to get a simple answer: to extinguish the fire or not, but the simple answer to this question, admits the scientist. In the Soviet period and in the first years of independent Russia, there existed a dogma that the fires in any case, it is necessary to extinguish, said Goldammer: “the USSR had the infrastructure to fight fires, which later collapsed. After the fires of 2010, which clearly was traumatic for Russia, the country has done a lot to restore (the system of extinguishing fires. – Ed.)”. But enough of this, Goldammer say difficult.
By themselves, forest fires are a normal natural phenomenon
Today dogma about forest fires not: the Governor of Krasnoyarsk region Alexander USS this week stated that to extinguish some of them as meaningless as flushing of icebergs, “we were warm”. In Russia, these words have caused outrage on the background of the fire, which engulfed millions of acres of forest. But a German Professor believes that in the statement of the Governor is “a particle of the bitter truth,” because “resources to fight large-scale fires is not there.”
In North America the situation is similar, says the scientist. The accepted practice today is to put out only when fires threaten the infrastructure or residential towns. By themselves, forest fires are a normal natural phenomenon, they needed to update the forest.
Major fires have occurred regularly before. “In 1925, several weeks stood a smog that covered, if I’m not mistaken, almost 2 million square kilometers of territory of Russia”, – reminds Goldammer.
Profession for a new era: the Manager fires
There is another problem: unlike in previous eras, when it was time for the natural regeneration of forests in 100-200 years, today, due to human activities and accelerating climate change that there is no time. Today among experts on fires have confirmed the view that the answer to the question to extinguish or not to extinguish, should be given only after analysis of the situation.
“Sometimes the line between fire that will benefit and those that cause damage, very thin,” explains the Professor from Freiburg. The current international practice of fighting fires, he considers outdated. Professor advises several governments and proposes to introduce a new profession – Manager of the fire: “He must know a lot more about the ecology, climate, atmospheric phenomena, and not just to be able to put out the fires.”
“In the scientific community it is believed that right now is changing the geological epoch that continues Goldammer. – We live in the era of the anthropocene. But this era is coming to an end.” The anthropocene is a term that describes the human impact on the planet and popularized by scientist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, well established in the scientific community recently. Is it all changes so fast? “The new term yet, but we are experts on fires, already know how it should be: this pyrozen – the era of fire,” answers Goldammer.
Fires change the environment
Even before the abrupt climate change humanity as a whole is poorly prepared for natural disasters. But the fires this year – the harbingers of a completely different situation. And to her, warns a scientist, yet none is ready. According to him, today the burn from 300 to 600 million hectares of forest.
Fires cause direct damage to property and health of people, but far more dangerous for humanity in the long run. They, in the words of a German Professor, strengthen the transformation of the environment: “the Question is not philosophical, but pragmatic: can we stop the transformation?”.
Goldammer gave the example of the replacement of forests by steppes in Central and southern Siberia and in Northern Mongolia: “There are illegal loggings and forest fires with climate change has led to the fact that there is so-called green “the desert.”
The main problem: these steppes are unable to perform the functions of a forest, for example, can be comparable with the forests of the CO2. Complex problems arising from fires and climate change, forest protection authorities worldwide do not pay sufficient attention, the scientist complains.
Russia has wealth. But it’s highly explosive
Russia with its 1.3 billion hectares of forest has huge potential for climate regulation – if it is used correctly. “If not, Russia will turn into a huge bomb of CO2, especially given the thawing of permafrost. Task (for forest preservation. – Ed.) just gigantic. But politicians think in the short term, it is absolutely not interesting,” says a German scientist.
But awareness of the problem still comes. “I hope, – summed up Professor Goldammer that a year later we say that 2019 was the year of awakening, at least in the West. Including the movement for Future Fridays (the environmental movement in climate protection, which is the beginning of a schoolgirl from Sweden Greta Thunberg. – Ed.). Policy began to react, realizing that the climate is changing and what those changes are dangerous.”