A study published in the journal Science tied airborne particulate matter from wildfire smoke in 2020 to a surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in California, Oregon and Washington.
“Fine particulate matter air pollution can be an additional vehicle for spreading the virus even faster,” said Francesca Dominici, a co-author of the study. “Considering that we are seeing an increased risk of cases from the Delta [variant] and we already have the wildfires, that’s going to be concerning.”
Covid can be controlled by vaccines. Governments are less far along addressing climate change. It underlies the increasing severity of wild fires, according to a landmark UN report out in August, which suggested the earth has warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels and is approaching the 1.5 degrees that countries agreed would be a tipping point. Wildfires are thought to be a major symptom of that change.
Climate refugees? Maybe not yet. Clearly the government will have to do things in the short term and long term to address the fire threat. Another question is what will people do?
“It is profoundly a different wish list. A place where we have [running] water, where we are not … having bags packed in case fires evacuate us,” said Nichols.
Yurkevich includes data from Redfin that confounds the notion of climate displacement in the US.
- Counties with homes facing the highest heat risk saw populations increase by an average of 4.7% over the last five years.
- Counties with homes facing high drought risk saw population growth of 3.5%, fire risk counties grew by 3%, flood 1.9%, and storm 0.4% over the last five years.
- Meanwhile, places with relatively low climate risks have experienced population declines. The 50 counties with the lowest number of homes facing heat risk, for example, saw a population loss of 1.4% in the last five years, according to Redfin.
“Counterintuitively, people are moving to places with higher climate risk,” Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin told her. “And it seems like climate, although it’s something that people care about, is at the bottom of the list or it’s not the top priority.”