Fire and (no) Ice: Climate Security Landscapes in Fall 2020

Two current catastrophes with a strong climate change impact are illustrating a different kind of climate security landscape. They should be seen as a wakeup call that alerts us of the urgency of finding sustainable solutions. The devastating forest fires in the Western United States, especially California, have already destroyed more than 4000 buildings and forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes. The area affected, more than 12 million acres, is nearly as large as that of the island of Vanuatu. Moving further north, the sea ice in the Arctic reached its annual minimum extent by mid-September, just 3.74 million square kilometres. In four decades of satellite recording, this is the second-lowest level on record.

Both catastrophes are worrisome signals of long-term downward trends. Given the current atmosphere of climate denial in significant parts of the United States, the elections in early November are taking on more and more the character of a final exam – one that will determine whether the United States returns to the table to ensure global risk management, or stays at the margin to play with fire – and no ice.