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Summer Wildfires Affect the Weather?and our Health

These days, summer always seems to bring a long season of wildfires, clouding the skies with smoke. Dr. Paul Epstein says, "The rise of U.S. wildfires is turning global warming into a real and direct health threat for American adults and children."

Epstein says, "The chief concern has to be that global warming, if left unchecked, will mean more intense weather extremes, including drought. The resulting?and worsening?wildfire problems in the United States could well mean a steadily increasing toll in the related health problems."

The illnesses most affected by spreading wildfire pollution are asthma, chronic lung disease, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. There is even an increased risk of cancer, due to the toxic chemicals that are released into the atmosphere when houses catch fire.

Environmentalist William H. Schlesinger says, "Global warming is causing much of the world's water to evaporate, leaving dry vulnerable forests. In addition to this development, the United State's fire-suppression campaign of the late 20th century left us with a hefty fuel load in the forests?by extinguishing all these naturally burning fires, we've halted the natural fire cycle of the forests. Now, they're primed to ignite. There already are wildfires burning this summer in five Western states?and that's just as we are getting into the summer months?There will be no relief from the drought that fuels the wildfires until our nation's leaders get serious about curbs on CO2 emissions."

We need to curb our beetles too. Brian Rooney writes in abcnews.com that hundreds of thousands of pine trees in California are infested by bark-eating beetles that weaken the trees and make them much more likely to spontaneously combust. Normally, most of the beetles are killed by tree sap, but drought-stricken trees don?t produce enough sap to defend themselves.

Glenn Barley of the California Department of Forestry says, "There's not many trees around here that don't represent a threat to a house, a person or a power line, or a road. So, eventually all of these trees will have to be removed or they are going to come down on their own."

Homeowner Larry Backer says, "I've heard of people refinancing their houses. I've talked to people it has cost $20,000 to cut down trees."

If we don't take action about global warming soon, it may be the final hour for us, as well as for our trees. Don't miss Whitley's interview of the British Astronomer Royal Martin Rees on last week's Dreamland.

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