Is Global Warming Really Fueling Wildfires Across Greece? Here’s What The Data Actually Says

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Wildfires are raging across the Greek Peloponnesus, and politicians and media outlets have done their best to tie the blazes to man-made global warming.

“Climate change worsened deadly Greek wildfires,” Axios reported Wednesday. The Washington Post lumped Greek wildfires in a story claiming that “[c]limate change is supercharging a hot and dangerous summer.”

Even Greek Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said local weather conditions were “extreme due to climate change.”

Indeed, extremely hot weather and high winds allowed fires to spread quickly before firefighters could contain the blazes. Climate scientists expect increased wildfire risks in many areas of the world with more global warming.

But even though temperatures across Greece have increased in recent decades, wildfires in Greece, and Mediterranean Europe as a whole, have declined since 1980. (RELATED: It Took National Geographic 7 Months To Admit It ‘Went Too Far’ Linking An Iconic Image Of A Dying Polar Bear To Global Warming)

Environmental policy expert Bjorn Lomborg actually looked at the data and found the area burnt by fires in Southern Europe, including Greece, has nearly halved in the last 26 years. Lomborg also noted that the amount of forested area in Europe has also dramatically increased in recent decades, as had development and population.

In fact, Europe as a whole is seeing fewer acres consumed by wildfires in 2018 than normal, compared to the average over the last decade.

Wildfire activity in Greece is also slightly below the 10-year average, despite an incredibly hot start to summer. Swansea University professors Stefan Doerr and Cristina Santín noted in an analysis Friday that “[u]ntil a few days ago, Greece had experienced fewer fires than is typical.”

European Union data shows that Greece saw, if anything, a downward trend in acres consumed by fire from 1980 to 2016. While Greece is now seeing devastating fires, other countries that often see such events aren’t seeing any.

Doerr and Santin wrote that in “Italy and Croatia the area burned is well below average” and that “Spain and Portugal, which normally have fire damage over a greater area than any other European countries, have suffered relatively few fires – with only 12% and 5% of the average area burned, respectively.”

Meanwhile, Northern Europe is experiencing a rare heat wave that’s fueling massive fires in areas not used to such blazes. For example, “Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany and Latvia have seen between 20 and 200 times the normal area burned,” Doerr and Santin wrote.

Greek authorities suspect arson was involved in the Mati fire that killed at least 83 people, and officials suspect another smaller fire that broke out near Athens was also started intentionally.

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