The Fossil Fuels Behind Forest Fires

Quantifying the Contribution of Major Carbon Producers to Increasing Wildfire Risk

Date: Friday, May 16, 2023
Complete Article: Union of Concerned Scientists (USA)

Report Overview:

A peer-reviewed study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that 19.8 million acres of burned forest land — 37 percent of the total area scorched by forest fires in the western United States and southwestern Canada since 1986 — can be attributed to heat-trapping emissions traced to the world’s 88 largest fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers.

Emissions from these companies and their products also contributed to nearly half of the increase in drought- and fire-danger conditions across the region since 1901.

The study — and other attribution studies like it — offers policymakers, elected officials, and legal experts a scientific basis for holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the impacts of their products and their decades-long deception efforts.

Excerpt from Report:

The question of who bears responsibility for climate change and its impacts is being actively explored in both scientific and legal realms, along the same lines as discussions of corporations’ responsibility for other damaging products. While nation-states and individuals shoulder some responsibility, corporations have historically been held accountable for at least some of the damages caused by their products, like asbestos and tobacco. Similarly, corporate entities—particularly fossil fuel companies—can and should be held accountable for climate harms.

As early as 1965, major fossil fuel companies and their industry associations were aware that the use of fossil fuels would negatively affect Earth’s climate (Franta 2018). However, rather than shifting their business models or warning policymakers and the public, for decades these companies have operated campaigns of disinformation and deception about the causes and science of climate change while throwing their financial weight behind efforts to block any meaningful climate action.

As communities in the United States and around the world increasingly turn to the courts to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for harms that were foreseen and preventable, this analysis highlights and underscores the responsibility these companies bear for the impacts and costs of climate change.

All companies operate with a social license, and companies that fail to act responsibly can lose the public’s trust. The federal government and public officials at all levels have important roles to play in establishing corporate climate accountability.

Read the Whole Report

Scroll to Top