The American West has always had forest fires — just not like this. Blazes are spreading further and burning longer, incinerating towns and exposing millions of people to noxious smoke. While a century of fire suppression and other land management choices contribute to the severity, climate change is a key factor fueling these fires, roughly doubling the acreage burned over the last 40 years. A new study takes this connection one step further, making the case that a significant chunk of burned forests — nearly 20 million acres — can be traced back to major fossil fuel companies.
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters on Tuesday, is the first to quantify how corporate emissions have made wildfires worse. Experts say the new research could help advance growing efforts to take polluters to court.