forest fires here, “this is only the beginning” warns a scientist

forest fires here, “this is only the beginning” warns a scientist
forest fires here, “this is only the beginning” warns a scientist

The evidence of great global warming is before our eyes. The summer of 2022 was marked by a new drought and numerous fires. Will this phenomenon repeat itself, get worse? What are the keys to acting both at the level of citizens and politicians? Decryption with Daniel Gilbert, professor of ecology at the University of Franche-Comté and director of the Zone Atelier Arc Jurassien.

A France on fire. The fires ravaged many forests from the Gironde to Brittany this summer. At the end of August, more than 62,000 hectares burned across France. Nearly 1000 hectares in the verdant Jura massif.

Daniel Gilbert was not surprised by the fires that ravaged several municipalities in the Jura this summer 2022 in Cernon, or Menouille… At the beginning of July, in the field, he discussed global warming with elected officials from Doubs: “I told them that in a short time, the Jura will be on fire” remembers the scientist. “These fires are just the beginning.”

The big difference between today and before is that the soil is drying out deeply.

Daniel Gilbert, professor of ecology at the University of Franche-Comté

Water is lacking today on several levels

Daniel Gilbert explains the difference between blue water, the one that falls from the sky, runs off in lakes and rivers and green water, the one that settles in the soil and plants. “This green water is what is impacted by the drought. Systems must be found to ensure that the water remains in the soil. It is not by storing blue water in basins that we gain green water” summarizes Daniel Gilbert.


© BROCARD Laurent

Repeated droughts obviously come as no surprise to this peatland specialist. “We destroyed the peat bogs. We did not see that by drying them out, we impoverished the system in water. It is deprived of its ability to resist drought” explains the professor of ecology. “The suffering that we see on the rivers is a suffering that is primarily linked to wetlands” says Daniel Gilbert. The peat bogs present on the Jura massif have been drained to make meadows, some are still there, but they are in poor condition. They no longer play their role of absorbing rainwater. “A peat bog that dries out also releases CO2 and accelerates global warming” concludes the scientist. A vicious circle.

The Frasne peat bog in the Haut-Doubs near Pontarlier, for example, is in itself one of the very concrete points of observation of global warming. “In 15 years, from 2009 to today, the temperature of the bog has increased by one degree. I thought I was wrong when I did the calculations” launches the Comtois university.


It is here, in the peat bog of Frasne, that the scientists of the Labo Chrono Environnement have set up their observation station (in the center of the photo on the left). On this image seen from the sky, the white surface marks the observation pontoon of the scientists: the area is too wet to advance there otherwise.

© Daniel Gilbert, University of Franche-Comté

Europe wants to be the first continent to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Launched in 2019, the Green Pact for Europe commits States to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions. The objective is to reduce them by 55% in 2030 compared to their 1990 level. For Daniel Gilbert, “yes, we can achieve this objective of carbon neutrality. Any current action will have effects in a long time. The next 20 years are not going to vary much, whatever we do” warns the scientist.

We must fight for the years 2040-2050. And this is crucial, every tenth of a degree is extremely important.

Daniel Gilbert, professor of ecology at the University of Franche-Comté

For the professor of ecology, the leeway lies in our consumption patterns. We will have to reduce it in all areas to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Better insulate housing, change modes of transport for less polluting vehicles, review modes of transport, consume less meat, raise fewer cows, transform the agricultural world… consume less, of clothes, useless objects…

“We know the solutions. These are revolutions, we know that” alert the scientist. The climate agreement signed in Paris in 2015 aims to contain global warming by 2100 to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, and to continue efforts to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5° vs.

All the objectives are tenable, but I think it will be politically impossible or else we will have to have a Charles de Gaulle, a Churchill who is capable of saying, here is the truth!

Daniel Gilbert, professor of ecology

Daniel Gilbert is convinced that the fight against global warming will be done by steps, by stairs. “Covid-19 is a march, Ukraine is a march” he said. According to him, profound changes will be needed for the 400 to 500 million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions emitted by France to be reduced to 100 million in 2050.

For the scientist, other major events such as wars, famines, epidemics will perhaps contribute to accelerating the fight against global warming. “It is quite likely that we will have regional population collapses by 2030-2040” he said. Impossible to rejoice, “with global warming, we are approaching limits, tensions everywhere” concludes Daniel Gilbert. In short, the urgency to act is there and according to the specialist, all elected decision-makers have not fully realized this.


The article is in French

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