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A Picturesque, Damning View Of Our Wildfire Planet

The Puglia region in Italy in flames

Alessio Perrone

Salento, the very southeastern tip of Italy, is a flat and shrubby land of farmers, stunning beaches and simple rural villages built around Baroque churches. Thousands of Italians and foreigners flock to this part of the Puglia region on the heel of the Italian boot every summer, lured by its promise of a rustic, idyllic break.

My family is there now, like every summer, because that's where they (we!) come from: my grandfather was one of the farmers that looked after the centuries-old olive trees, vineyards and orchards that grow in the parched, deep red earth under the scorching summer sun.

But it has more recently also become a land of wildfires. Dozens of hectares of farmland have gone up in smoke during a series of testing heatwaves — the harshest of which is predicted to hit later this week. The flames have sieged the highways, scared tourists off the camping sites, then danced towards the beaches, in scenes I have not seen there since I was born. It is just one flare up in a rash of fires that have consumed some 103,000 hectares across Italy so far this year.

Of course, it's part of a continental, if not global, inferno. The world has watched in awe as wildfires ravaged places as far away as Siberia and Turkey, California and Canada. Earlier this week, tourists and thousands of residents were forced to flee the Greek island of Evia after it experienced the worst heatwave in decades, propelling temperatures well above 40℃ and creating ideal conditions for fires to rage. On the other side of the Mediterranean, Tunisia's fires have suddenly turned deadly. After Greece, Italy has recorded the second-highest number of wildfires in Europe so far, with southern regions like Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia burning at unprecedented speeds.

Watching from a distance, I couldn't help but see the events as predictable — most of my generation has known the dangers of climate change for years. When a major UN climate report this week described climate change as an inevitable, unprecedented emergency that is happening sooner and faster than expected, that too was no surprise.

We've been warned plenty of times before. We knew there would be consequences, damages, casualties. We have, indeed, seen the fires spreading.

And yet it's a different feeling not only to know about the threat of wildfires but to see it on your doorstep, closing in on your family, devouring the increasingly arid land your grandfather used to look after. Even if I've always been conscious of climate change and have tried to act accordingly, I never thought it would touch someone I know so soon. It's frightening, mesmerizing, hypnotic — like watching a fire burn — to think that even myself and my generation have been staring at reality, and yet never truly realizing that it's already happening. That it's coming for us.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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