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Op-Ed: Don’t believe self-serving messengers. Logging will not prevent destructive wildfires

Chad Hanson, LOS ANGELES TIMES

My community of Big Bear City, in the mountains east of Los Angeles, had a tense week recently. For a few nerve-racking days, the El Dorado fire, which has burned more than 20,000 acres in and around the San Bernardino National Forest, threatened to move our way.

The fire had seen little movement in the previous days, despite the fact that it was burning in dense forests with many dead trees and downed logs. Weather conditions had been cool and calm. Then things changed, and quickly. The weather shifted to hot, dry and windy. Right away, the El Dorado fire began spreading much more rapidly, toward Big Bear. We were notified to prepare for potential evacuation. Several days later, temperatures cooled again, winds died down and fire activity calmed.

Scenarios like this are playing out across the western United States, especially in California and Oregon. Many homes have been lost and, tragically, at least 30 lives too. Numerous communities have been forced to evacuate, displacing thousands of families. People are scared and looking for answers.

Meanwhile, as wildfires continue in parts of the West that don’t often burn, a troubling new form of climate change denial has crept into the public dialogue, and it is only increasing the threats to public safety.

The logging industry — and the Republican and Democratic politicians whose reelection campaigns it finances — are busy telling the press and the public that they should focus on “forest management” in remote wildlands, rather than on climate change and community wildfire preparedness. Joining this chorus is a group of agency and university scientists funded by the Trump administration.

Logging bills are now being promoted in Congress, ostensibly as solutions. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced a bill last month that would severely erode environmental laws to increase commercial logging in our national forests. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has introduced a bill that would triple funding to subsidize logging on federal forestlands.
Continue reading “Op-Ed: Don’t believe self-serving messengers. Logging will not prevent destructive wildfires”

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Science Says: Climate change, people stoke California fires

Seth Borenstein, AP NEWS

If you want to build a fire, you need three things: Ignition, fuel and oxygen. But wildfire in California is a much more complex people-stoked witch’s brew.

The state burns regularly because of fierce autumn winds, invasive grasses that act as kindling, fire-happy native shrubs and trees, frequent drought punctuated by spurts of downpours, a century of fire suppression, people moving closer to the wild, homes that burn easily, people starting fires accidentally or on purpose — and most of all climate change.

“California has a really flammable ecosystem,” said University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch. “People are living in flammable places, providing ignition, starting the wildfires against a backdrop of a warming climate that is making wildfires worse.”

Trying to manage California’s wildfires is like trying to hold back a tidal wave, said Columbia University fire scientist A. Park Williams: “Big fires are kind of inevitable in California.”

And it’s getting worse, fast. Area burned by wildfire in California increased more than fivefold since 1972, from a five-year average of 236 square miles (611 square kilometers) a year to 1,394 square miles (3,610 square kilometers) a year according to a 2019 study by Williams, Balch and others.

Dozens of studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas, especially because it dries plants and makes them more flammable.

“ Fuel moisture drives the fire business,” said University of Alberta fire scientist Mike Flannigan. “Fuel moisture is being influenced by climate change.”

In California, a Mediterranean climate sets up ideal conditions for fire then is worsened by climate change, said University of California, Merced, fire scientist LeRoy Westerling, who has had his home threatened twice in the last few years.

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FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 file photo, flames from the River Fire crest a ridge in Salinas, Calif. In California, a Mediterranean climate sets up ideal conditions for fire then is worsened by climate change, says University of California, Merced, fire scientist LeRoy Westerling, who has had his home threatened twice in the last few years. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

If you want to build a fire, you need three things: Ignition, fuel and oxygen. But wildfire in California is a much more complex people-stoked witch’s brew.

The state burns regularly because of fierce autumn winds, invasive grasses that act as kindling, fire-happy native shrubs and trees, frequent drought punctuated by spurts of downpours, a century of fire suppression, people moving closer to the wild, homes that burn easily, people starting fires accidentally or on purpose — and most of all climate change.

“California has a really flammable ecosystem,” said University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch. “People are living in flammable places, providing ignition, starting the wildfires against a backdrop of a warming climate that is making wildfires worse.”

Trying to manage California’s wildfires is like trying to hold back a tidal wave, said Columbia University fire scientist A. Park Williams: “Big fires are kind of inevitable in California.”

And it’s getting worse, fast. Area burned by wildfire in California increased more than fivefold since 1972, from a five-year average of 236 square miles (611 square kilometers) a year to 1,394 square miles (3,610 square kilometers) a year according to a 2019 study by Williams, Balch and others.

Dozens of studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in America to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas, especially because it dries plants and makes them more flammable.
Continue reading “Science Says: Climate change, people stoke California fires”

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Climate change is altering migration patterns regionally and globally

Jayla Lundstrom, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS

Since at least 2014, a growing number of asylum-seekers from Central America have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. While the response from the Obama administration raised genuine protection concerns, the Trump administration has taken the draconian and unwelcoming approach of dismantling the U.S. asylum system by restricting grounds for asylum, separating families, and illegally blocking access to ports of entry. The current administration has also adopted the “Remain in Mexico” policy and so-called safe third country agreements, which forces asylum-seekers to remain in dangerous situations.

Many individuals coming to the United States from Central America are fleeing violence, poverty, and corruption. But climate change is emerging as both a direct and an indirect driver of migration that complicates existing vulnerabilities. Persistent drought, fluctuating temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall have reduced crop yields throughout the Northern Triangle—a region that comprises El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—challenging livelihoods and access to food in agriculturally dependent communities. By denying the reality of climate change and taking a hard-line approach to migration, the Trump administration has shown its unwillingness to address the root causes of migration in the Americas.

There is currently no international legal framework to address environmental disasters and climate change as drivers of migration. There is also no consensus on what terminology should be used to describe individuals moving due to environmental factors. The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Refugee Protocol, multilateral agreements that define “refugee” and set states’ obligations for protection, were not crafted with the environment, climate change, or environmental disasters in mind—and therefore do not mention them as grounds for refugee protection. U.S. refugee policy, codified in the Refugee Act of 1980, is largely based on the framework outlined in these agreements and thus excludes these terms.

Read more at https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2019/12/03/478014/climate-change-altering-migration-patterns-regionally-globally/

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A new UN report shows that we are not on track to avoid catastrophic climate change

Priya Shukla, FORBES

Yesterday, the United Nations released its Emissions Gap Report for 2019. It has been released each year since the Paris Accords were signed in 2015 and describes each country’s “emissions gap” by comparing the amount of greenhouses gasses actually being emitted to the volume of emissions necessary to avoid the impacts of climate change. This year, it revealed that global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase over the course of the past decade, despite the threat that climate change poses.

Because greenhouse gas emissions have steadily risen for so long, more severe cutbacks and changes will be needed in the future to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels. The United States has emitted the most greenhouse gases since 1750 and is failing to meet the reduction targets established in the Paris Accords, which it is currently in the process of withdrawing from. However, several other countries, including Canada, Japan, Brazil, and Australia, are also not on track to meet the commitments their countries made.
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The planet is already seeing more intense wildfires, storms, and heatwaves. And, in order to avoid further impacts of climate change, the report suggests that countries must decrease their emissions by up to five times more than what they already have. Specifically, they would have to decrease by 7.6 percent annually until 2030 to prevent the planet from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius. This sort of dramatic reduction has only been seen during the fall of the Soviet Union when emissions fell by 6 percent in the United States and Japan.

Next month, the United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place to address how countries can work together to meet these emissions targets and next year they will meet to pledge even more cutbacks, as part of the Paris Accords. But whether they follow through on those commitments remains to be seen.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/priyashukla/2019/11/27/a-new-un-report-shows-that-we-are-not-on-track-to-avoid-catastrophic-climate-change/#3812d2b82b9a

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UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning

Seth Borenstein, SACRAMENTO BEE

Preventing an extra single degree of heat could make a life-or-death difference in the next few decades for multitudes of people and ecosystems on this fast-warming planet, an international panel of scientists reported Sunday. But they provide little hope the world will rise to the challenge.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its gloomy report at a meeting in Incheon, South Korea.

In the 728-page document, the U.N. organization detailed how Earth’s weather, health and ecosystems would be in better shape if the world’s leaders could somehow limit future human-caused warming to just 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a half degree Celsius) from now, instead of the globally agreed-upon goal of 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C). Among other things:

— Half as many people would suffer from lack of water.

— There would be fewer deaths and illnesses from heat, smog and infectious diseases.

— Seas would rise nearly 4 inches (0.1 meters) less.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/latest-news/article219656035.html#storylink=cpy

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‘It’s getting worse:’ Climate change stokes fiery future for California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Striding through the brown, sun-dried grass on a slope at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Caitlin Cornwall stopped to touch a slender stalk of blue wild rye, crowned by a tasseled seed pod.

The 3,900-acre park in the Mayacamas Mountains near Kenwood was largely overrun by the Nuns fire in October, and the signs of recovery are abundant. Most of the live oak, bay and madrone trees survived; smaller Douglas firs perished and are being dismantled by beetles and woodpeckers.

The grasslands are generally healthier than they were before last fall’s blaze and could readily burn again, said Cornwall, a biologist with Sonoma Ecology Center, which has managed the park since 2012.

“This is all a fire-created natural community,” she said. The park burned in 1964, also by a fire named Nuns.

Indeed, fire shaped the drought-prone landscape for thousands of years, as Native Americans used it to maintain meadows and forests that provided deer, elk and acorns for food as well as grasses for basketry.

But now, climate change has thrown the symbiosis of humans, fire and the landscape into catastrophic disarray. Much of California is a yearround tinderbox, with fast-moving wildfires erupting so quickly this year that firefighters have rushed from one to the next, with the usual peak of the fire season still to come.

“It just takes one spark,” said Scott McLean, a deputy chief with Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting and forestry agency.

As heat-trapping gases continue to pour into the atmosphere and temperatures inch upward, drawing moisture from the soil and vegetation, the state’s vast landscape is growing increasingly volatile, costing lives and billions of dollars in fire damages.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8737270-181/its-getting-worse-climate-change

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California Climate change report adds to evidence as state pushes back on Trump

Phil McKenna, INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS

The assessment warns of increasing wildfires, worsening droughts and more severe coastal flooding. State lawmakers are looking for solutions in renewable energy.

California published a comprehensive assessment Monday of the risks global warming is creating for the state, providing a thick tome of evidence advocates can now use to push climate legislation, pursue litigation, and attempt to sway public opinion as they take on industry and try to counter the Trump administration.

The climate change assessment by the world’s 5th largest economy relied on dozens of peer-reviewed reports that detail the effects climate change is having today and what to expect in the future, including extreme wildfires, droughts, heat waves and floods that are projected to occur with increasing frequency and severity.

“In California, facts and science still matter,” Gov. Jerry Brown said. “These findings are profoundly serious and will continue to guide us as we confront the apocalyptic threat of irreversible climate change.”

Read more at https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27082018/california-climate-change-assessment-evidence-global-warming-science-risks-policy-clean-energy

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The era of megafires: the crisis facing California and what will happen next

Daniel Swain, Crystal Kolden and John Abatzoglou, THE GUARDIAN

Three scientists explain the unprecedented danger facing the western US and call for new solutions to a growing threat from building in wildlands, fire suppression and climate change.

California is no stranger to fire. The temperate winters and reliably dry summers that make the Golden state such an attractive place to live are the same conditions that make this region among the most flammable places on Earth.

But even for a region accustomed to fire, the continuing wildfire siege has proven unprecedented. Although it is only early August, numerous very large, fast-moving, and exceptionally intense fires have already burned vast swaths of land throughout the state – consuming hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes and claiming at least nine lives, including four firefighters. State and national firefighting resources are stretched to their limits; choking smoke inundated the state capital of Sacramento; and much of Yosemite national park is closed indefinitely.
Largest wildfire in California’s history expected to burn for rest of August
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California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has characterized these devastating wildfires as California’s “new normal”. But it would be a mistake to assume that the region has reached any semblance of a stable plateau. Instead, the likelihood of large, fast-moving, and dangerous wildfires will continue to increase in the coming decades – and it will combine with other demographic and ecological shifts to produce a large increase in the risk of megafires that threaten both human lives and the ecosystems we depend upon.

Immediately on the heels of California’s deadliest and most destructive fire season, just a year ago, the early ferocity of 2018 has unnerved even veteran firefighters. While the number of fires in California to date is unremarkable, the total area burned is extraordinary: five times the five-year average, in a decade that has already been characterized by fire activity well above historical levels.

The causes are complex, and people are part of the problem. In 1980, 24 million people lived in California; today there are nearly 40 million. Much of this population growth has occurred outside of the dense urban core of cities, resulting in rapid expansion of housing in suburban and semi-rural areas adjacent to wildlands.

Of the tens of thousands of homes burned by wildfires in California in recent decades, nearly all were located in this suburban-rural borderland. With housing shortages and high prices plaguing cities throughout the state, it is unsurprising that residents build on the fringes, places often replete with natural beauty. Yet residents are often unaware of the risks inherent in living there, and the need to mitigate those risks accordingly – their lives may depend upon it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/07/california-wildfires-megafires-future-climate-change

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Drought conditions spread over much of California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sixteen days into summer, with wildfires raging over the bone-dry landscape and more scorching hot days ahead, it might feel as if California is on the verge of another drought.

The official word from weather authorities shows much of the state trending in that direction.

Abnormally dry or drought conditions prevail over 85 percent of California, including the coast from Monterey County to the Oregon border, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.

Nearly all of Lake County and parts of eastern Napa and Mendocino counties are now in moderate drought, authorities said.

The coast of central and southern California, from San Luis Obispo County to the Mexican border, is in “severe drought,” with the state’s southeastern toe in “extreme drought.”

The contrast is stark with last year at this time.

In mid-2017, on the heels of a drought-busting rainy season, the same report listed 76 percent of California — encompassing everything north of Monterey County — free of drought or abnormal dryness. Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions were mostly limited to a coastal strip running south from San Luis Obispo County.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8504179-181/drought-conditions-spread-over-much

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Climate change ruining California’s environment, report warns

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Bigger, more intense forest fires, longer droughts, warmer ocean temperatures and an ever shrinking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada are “unequivocal” evidence of the ruinous domino-effects that climate change is having on California, a new California Environmental Protection Agency report states.

The 350-page report released Wednesday tracks 36 indicators of climate change, including a comprehensive list of human impacts and the effects on wildlife, the ocean, lakes, rivers and the mountains.

The study pulled together research from scientists, academia and research institutions and found that despite a marked downward trend in greenhouse-gas emissions in California, including a 90 percent drop in black carbon from tailpipe emissions over the past 50 years, CO2 levels in the atmosphere and in seawater are increasing at a steady rate.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Climate-change-ruining-California-s-12899272.php