Record heat in Alaska fuels wildfires

Anchorage sees 90 F as nearly 120 fires blaze across the state.

This article was originally published by Guardian US and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Record-breaking heat across Alaska is pushing tourists to beaches, and sending flames across the unseasonably hot, dry state.

Anchorage experienced higher than average temperatures nearly every day of June, reaching a balmy 80 Fahrenheit on days that once maxed out at a mild 67.

The weather climbed further with temperatures reaching 90 Fahrenheit in Anchorage for the first time ever on July 4.

If the forecasts are correct, the state could set several new local heat records before the week is out.

Alaska’s heating has a cascading effect. As ocean temperatures rise, the coasts heat up, with potentially catastrophic consequences on land and in the water. And all that local heat contributes to faster planet-wide warming.

Alaska is no stranger to large wildfires, and so far this year’s fire season is only slightly worse than average. But with about a quarter-million acres burned in roughly the last week, nearly 120 fires still uncontained, and the heat still rising, authorities aren’t taking any chances.

A helicopter dips a bucket of water out of pond while an air tanker drops a load of retardant on the Malaspina Fire on Sunday, July 7, 2019.

With resources spread thin and fearing further sparks, the state fire marshal’s office issued a statewide ban on the sale and personal use of fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Alaska is trapped in a kind of hot feedback loop, as the arctic is heating up much faster than the rest of the planet. Ocean surface temperatures upwards of 10 Fahrenheit hotter than average have helped to warm up the state’s coasts. When Bering and Chukchi sea ice collapsed and melted months earlier than normal this spring, the University of Alaska climate specialist Rick Thoman characterized the water as “baking”.

“I intentionally try to not be hyperbolic, but what do you say when there’s 10- to 20-degree ocean water temperature above normal?” Thoman told the Guardian. “How else do you describe that besides extraordinary?”

A screenshot of the current wildland fires burning in Alaska, as of July 8, 2019.

The hot water has affected sea birds and marine life, with mass mortality events becoming commonplace in the region. The National Park Service characterizes Alaska’s increasingly frequent sea bird die-offs, called “wrecks”, as “extreme”. “The folks in the communities are saying these animals look like they’ve starved to death,” said Thoman.

Accelerating ice melt stands to put the state’s coastal communities at risk, reshaping food sources the people rely on and the very land on which they live. Where there are no built roads, Alaskans rely on frozen ground as infrastructure for traveling. Less ice means less of the life that’s evolved to depend on that ice, both animal and human.

“It’s really affecting people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families,” said Brendan Kelly, a University of Alaska marine biology professor and executive director of Study of Environmental Arctic Change. “The amount of time people have to fish, to hunt, to trap is shrinking from both ends.”

Dozens of towns in Alaska are now or will soon be in need of relocation from eroding land and rising oceans.

“Things are changing so rapidly in Alaska right now we just can’t keep up,” said Thoman.

The cost of clean air: Wildfire season will worsen inequality in B.C.

VANCOUVER—Real estate is often considered a key driver of social inequity in Vancouver, but now there is another: wildfires.

Last week, Metro Vancouver authorities warned that we’re going to face yet another dry and smoky summer this year. They sounded the usual cautions for people with asthma and other breathing difficulties.

But as severe wildfire seasons become the normal-abnormal, the smoke and flame won’t just affect people with physiological challenges. It will also exacerbate social inequity that already exists in Vancouver and around the province.

Take for example the California wildfires last year: Kim Kardashian and Kanye West reportedly hired private firefighters to protect their $60-million mansion. The situation ignited a fiery public debate on whether the wealthy should be allowed to sit out the climate crisis while everyone else endured the disaster.

We may scoff at the Kim and Kanye incident as another ridiculous “Kardiashian moment,” but it isn’t hard to fathom how our wildfire seasons may create similar inequity among British Columbians.

The BC Centre for Disease Control recommends that people in older and low-quality buildings retrofit their homes to prevent wildfire smoke from seeping indoors — but it also recognizes that financial and physical limitations won’t allow everyone to do so.

Read more:

Out-of-control wildfire causes road issues on Sea to Sky Highway

What you need to know about B.C.’s 2019 wildfire season

Your home filter probably isn’t protecting you against the smoke air, experts warn

People who can’t retrofit their homes or are homeless will be consistently exposed to wildfire smoke, leading to long-term negative health effects. Commuters who take transit or walk out of necessity will face a similar fate.

On the other hand, those with the means to purchase air purifiers or live in homes with proper filtration — often newer and more expensive condos and houses — will breathe cleaner air and have healthier lungs. They can also drive, carpool and eventually Uber door-to-door without ever needing to set foot outside, while they contribute to global heating at the same time.

Air may be a commodity, but clean air isn’t — not even in B.C.

Work will also determine one’s exposure. Being indoors may not always fully protect you from the fine particulate matter emitted by wildfires, but it goes without saying that people in well-ventilated workplaces will be safer than those who work outside. With the rise of remote work, this difference will be magnified.

Information workers like myself can choose to work anywhere as long as we have access to the internet and a computer. We are the “Anywheres” that journalist and author David Goodhart say have “portable identities.” During wildfire season, Anywheres can relocate their work to a place with cleaner air, including areas outside of wildfire zones, without losing a dime of income.

In contrast to Anywheres, Goodhart describes the “Somewheres” who have “ascribed identities” and are “the least mobile.” They are service workers, construction workers, factory workers and others who are tied to their location of work. If their place of work is affected by wildfires, not only will their health be impacted by the fire and smoke, they may face acute and long-lasting economic consequences as well.

In the past two years, some B.C. timber and mining companies suspended their operations due to wildfires, interrupting the jobs of many. Companies temporarily halted operations or reduced their capacity because their employees were evacuated, roads and airports were closed or equipment damaged.

In the rural town of Quesnel, a sawmill recently announced that it will permanently close down, taking 150 jobs with it. It cited that the “catastrophic impacts of wildfires,” along with other causes, significantly reduced the supply of timber needed to sustain the business.

The tourism sector and complementary industries have also suffered and will continue to as tourists elect to vacation elsewhere as severe wildfire seasons become more predictable. Small recreation towns in high-risk wildfire zones heavily dependent on summer tourism will face even greater economic distress compared to urban areas with more diversified economies.

Remote Indigenous communities that are already poorly resourced will be further aggravated by wildfire seasons. In 2018, the Tahltan First Nation territory in Telegraph Creek was devastated by four forest fires that merged into a large one. The entire reserve was evacuated. People lost their homes and belongings. Their ability to work and earn an income was interrupted. The rebuild and recovery will be expensive and difficult.

The same scenario is happening in various remote communities in British Columbia. A total of 14,000 people were evacuated from Williams Lake in 2017, while urbanites in Vancouver simply fled to shopping malls for cleaner air.

Fortunate employees with paid vacation time and well-off retirees can also plan for out-of-province trips during wildfire seasons. “Snowbirds” of the winter will also become “Firebirds” in the summer. Fresh air is just a plane ride away.

The economic disparities between the rural and urban, and the haves and have-nots, will continue to widen.

Wildfire season will shortly be upon us again in Vancouver. The silhouettes of the North Shore mountains will disappear from the skyline, the sun will dim, and the city will look like it is in the inferno.

We are living in a climate emergency, as the federal government declared earlier this month while reaffirming its commitment to the Paris Agreement. But it is not enough to focus on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and limiting global temperature increases through carbon taxes, technology, infrastructure upgrades and the like. We also need to address the growing social inequity we are facing today in our province.

Otherwise, if it isn’t already, summer will be a time when the fortunate will take refuge every year, while others become climate refugees fleeing their homes and forgoing their jobs just to cling on to their lives.

The West’s worst fires aren’t burning in forests

Range fires get bigger every year, threatening sagebrush habitat and rural towns.

The burn scar from the Martin Fire in Nevada as seen in this aerial photo. The largest wildfire in the state’s history, it decimated sagebrush habitat.

Between the town of Elko, Nevada, and the Idaho border stretches some of the most remote land in the Lower 48, rolling hills and arid basins as far as the eye can see. Last July, this section of the Owyhee Desert was scorched by a fierce, fast-moving blaze with 40-foot flames, the largest wildfire in state history. In the end, the Martin Fire burned 435,000 acres, including some of the West’s finest sagebrush habitat. Now, the raw range wind whips up the bare earth into enormous black clouds that roil on the horizon.

Once rare, fires that large, hot and destructive are now common in the Great Basin, a 200,000-square-mile region of mountains and valleys that includes all of Nevada and much of Utah, as well as parts of California, Idaho and Oregon. But despite the rising fire risk, a general lack of attention is putting the rangeland in growing danger.

The fire problem “risks permanent loss” of the ecosystem, according to Jolie Pollet, a fire ecologist and the Bureau of Land Management’s division chief for fire planning and fuels management. This is a genuine crisis, she said, and it demands greater urgency and attention than it is currently getting.

“The general public, especially urban areas, doesn’t seem to have an appreciation for the impacts on these landscapes, since the areas are so sparsely populated,” she said.

The new ferocity of rangeland fires has an old culprit: cheatgrass, an annual originally from Eurasia that was brought to this country in cattle feed, packing material and ships’ ballast in the late 1800s. It has since proliferated through overgrazing and development. The grass burns easily and often, and it thrives on fire. In intense blazes, when native shrubs perish, cheatgrass simply drops its seeds and then expands into the burned areas. The areas of greatest fire risk in the Great Basin have a high correlation with the areas of highest cheatgrass incursion, and the increasingly dry and arid climate brought by climate change is encouraging its spread. The Great Basin now has the nation’s highest wildfire risk.

Since 2014, 9 million acres of sagebrush have been permanently lost to fires like the Artesian Fire in 2018.

Historically, sagebrush habitat burned about once every century or less, but now it happens around every five to 10 years. Over the past two decades, more than 15 million acres of sagebrush have been permanently lost to fire, according to the BLM, 9 million of them since 2014. Overall, since 2000, more acres of shrubland or grasssland have burned than forest.

If sagebrush decline continues, the approximately 350 species that depend on it are in serious trouble. The Martin Fire burned some of the best sage grouse habitat in the country and destroyed more than 35 grouse mating grounds, or leks. The fires also harm watersheds, cause erosion and destroy wildlife corridors used by pronghorn antelope, mule deer and elk.

The impact on rural Americans is equally severe. Counties and ranchers must deal with infrastructure loss, including troughs, fencing, and damage to roads and powerlines. Many ranchers struggle with the additional costs, said Ron Cerri, a rancher and commissioner in agriculture-dependent Humboldt County, where the Martin Fire burned. Ranchers may lose hayfields in a blaze, for example, and six months of hay for 500 cattle costs about $216,000, according to Cerri. Cattle often die in the flames, and ranchers have to put down animals crippled by the smoke. Jon Griggs, a Nevada rancher whose land burned in 2007, called it the worst part of the job.

Because sagebrush ecosystems are neglected, they get less funding, making the fire threat even worse. Indeed, the BLM receives even less money than the already-underfunded Forest Service. For 2019, the Forest Service got about $400 million in annual funding for fuel management, and about $1.3 billion for firefighting preparedness. The BLM received $85 million and $180 million respectively, even though it manages about 50 million more acres of public land. The BLM also received $11 million for fire recovery, a microscopic amount, given the scale of the problem.

When the BLM runs out of firefighting money, it’s forced to raid other programs, as the blazes quickly burn through agency budgets.

“The agencies run out of money and all the other programs get gutted,” said University of Montana wildlife biology professor Dave Naugle. “In the long term, it really hurts conservation.”

Last year, Congress passed a measure that allows the BLM to access emergency fire funds without draining other initiatives. But the provision doesn’t kick in until next year, and even when it does, the BLM will remain seriously underfunded for firefighting, prevention and restoration.

Meanwhile, wildfires are already burning across the West, and the cheatgrass is beginning to dry up, turning from its spring purple to the yellowish hue that signals its readiness to burn.

Pollet put it succinctly: “I’m scared for 2019.”

Why More Heat Means The End Of The Predictable World As We Know It


Photo courtesy Lance Cheung/USDA Forest Service
Photo courtesy Lance Cheung/USDA Forest Service

I’m no climate scientist. The best I can say for myself is that I’ve been a pretty close student of varied specialties associated with climate science for about four decades.  For the past 15 or more years, I’ve run a restricted listserv devoted to daily updates on the impact of climate change for all forms of life, habitat, and ecological process on Earth.

My somewhat lengthy acquaintance with climate science hasn’t led me to see a lifeless planet, a treeless planet, or human extinction across the entire Earth. Nothing I know or think I know persuades me to expect anything quite that dire, at least not solely due to a hotter world.
I do see us headed in that direction, just because we’re still cranking up the heat with just about everything we do in the normal course of our daily routines. Because this trend persists, and might persist for too long, I am persuaded that, beginning in the lifetime of children born since 1980, a plausibly hot, hotter, and much hotter world could set off a severe and gruesome culling of the human herd, and that we’ll be bringing a lot down with us.
The end of the world? No. There’ll be some extinctions but, for humans, the effects of a hotter world are just a matter of increasing threat to familiar hopes for life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness—and, yes, capital wealth including household wealth. In other words, the end of the seemingly predictable world as we know it today.
Some of this is clearly preventable, in theory, but the prevention clearly depends on our willingness to pull back from familiar daily routines of a recklessly comfortable way of life. A recent Ambio article by some heavyweights in climate laid out the situation well enough.
A team including the likes of Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen, Veerabhadren Ramathan, Johan Rockstrom, Marten Scheffer and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber begin the abstract of their article by saying “Over the past century, the total material wealth of humanity has been enhanced …”  and they end it by saying, “we risk driving the Earth System onto a trajectory toward more hostile states from which we cannot easily return.”
Their analysis is echoed across the scientists’ side of the situation. But it doesn’t take a scientist to get the drift of what’s going on. Liam Denning is former investment banker, editor of one of the Wall Street Journal’s most closely read columns —Heard on the Street — and a former columnist for Financial Times. Writing for Bloomberg, Denning has come to the conclusion that, “We have built our standard of living on forms of energy that we now know pose a threat to our very existence,” and that, “this is a conversation that is long overdue — and necessarily begins with a shout, not a whisper.”
Why has it come to this? How did we get here? What will be affected by it, and when will the impacts hit home? Who has been driving us in this direction? And where has all this been taking us? Has it, at long last, been steering us to a Green New Deal?
Why? Enter Calls For A Green New Deal
Threats to our lives and times are rising because heat is rising, and this one change alone has consequences. Heat and its consequences span far across both environmental, economic, and physical foundations of human life. The higher it climbs, the greater the risk that it will scorch about everything that we’ve long taken for granted.
Temperatures are expected to dramatically rise everywhere but the Arctic and midsection of the US, including the Rockies, will experience even hotter conditions.  Image courtesy NASA . Check out videos at end of Olsen's analysis.
Temperatures are expected to dramatically rise everywhere but the Arctic and midsection of the US, including the Rockies, will experience even hotter conditions. Image courtesy NASA . Check out videos at end of Olsen’s analysis.
Once upon a time, the major cause for worry about a hotter planet was the carbon we routinely dump to the atmosphere thanks to daily combustion of fossil fuels. The dumping has turned the atmosphere into a better and better heat trap, and the heat we’ve already trapped in ocean and atmosphere has already become a powerful player over our lives and times.
Obviously enough, this familiar level of heat was already going to cause trouble, including real risk of pushing us out past danger points of 1.5 and even 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than before the fossil fuels era. But our routine dumping has been getting even more dangerous to life, liberty, happiness and capital wealth because it’s been inviting some muscular new kids to the block.
The new kids are seriously threatening to kick the heat to new heights on their own, independent of anything we do.
The new kids have a name—positive feedbacks. Positive feedbacks involve the accelerating loading of carbon into the atmosphere. For example, human burning of fossil fuels sends more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which warms temperatures, which causes the permafrost—loaded with carbon—to melt faster, thus releasing even more carbon dioxide, creating a feedback loop.
Although the series of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] assessments have given them scant mention, science has known of their implications since the 1890s.
Back then, the world had already begun burning coal at scale, it was already understood that burning the stuff added carbon dioxide (CO2) over and above what was already normal to the atmosphere. And, by 1860, it had already been established that CO2 is a heat-trapping gas. So, using the crudest, simplest model in the history of climate science, physical chemist Svante Arrhenius was able to predict in 1896 that increasing combustion would one day heat the world enough to force a loss of snow and ice.
Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park. Snow cover not only serves as frozen natural water reservoirs that feed rivers and moisten landscapes but they help reflect warming sunlight. The decline in land mass covered by snow, owed to climate change, is a contributing factor to global warming.  Photo courtesy Jim Peaco/NPS
Specimen Ridge in Yellowstone National Park. Snow cover not only serves as frozen natural water reservoirs that feed rivers and moisten landscapes but they help reflect warming sunlight. The decline in land mass covered by snow, owed to climate change, is a contributing factor to global warming. Photo courtesy Jim Peaco/NPS
Arrhenius also knew that snow and ice reflect incoming solar radiation away from Earth, with a cooling effect called albedo. So, taking his analysis a next logical step, he expected that loss of albedo would increase Earth’s heat above and beyond the heat trapped by CO2, and would continue to heat the world on its own..
This was the world’s first glimpse into positive feedbacks. It wasn’t the last. We now have a virtual gang of them at the door, and the language of climate emergency has been gaining traction far and wide, in Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US.
Why Times 10?
A journalist, Mark Lynas, was the first to take multiple positive feedbacks seriously enough to devote a book to setting out their clout. In his book, Six Degrees, Lynas describes a series of positive feedbacks that could force the world to get hotter, then hotter, then hotter yet, even if humans quit burning fossil fuels.
For example, Lynas cited the scientific record of evidence that the Amazon forest is at risk of dieoff from the same heating that endangers ice and snow. The scientific community had expressed concern that a collapse of the vast Amazon forest would have global consequences from the dying forest’s release of carbon to the atmosphere.
The Amazon River and Forest Basin covers a huge swath of land. When healthy, the forest functions as a carbon sink but when trees are dying and drying from heart or toppled it has a reverse effect.  Images courtesy Wikipedia Commons
The Amazon River and Forest Basin covers a huge swath of land. When healthy, the forest functions as a carbon sink but when trees are dying and drying from heart or toppled it has a reverse effect. Images courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Lynas took that analysis to a next step, pointing out that the new dose of heat from a dying Amazon could force a thawing of permafrost, melting its ice, and setting its own carbon free to force the planet into even greater heat, thanks to one positive feedback setting the stage for another.
Sketching out the plausible consequences of serial positive feedbacks, Lynas argued that we could kick this process into gear if we if we fail to halt the heat at 2 degrees above the advent of the fossil fuels era. His analysis pointed to an increase of heat to 6 degrees C (that’s an average of 7.2 degrees hotter Fahrenheit), and “mass extinction.”
At the time, climate scientist Eric Steig remarked that, if what he read about Lynas’ book in the newspapers was true, it was probably alarmist and not worth reading.
Lynas asked Steig to read it himself, so he did. After reading it, Steig said, “Mark Lynas will no doubt be pleased that I very much like the book. To be sure, it is alarming, but the question of whether it is alarmist is a more difficult one.” Steig went on to say, “all climate scientists (particularly those that talk to the public) ought to read this book.
Nine years later, in an article published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific community had also taken multiple positive feedbacks seriously. Without mentioning Lynas’ earlier work, the scientist authors considered how these feedbacks can hit in a series, like dominoes in a row, falling, one after another, forcing the heat higher, then higher, then higher yet, even if humans quit burning fossil fuels. Where Lynas saw risk of heat rising by about 6 degrees C, the scientists concluded that we could kick the heat higher by about 5 degrees C.
This has huge implications for the world, North America, the US, the West, the northern Rockies, high plains and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

This has huge implications for the world, North America, the US, the West, the northern Rockies, high plains and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The scientists identified10 positive feedbacks that could set the world on a trajectory toward a “Hothouse Earth.” Like Lynas, they concluded that we could kick this process into gear if we fail to halt the heat at 2C above the advent of the fossil fuels era.
Getting a 2 degrees C warming, they say, could set the planet on a trajectory that “would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies.” They concluded that avoiding two Celsius would require, among other things, “behavioral changes” and “transformed social values.”
Authors of the Hothouse Earth analysis could have added an 11th feedback from the heat added to oceans. Our dependency on fossil fuels has turned up the heat in the oceans, so that they can now evaporate — e-vapor-ate — more freely into the atmosphere above. Six years before the Hothouse Earth article, an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research had reported that, “water vapor is the most abundant greenhouse gas,” in the atmosphere, and that atmospheric heat could be forced even higher “through water vapor feedback.
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean taken from the International Space Station. Oceans function as vital carbon and heat sinks but their warming up also fuels acidification of the seas (threatening species like plankton, the building blocks of marine life) and is linked to climate change feedback. Photo courtesy NASA.
Sunset over the Pacific Ocean taken from the International Space Station. Oceans function as vital carbon and heat sinks but their warming up also fuels acidification of the seas (threatening species like plankton, the building blocks of marine life) and is linked to climate change feedback. Photo courtesy NASA.
Even without an 11th positive feedback from the ocean, Hothouse Earth co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber has said the language of global warming “doesn’t capture the scale of destruction.”
Much the same concern about the language we use to describe the rise of heat had already been expressed in an assessment by Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; “For decades, we called it ‘global warming,’ an innocuous-sounding phrase invoking a gentle increase in worldwide temperatures, like turning up the thermostat in a house.
Climate science has been struggling with this issue for years.
For example, in its October 13 2006 issue, Science quoted researcher Brian O’Neill’s concern that the IPCC reports don’t convey the full range of risks; “the extreme scenarios that tend to fall out of the IPCC process may be exactly the ones we should most worry about.”
In that same issue, Science quoted Michael Schlesinger, a climate scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign. Schlesinger remarked that, “Things are happening right now with the ice sheets that were not predicted to happen until 2100. My worry is that we may have passed the window of opportunity where learning is still useful.”
Science returned to these concerns in June, 2007, quoting climate researcher Stefan Rahmstorf’s comment that, “The IPCC has been overly cautious in not wanting to give any large number to [future] sea-level rise.”
Reporting that “Scientists are still trying to strike a balance between their habitual caution and growing concern over uncertain but disastrous greenhouse outcomes,” Science also quoted glaciologist Robert Thomas’ remark that, “ ‘Most scientists don’t want to, but I think we need a way to explore’ the extreme end of the range of possibilities.” Thomas told Science that  scientists need “a better way” than IPCC’s consensus approach, “so we can communicate with the public without becoming scaremongers.”
A crown fire races across Yellowstone in 2013. Researchers say that not only will drying forests make bigger wildfires more common but later in this century much of the forested habitat that covers the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems could be converted to grass and brush lands, markedly different from today. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
A crown fire races across Yellowstone in 2013. Researchers say that not only will drying forests make bigger wildfires more common but later in this century much of the forested habitat that covers the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems could be converted to grass and brush lands, markedly different from today. Photo courtesy National Park Service.
None of this can or should be taken as an excuse to blame what James Hansen has called “reticent’ scientists for the climate predicaments we face today. Actually, even their cautious warnings have been attacked by titans and toadies of the fossil fuel industry in the grossest and most scaremongering ways. Their attacks have so mortified so many that researchers including America’s Michael Mann and Canada’s Andrew Weaver have been targeted with death threats.
For a wide variety of reasons, then, today’s CO2 levels have already opened the door to the muscular new extremes of heat we’ll get from 10 or more positive feedbacks. Because the CO2 from our fossil fuel economy remains in the atmosphere for centuries, the open door for positive feedbacks won’t be closing anytime soon, and the risk of global emergency looms large unless we overcome the normal human resistance to change. And we haven’t even delved into the subject of methane and it accelerating the feedback loop. Read the new series on methane appearing at Sightline.
How Do We Address Climate Change?
The extent of heat we’ll get from the growing gang of positive feedbacks depends a lot on howwe spend our time and money. Just as the Hothouse Earth authors suggested, individual behavior and broader social values come into focus.
While there’s all the complexity anyone could want in our consumption’s power to force the heat to increasingly dangerous levels, at least three things are glaringly clear. First, the American and other major economics are driven by consumption. In the US, consumer spending props up about two-thirds of the national economy.
Obviously enough then, any suggestion that consumers pull back on spending will immediately trigger cries that the economic skies will fall. Frugality is damned as calamity.
Second, “The poorest half of the world population is responsible for “only around 10 percent of total global emissions attributed to individual consumption.”
Obviously enough, the poor just don’t have the spending power to drive much consumption in the first place. Hopping a flight to some distant football game, for example, is the last thing on this half of the world’s minds. Ditto for the purchase of a clothes dryer to substitute for hanging clothes out in the open air to dry, or a hair dryer to substitute for a towel.
This leaves the rest of the world responsible for 90 percent of the consumption that’s been forcing the climate into increasingly dangerous change. We’re the ones, then, in position to make a difference to how hot the planet will be.
Third, the corporations and the moneyed world as a whole have important roles to play. Resistance to changing their familiar routines — a.k.a., business as usual—has kept these entities dragging their feet, same as it has for anyone else. But they’ve recently come more and more awake to the risk that they, too, face in an increasingly hotter word. And some are moving directly against governments’ and corporations resistance to change.
For example, recognizing the risks that a hotter world brings to capital wealth, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a group of 415 investment firms managing combined assets worth more than twice the size of the entire Chinese economy, has told corporations to come clean on reporting their climate risks.

The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, a group of 415 investment firms managing combined assets worth more than twice the size of the entire Chinese economy, has told corporations to come clean on reporting their climate risks.

That’s not all. This undoubtedly influential group also told governments to back away from reliance on thermal coal, and to give up subsidizing fossil fuels, and to get on with putting a price on carbon.
The beauty of this investment  group’s four-point pressure campaign is that it doesn’t focus on corporate reform as a single silver bullet sufficient to the cause. It also urges government reform on three counts, not one, rejecting any suggestion that some single action by government can do the job. That’s consistent with climate scientist’s recent urging that action will be needed across broad swaths of our lives and times.
The group’s four-point campaign also begins to approximate, and could become incorporated in,  the broader approach suggested by advocates for the Green New Deal. But, however the Green New Deal itself works out, the Quixotic quest for a silver bullet has delayed realistic thinking for too long.
That said, corporations deservedly got the spotlight in the December 22, 2018 issue of Forbes: “… the argument that powerful corporations could do more than they are to reduce GHG emissions is almost undeniable. The argument—and we need to have it—should be how much more and how quickly should they do more.”
Yes, and part of that debate has to recognize that  businesses and corporations themselves are consumers, and, like any other consumer, could do more by doing less, specifically by spending less on consumption of energy.
Photo/graphic by John Henderson/Creative Commons (
Photo/graphic by John Henderson/Creative Commons (
The retail industry including grocery stores is a prime example of business and corporations as consumers. I’ve shopped in grocery stores with ceilings three stories high. These stores and other retail outlets could reduce their spending on energy for heating and cooling by lowering their ceilings, and, at the same time, do their bit toward saving the world from heat. Spread across the nation’s retail industry, these double-savings retrofits could pack real clout in any campaign against the growing gang of positive feedbacks.
Nevertheless, some advocates have put the onus on corporations by stressing that individuals and households can’t do it alone. Derrick Jensen, for example, points out that households can “only” reduce national carbon footprint by  22 percent.
That’s true enough, but it doesn’t get individual consumers off the hook. Who would recommend falling short by as much as 22 percent?
Which brings us right back around to the reality that some households are well-off enough to do a lot more spending on consumption than others. This fact does not hand us a simple dichotomy of rich nations and poor ones. It holds about equally true within rich nations, including the US.
As Business Week reported in its November 21, 1994 issue, “The gap between high- and low-income families has widened steadily since about 1980, hitting a new high every year since 1985.” The upshot is that, even within the US, there’s been a growing inequality in how much consumption people can afford to give up without feeling unnecessary and unreasonable levels of pain.
This leaves the rest of America responsible for holding the heat at livable levels  by cutting back on consumption.  Especially in the US, this is likely to be the third rail of climate politics. What politician can dare to tell comfortable, well-off voters they need to learn to get by with less?
We have yet to see American, Chinese, European or other politicians echoing the 2012 WWF message that, “We have only one planet and the time has come to transform our present lifestyle and consumption patterns.
Instead, former US president George H. W. Bush had already declared in 1992 that “The American way of life is not negotiable.”
What, and When?
Rising heat and its consequences are already affecting everything, not just the Amazon, Antarctica, and the Arctic, not just polar bears and pika, not just drying rivers or dying trees around the world, not just the life support system as a whole. Alas, concern about those was never going to turn the tide, because it’s easy not to care about polar bears and easy to dismiss the life support system as an airy abstraction.
Worse, campaigns to protect the environment have long been painted as an enemy of the economy. That old habit won’t change easily. Even at grassroots level, many still believe that blaming humans for a hotter world is “a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. economy.”  But the joke’s on them, because we’ve come to point of endangering the environment and the economy at the same time.
Indicating the worldwide scale of threat to the economy, World Finance magazine recently pointed out that, “It is becoming more and more apparent that the developing threat of climate change is not simply damaging the earth’s natural ecosystem, but is also harming the world economy.
Indicating this risk specifically for the US economy, a 2018 Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond staff analysis found that even a modest one degree Fahrenheit temperature increase begins to take the wind out of the economy’s sails. In fact, the study found evidence that “rising temperatures could reduce U.S. economic growth by up to one-third over the next century.”
The concern didn’t stop with that one report. In January 2019, American Banker magazine warned that “the planet is warming at an alarmingly rapid rate, and unless swift action is taken to curb the emission of greenhouse gases, the economic costs will be severe.
Citing “huge costs seen in climate inaction,” Business Insurance magazine points directly to what we all face if we fail to stop “the potential dire economic consequences of climate change.
The Bloomberg Climate Changed newsletter summarized the situation on February 7, 2019: “The last five years were collectively the world’s hottest on record. That warming, which NASA and NOAA directly link to human activity, has immediate financial consequences.” The summary added that “Climate change isn’t just an expanding threat to the environment; it’s already a massive drag on the economy.”
It’s not just banks and insurance companies at risk from a hotter world. Households and individuals galore will take direct hits, some from rising seas that destroy homes once regarded as the epitome of the the American Dream, others from the heat and drought so basic to fires that burn homes to the ground, and yet others when drought dries up household wells — what’s a house worth when it loses its water?
Household and personal exposure to climate risk doesn’t end there. Thanks to low interest rates, many households pulled money out of savings accounts and used it to buy shares in the stock market. Pointing out that households are exposed to climate risk from this quarter, too, Financial Advisor magazine recently warned that “climate change could sandbag investment portfolios in 2019.”
As if all that isn’t risky enough for individuals and households, their pension funds are exposed to climate risks. A pensions industry newsletter, Professional Pensions, has warned of “the major economic impact of climate change and the serious long-term threat that it poses to pension funds’ investments.
Something’s happening here, and what it is is becoming increasingly clear. After decades of claims that protecting the environment endangers the economy, it turns out that we’ve been endangering both. I have to count myself among those who see this emergent risk as an emergency. If our politicians won’t tell us that, we have to be telling it to them.

Who Is Causing This?  Pogo Was Right

There are billions of us, which means a world with lots of consumers, and our numbers make a huge difference.
No matter how much consumption we indulge in, even if we relied entirely on combustion of fossil fuels, the heat we add to the atmosphere would be vanishingly small if the total human population added up to 100 people, even 100 million. Alas, the human population now adds up to about 7,000 million.
Of these, an estimated 1,700 million have been identified as the”consumer class”—the people described by National Geographic as “characterized by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.
For example, China’s middle class is but a fraction of its total population, but it’s middle class is roughly equivalent to the entire population of the United States. And many of the newly well-off Chinese are adopting what then US president George H. W. Bush referred to as the American way of life — flying off to vacation hotspots, demanding more living space, buying food, fuel, furniture, and clothing from halfway around the world.
European consumers had already joined this parade. When researchers set out to quantify how European consumers could reduce their carbon footprint, they determined that about 25 percent of the possible reduction could be achieved with reduction of spending on imports.
In 2017, Barron’s, widely recognized as a heavyweight in financial reporting, made the same point, and implied a role for government policy in saying, “As a nation, we ask a lot of our consumers. In tough times, such as after the 9/11 attacks, we urged consumers to shop and eat out as a sort of civic duty.”
The article went on to say, “Today, we export American-style consumption to the world, with shopping malls in communist China, and McDonald’s feeding more than two million customers a day in the Middle East.”
Where Has All This Taken Us?
We’ve arrived at a point of dawning realization that we have no single silver bullet to save us, and must instead do many things, and very soon, in order to take the muscle out of serial feedbacks that could kick our lives and times into dangerously escalating heat.
If we fail, it will be at the cost of lives, liberties, the pursuit of happiness, and a loss of wealth greater than the cost of prevention. On this, Ben Franklin had it right: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Enter, the Green New Deal. As I type these words early in 2019, everyone is agreed that the Green New Deal is lacking in detail. Some say that as a simple point of fact. Others see it as cause for criticism.
But it’s lack of detail has to be put in perspective both scientific and political.
Like the Green New Deal in its call for bold action, the recent IPCC special report on 1.5 C found that halting the heat short of 1.5 C above the fossil fuel era would necessitate, “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes”. However, like the Green New Deal, that widely cited report didn’t cite specific details of these “far-reaching and unprecedented” changes.
America’s most recent — fourth — national climate assessment, a product of 13 federal agencies, cited need of “substantial and sustained global efforts,” but that widely cited report also didn’t provide specific details of what these efforts must be.
The recent PNAS article on a Hothouse Earth pointed to need for, take a deep breath, “… decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.” Like the Green New Deal, the PNAS article didn’t spell out the daunting details across these important efforts.
Did it have to? Did any of these scientific analysis have to flood us with detail before we could get the drift? Is it really so hard to understand that we’re up against something big enough to span everything from pension funds to polar bears, ice fields to insurance policies?
On the political side, the details will be coming soon enough, in the form of proposed specific legislation for this and that piece of the big Green New Deal pie. After all, bargaining over details is part and parcel to politics, and there’ll be plenty of that in the coming weeks and months.
But in politics, too, just as in science and economics, the basic message is plain. We have our work cut out for us, we need to get on with it soon.
Sorting through the details isn’t an insurmountable challenge because much of that work has been done. For instance, there are now 415 major investment managers who won’t oppose a Green New Deal that includes their basic recommendation that governments need to quit subsidizing fossil fuels. And all those grocery stores with ceilings three stories high? I for one find cause to cheer the Green New Deal’s aims for retrofitting buildings all across America.
And it’s not that the champions of a Green New Deal have left us clueless for very long. The framework they issued on Thursday, February 7, 2019 is packed with enough meaty stuff to get the conversations rolling. As Vox’s David Roberts says, “at last something to argue about.”
Because Roberts has followed this issue as well as any and better than most, I feel totally as ease with recommending his take on what’s now “an official Green New Deal. Here’s what’s in it.
I see this latest declaration of the  Green New Deal as every bit as prosocial as it is pro-environment and, for that matter, economically friendly. It’s advocates aren’t afraid to confront the long-running trend of antisocial economic inequality that Business Week had spelled out for all to see in 1994: “The gap between high- and low-income families has widened steadily since about 1980, hitting a new high every year since 1985.”
Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve says inequality is one of America's greatest economic challenges. It's a phenomenon, experts say, that could be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change further widening gaps between "haves" and "have nots." Image courtesy Wikepedia
Jerome Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve says inequality is one of America’s greatest economic challenges. It’s a phenomenon, experts say, that could be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change further widening gaps between “haves” and “have nots.” Image courtesy Wikepedia

This trend has long held risks of its own, and, like the dire risk from the changes we’ve been forcing on the climate, the dangers of concentrated wealth have been hiding in plain sight. Around the same time that Business Week summarized the situation, two of the Wall Street Journal’s senior writers, Alan Murray and Albert Hunt, warned that if the trend continued it would set off a reaction that would make the long and bloody French Revolution of the 1790s seem like a picnic outing.

That’s not a rosy picture for anyone to ponder, but it hasn’t gone away. Indeed, The Washington Post reported on February 7 2019 that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell warned that income inequality is the nation’s biggest economic challenge in the coming decade. As quoted by the Post, Powell said income growth for middle- and working-class Americans “has really decreased,” while “growth at the top has been very strong.”
He said we need to do something about it; “We have some work to do to make sure that the prosperity we do achieve is widely spread.” The Fed chairman didn’t endorse or even mention the Green New Deal, but he seems to have its back on at least that one important issue.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Long interested in the tensions between environmental protection and economic demands, in 1981 Lance Olsen took two seminars on economics from Tom Power, then-chairman of the University of Montana Dept. of Economics. After reading a 1970s Science article on atmospheric ionization, his attention had also turned to topics in the atmospheric and related sciences. He was founding president of the Great Bear Foundation and re-elected to that office every year for 10 years until his resignation in 1992. For the last 15 or more years, he’s managed a listserv on climate and biodiversity primarily for scientists and staff of conservation groups operating at local, state, regional, national and international scale.

PLEASE SUPPORT US: Mountain Journal is committed to giving you reads you won’t get anywhere else, stories that take time to produce. In turn, we rely on your generosity and can’t survive without you! Please click here to support a publication devoted to protecting the wild country and the wildlife you love.

About Lance Olsen

Lance Olsen has been involved with science and wildlife conservation in the Northern Rockies for more than four decades.  A former executive director of the Missoula, Montana-based Great Bear Foundation, he worked with noted bear researchers, including Drs. Charles Jonkel and John Craighead. He is based in Missoula, Montana.

Forest conversion to grassland has no immediate end in sight

The Missoulian.  April  2, 2019
Lance Olsen
A University of Montana research team has pinpointed new evidence that hotter, drier conditions make it hard for tree seedlings to survive after fire. This important new evidence confirms previous studies that arrived at the same conclusion, specifically that hotter, drier times leave western US conifer seedlings at risk of shriveling and dying before they can bring new forest into being after fire.
The Missoulian’s recent headline, Forest to Grasslands, summed it up pretty well. A longer summary is possible — The hotter and drier conditions so favorable to fire are unfavorable to survival of seedlings after fire has come and gone.
Many will have lingering questions even after the important new evidence provided by the UM team. One of these questions, likely of immediate interest, centers around seedling survival after logging — if hotter and drier conditions have killing effect on seedlings after fire, won’t those same conditions have the same effect on seedlings after logging?
Then there will be questions remaining about two variables already shaping the risk of forest conversion to grasslands — heat and elevation. The effect reported by the UM team has shown up when heat levels have risen by only 1 degree Celsius above levels existing before we started burning fossil fuels. And this effect has now shown up only at lower elevations on the mountain slopes.
Neither effect is likely to stop at this point.
Few if any believe that the heat will stop climbing at only 1C above the era before we started burning fossil fuels. Many understand that, instead, the heat will keep on climbing, that halting it at 1.5C is extremely unlikely under prevailing sociopolitical conditions, and even doing what’s needed to stop its climb to 2C faces muscular opposition. So, wouldn’t the conditions deadly to seedlings climb higher up the mountain slopes as heat increases it own climb?
There seems little if any doubt in the climate science community that heat will be climbing up the slopes. There is, for example, evidence that the rain-snow line will be climbing upslope in tandem with heat’s own upslope climb. This seems consistent with evidence reported in Science, in 2012, that “the distributions of species have recently shifted to higher elevations.”
It’s also consistent with findings that fire is capable of burning at high elevation when it’s hot and dry. And, in 2009, PNAS could already report that, “Observed heat wave intensities in the current decade are larger than worst-case projections.”
Given the many lines of evidence including the recent UM analysis, what we are likely seeing now is just the start of forest conversion to grasslands that could shift farther and farther upslope as we continue with fossil fuel combustion and the heat its emissions add to an already hotter world.
Boiled down, that’s a scenario where continued combustion of coal, natural gas, diesel and gasoline leads to continued and even more intense combustion of the forest, followed by  conversion of forest to grassland.
One thing seems certain. It would be increasingly difficult to offer logging jobs on increasingly grassy mountain slopes. Ditto for all the other employment now available thanks to forest cover, and we can’t ignore forest importance to wildlife or the health effects of more wildfire smoke.
The risk of an escalating forest crisis sheds new light on energy from solar and wind. This new industry can help reduce forest loss. Opposition to these promising new jobs needs to be put aside as soon as humanly possible.
Lance Olsen manages a restricted listserv on climate and related concerns.

We’ve all heard the common claim that forests recover from fire, and, just as surely, that forests can recover from logging.
Conservationists have stressed that point in arguing that fire is not the catastrophe some have believed, because forest comes back after fire.
Logging lobbyists, meanwhile, have stressed much the same point in arguing that logging is not the catastrophe some have believed, because forests come back after logging.
So, despite their well-known clashes, conservationists and the logging industry have both argued for a view that forests can indeed recover.
They both have a valid point. After all, that’s what forests have done many times in the past following disturbance.
That history is the basis for referring to forests as a “renewable resource.” It’s presumably the basis of recent U.S. Forest Service planning documents boasting that a forest can be managed for “resilience,” a springing back to its former self following human manipulation.
Yet for much of the world’s forests, the familiar day of resilience is done.

Iconic Forests Reaching Climate Tipping Points in American West, Study Finds

Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forests are struggling to regrow after wildfires in parts of the West as temperatures rise and the air and soil become drier.

Phil McKenna


MAR 11, 2019

A stand of ponderosa pines two years after a wildfire. Credit: Lyn Alweis/Denver Post via Getty Images

Climate change in the American West may be crossing an ominous threshold, making parts of the region inhospitable for some native pine and fir forests to regrow after wildfires, new research suggests.

As temperatures rise, the hotter, drier air and drier soil conditions are increasingly unsuitable for young Douglas firs and ponderosa pines to take root and thrive in some of the region’s low-elevation forests, scientists write in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Wildfires in these areas could lead to abrupt ecosystem changes, from forest to non-forest, that would otherwise take decades to centuries, the study says.

“Once a certain threshold was crossed, then the probability of tree establishment decreased rapidly,” said Kimberley Davis, a researcher at the University of Montana and lead author of the study. “The climate conditions are just a lot less suitable for regeneration.”

The two iconic species are important to both the region’s forest ecology and its economy, particularly its timber industry.

Sign up for InsideClimate News Weekly

Our stories. Your inbox. Every weekend.

I agree to InsideClimate News’ Terms of Service and Privacy Policy


Davis and her colleagues looked at growth rings of nearly 3,000 young trees in 33 fire-damaged areas of California, Colorado, the Northern Rockies and the southwestern United States to see when the forests recovered after fires over the past 30 years. Analyzing climate data over the same period, they found certain thresholds involving summer humidity for ponderosa pine, surface temperature for Douglas fir, and soil moisture for both species, beyond which there was a sharp decline in forest regrowth.

The warmer, drier air isn’t harming mature trees, but it is preventing future generations from growing, Davis said.

“There could be a lot of areas where there is currently forest but if we have a fire we might not see regeneration,” she said.

Thresholds ‘Show How Much Is at Stake’

Davis and her colleagues found that most of the sites they looked at had crossed the temperature and humidity threshold at some point in the last 20 years.

They targeted the driest and warmest sites in the region to see if climate change was already beginning to affect forests. The researchers now plan to assess the extent to which regeneration is affected in relatively cooler, wetter sites in the region.

Several factors influence a forest’s regrowth after a wildfire, such as the severity of the fire, regional drought and how the trees produce seeds. The researchers noted that as the region sees fewer years with climate conditions suitable for seedlings to grow, the nature of the trees’ seed production, with heavy crops of cones only every few years, will further limit new growth.

Last year, wildfires burned more than 8.7 million acres nationwide, 32 percent higher than the 10-year average according to an annual report by the National Interagency Coordination Center released last week. More than 1.8 million of those acres were in California, the highest in recorded state history, according to state fire officials.

The inability of forests to bounce back from such fires is cause for concern, said Joe Fargione, science director for the Nature Conservancy’s North America region.

“The thresholds identified here show how much is at stake—losing forests because trees can’t grow back—if we don’t accelerate the switch to clean energy and invest more in natural climate solutions,” Fargione said. “This study will help land managers identify forests at the greatest risk of not regenerating post-fire.”

Fargione said such high-risk forests can be targeted for selective thinning to reduce the risk of forest fires and for restoration efforts to improve the success of forest regeneration.

Trees Play a Critical Climate Role

Protecting forests is important for slowing climate change because of their ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store the carbon in their trunks, branches and roots.

A study Fargione and others published last fall found better forest, farm and land management practices offer natural climate solutions that could mitigate 21 percent of the United States’ annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“It really highlights the fact that we need to begin a national and international conversation about how we can enhance the resiliency of our global forests,” Anthony Swift, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project, said of the current study.

Swift said intensive logging, road building and cutting trees to make room for transmission lines weakens the ability of forests to deal with added stressors like climate change.

“We don’t need to stop all activity in global forests, but it does raise the need to reconsider how and where we extract timber and engage in other industrial activities in forests,” he said.

report last month by NRDC looked at how clear cutting boreal forests in Canada by some U.S. toilet paper manufacturers imperils forests and could hasten climate change.The report called for alternatives, like using recycled paper, that don’t lead to the fragmentation and clear cutting of intact forests. Leaving forests more intact could also help protect Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests in the American West, Swift said.

“Whether we are looking at wildfires or industrial activities, concerns that in a changing climate regeneration is going to be more difficult to achieve is an issue that we all need to be looking at more carefully because of the roll our forests have to play for the global climate,” he said.

How Wildfires Can Affect Climate Change (and Vice Versa)

It’s complicated: While CO2 causes long-term warming, aerosols can have both a warming and a temporary cooling effect.

California issued health warnings in early August as smoke from record wildfires darkened the skies and drifted into other states. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

California and Washington state issued health warnings in August as smoke blown from wildfires darkened the skies. Wildfires also affect the climate. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The extreme wildfires sweeping across parts of North America, Europe and Siberia this year are not only wreaking local damage and sending choking smoke downwind. They are also affecting the climate itself in important ways that will long outlast their flames.

Wildfires emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that will continue to warm the planet well into the future. They damage forests that would otherwise remove CO2 from the air. And they inject soot and other aerosols into the atmosphere, with complex effects on warming and cooling.

To be sure, the leading cause of global warming remains overwhelmingly the burning of fossil fuels. That warming lengthens the fire season, drying and heating the forests. In turn, blazes like those scorching areas across the Northern Hemisphere this summer have a feedback effect—a vicious cycle when the results of warming produce yet more warming.

How Bad Is the Climate Feedback from Fires?

Although the exact quantities are difficult to calculate, scientists estimatethat wildfires emitted about 8 billion tons of CO2 per year for the past 20 years. In 2017, total global CO2 emissions reached 32.5 billion tons, according to the International Energy Agency.

When they calculate total global CO2 output, scientists don’t include all wildfire emissions as net emissions, though, because some of the CO2 is offset by renewed forest growth in the burned areas. As a result, they estimate that wildfires make up 5 to 10 percent of annual global CO2 emissions each year.

There have always been big wildfires, since long before humans began profoundly altering the climate by burning fossil fuels. Those historical emissions are part of the planet’s natural carbon cycle. But human activities, including firefighting practices, are resulting in bigger, more intense fires, and their emissions could become a bigger contributor to global warming.

Extreme fires can release huge amounts of CO2 in a very short time. California fire experts estimate that the blazes that devastated Northern California’s wine country in October 2017 emitted as much CO2 in one week as all of California’s cars and trucks do over the course of a year. This year’s fires have also been extreme; two of the state’s largest fires on record are burning right now, including the Mendocino fire complex, which exceeded 400,000 acres this week.

According to NOAA scientist Pieter Tans, head of the carbon cycle greenhouse gases group with the Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, a very large, very hot fire destroying 500,000 acres could emit the same total amount to CO2 as six large coal-fired power plants in one year.

That suggests that California’s wildfires in recent years may be releasing enough CO2 to endanger the state’s progress toward meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Chart: Daily CO2 Emissions from California's Wildfires

While fires have been worsening in some regions, globally the total burned area and emissions from wildfires have actually decreased over the past 20 years, said Guido van der Werf, a Dutch researcher who analyzes trends for the Global Fire Emissions Database. The global decline is because burned savannas and rainforests in the tropics are being converted to agricultural lands, which are less fire-prone.

In regions of the world drying out with global warming, like the U.S. West and the Mediterranean, however, extreme fire seasons have increased in recent years.

“If we start to see a higher level of fire activity than in the past because of global warming, they become part of a climate feedback loop,” van der Werf said. That means warming causes more fires, which causes more warming.

In addition to their CO2 emissions, wildfires can affect the climate in other important ways.

Dead Wood and Changes to the Land

Fires don’t just burn up trees and shrubs and emit smoke. They leave behind long-lasting changes on the ground, and those changes also have effects on the climate.

Over the course of several decades after a big fire, emissions from decomposing dead wood often surpass by far the direct emissions from the fire itself. But at the same time, new growth in burned areas starts to once again take CO2 from the atmosphere and store it.

Fires also change the reflectivity of the land, called albedo. As burned forest areas start to regrow, lighter-colored patches of grasses and shrubs come in first, which, because they reflect more solar radiation, can have a cooling effect until the vegetation thickens and darkens again.

Scott Denning, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University, says site-specific studies show that the cooling effect in northern forests can last for decades. In a tropical rainforest, on the other hand, the dark canopy can regrow within a few years.

When new trees grow fast, they can start stashing away significant amounts of carbon quickly. But some recent research suggests that global warming is preventing forest regrowth after forest fires, including along the Front Range of Colorado and in the forests of the Sierra Nevada. If that emerges as a widespread trend in the coming decades, it means less forests available to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Forests are estimated to absorb up to 30 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions.

Aerosols’ Cooling and Warming Effects

Scientists can’t say for certain whether the global level of fire activity in recent years is warming or cooling the atmosphere overall. Part of the reason that they don’t have a definitive answer is because, along with CO2, wildfires also produce many other volatile organic particles called aerosols, including substances like black carbon and gases that form ozone.

One recent study suggests that wildfires emit three times more fine particle pollution than estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. This pollution creates health problems, and scientists are also working to better understand its impact on the climate.

Some of those aerosols can make the atmosphere more reflective. They block sunlight, which cools the atmosphere, similar to the effect attributed to emissions from volcanic eruptions. In general, the climate effect of aerosols is short-lived, lasting from a few months to a couple of years.

But black carbon, an aerosol and short-lived climate pollutant, can actually absorb heat while floating around in the air, and that heats the atmosphere. Recent research shows that the heat-trapping potency—though it is short-lived—is much higher than previously thought, roughly two-thirds that of carbon dioxide, according to Alfred Wiedensohler, with the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research.

Winds Can Carry Black Carbon from Wildfires Far from the Source

Megafires may intensify these emissions and send them higher into the atmosphere. A study published this week found that wildfires in Canada in 2017 resulted in extreme levels of aerosols over Europe, higher than those measured after the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

An increase in megafires, driven at least partly by global warming, could change the wildfire carbon cycle, said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

“In general, if we’re seeing an increase in megafires, with direct injections (of pollutants) into the upper atmosphere, the effects can linger for weeks or months, and that could have more of a climate-cooling effect,” he said.

More pieces to the wildfire-climate puzzle will fall into place after scientists evaluate data gathered by a C-130 airplane that’s making daily cruises near Western U.S. wildfires to take detailed measurements of wildfire emissions. The mission is sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Science Foundation.

With the explosion of wildfires in the region the past few decades, the data will help evaluate impacts to human health and the environment, including nutrient cycling, cloud formation and global warming, said University of Wyoming atmospheric scientist Shane Michael Murphy, one of the project researchers.

Wind-Blown Soot Can Affect the Ice Sheets

Eventually, the skies will clear once again, but all that smoke doesn’t just magically disappear. The CO2 will heat the atmosphere for centuries; the methane for a few decades. Some of the aerosols and other particles are heavy enough to drift earthward, and others will wash to the ground with the first good rains of autumn or winter, but not before spreading out over the Northern Hemisphere’s oceans and continents.

Those tiny remnants of burned plants can also affect the climate when they land on mountain glaciers and especially on the snow and ice in the Arctic. In some years, scientists have traced soot from wildfires in Canada to Greenland, where they darken the ice and snow and speed up melting. Wildfire pollution was a significant factor in the record surface melting of the Greenland ice sheet in 2012, said climate scientist Jason Box.

Satellite images from July 23, 2018, shows how the jet stream spreads wildfire smoke across Russia (top) and Canada (bottom). Credit: NASA

Satellite images from July 23, 2018, show how the jet stream spreads wildfire smoke across Russia (top) and Canada (bottom). Credit: NASA

The overall effect of wildfire fallout on Arctic melting is difficult to quantify, partly because of sparse sampling across the remote area, and partly because of the great annual variations in wildfire emissions. But a growing body of research suggests that wildfire soot will contribute to accelerating the Arctic meltdown in the decades ahead.

With wildfires burning farther north, emissions from wildfires in Greenland or Sweden could add significantly to the load of snow-darkening pollution in the Arctic because the sources are so close to the ice sheets. A 2016 study in Alaska estimated that risk of tundra fires will increase fourfold in the coming decades.

Accounting for Wildfires’ Climate Impact

Once the spark is lit, humans can’t do much to change wildfires’ greenhouse gas emissions. But it’s still important to include them in the calculations for reaching the greenhouse gas reduction targets in the Paris climate agreement. With time running out to try and cap global warming at well-below 1.5 degrees Celsius, every ton of CO2 counts, and knowing how extreme wildfire seasons affect greenhouse gas emissions lets the world know how much it will have to cut emissions elsewhere.

Understanding how emissions form during wildfires could also help in the design of mitigation strategies to reduce their impact, said Christine Wiedinmyer, associate science director of the Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado.

For example, a recent CIRES research project suggests that hotter, uncontrolled fires produce more harmful substances. Introducing controlled fires that generally are not as hot could help reduce emissions.

The current increase in extreme fires in some regions is part of a global ecosystem shift driven by human-caused global warming, Denning said. He warned that societies need to adopt strong policies to prevent huge regions of carbon-storing forests from being replaced by lower-carbon grasslands and shrubs.

Based on the best estimates of CO2 emissions from wildfires, Denning said they are dwarfed by emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and gas, and that’s where the focus should be on reducing emissions.

“Without very strong climate policy, industrial emissions are likely to triple in this century. Against that backdrop, the climate effects of increased wildfires are smaller than the error bars in the climate effects of all that coal, oil, and gas,” he said.

Climate change: Global impacts ‘accelerating’ – WMO

heatImage copyrightTOMWANG112

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that the physical and financial impacts of global warming are accelerating.

Record greenhouse gas levels are driving temperatures to “increasingly dangerous levels”, it says.

Their report comes in the same week as the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported a surge in CO2 in 2018.

However, new data from the UK suggests Britain is bucking the trend with emissions down by 3%.

This year’s State of the Climate report from the WMO is the 25th annual record of the climate.

When it first came out in 1993, carbon dioxide levels were at 357 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere. These have now risen to 405.5ppm and are expected to increase further.

This is having a significant impact on temperatures, with 2018 the fourth warmest year on record, almost 1C above what they were in the period between 1850-1900.

FlorenceImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionHurricane Florence was one of 14 disasters causing over $1bn in damages

The years between 2015 and 2018 were the four warmest on that record, the study says.

“This report makes it very clear that the impacts of climate change are accelerating,” said Prof Samantha Hepburn who is director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resource Law at Deakin University in Australia.


“We know that if the current trajectory for greenhouse gas concentrations continues, temperatures may increase by 3 – 5 degrees C compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and we have already reached 1 degree.”

While some of these figures were published in a preliminary release of the study from last November, the full version has data on many key climate indicators, that the WMO says break new ground.

One example is ocean heat content. More than 90% of the energy trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the seas and according to the WMO, 2018 saw new records set for the amount of ocean heat content found in the upper 700 metres of the seas, and also for the upper 2,000 metres.

Sea levels also continued to increase with global mean sea level rising 3.7mm higher in 2018 than the previous year.

“This report highlights the increase in the rate of sea-level rise, and this is a real concern for those living in low-lying coastal areas, for both developing and developing countries,” said Dr Sally Brown, a research fellow at the University of Southampton.

“We know that sea-level rise is a global problem that will not go away, and efforts need to be made to help those who are really vulnerable to adapt to sea-level rise or move to safer areas.”

2018 Climate impacts

  • According to the report, most of the natural hazards that affected nearly 62 million people in 2018 were associated with extreme weather and climate events.
  • Some 35 million people were hit by floods.
  • Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael were just two of 14 “billion dollar disasters” in 2018 in the US.
  • Super Typhoon Mangkhut affected 2.4 million people in and killed 134, mainly in the Philippines.
  • More than 1,600 deaths were linked to heat waves and wildfires in Europe, Japan and US.
  • Kerala in India suffered the heaviest rainfall and worst flooding in nearly a century

The head of the WMO say that the signals of warming continue to be seen in events since the turn of the year.

“Extreme weather has continued in the early 2019, most recently with Tropical Cyclone Idai, which caused devastating floods and tragic loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. It may turn out to be one of the deadliest weather-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.

“Idai made landfall over the city of Beira: a rapidly growing, low-lying city on a coastline vulnerable to storm surges and already facing the consequences of sea level rise. Idai’s victims personify why we need the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction,” said Mr Taalas.

The report has been launched at a news conference in New York attended by the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

energyImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionEmissions from energy grew at a fast rate in 2018

“There is no longer any time for delay,” he wrote in a foreword to the new study.

However earlier this week the International Energy Agency published worrying data, indicating that in 2018 carbon emissions were up 1.7%, as a result of the fastest growth in energy use in the last six years.

The UK government has also released emissions data about greenhouse gas emissions over the past year. The figures show that emissions across the UK have fallen by 3% over the last year, the equivalent the government says, of taking 5 million cars off the road.

Factors driving UK emissions down include the fact that coal was the source of just 5% of electricity in 2018.

The government now says that carbon emissions are at their lowest level since before the turn of the 20th century, when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?

Policy tweaks won’t do it, we need to throw the kitchen sink at this with a total rethink of our relationship to ownership, work and capital
Firefighters tackle a bush fire in Sydney.
 ‘The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes.’ Photograph: Fire & Rescue NSW/AFP/Getty Images

Climate change activism is increasingly the domain of the young, such as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the unlikely face of the school strike for climate movement, which has seen many thousands of children walk out of school to demand that their parents’ generation takes responsibility for leaving them a planet to live on. In comparison, the existing political establishment looks more and more like an impediment to change. The consequences of global warming have moved from the merely theoretical and predicted to observable reality over the past few years, but this has not been matched by an uptick in urgency. The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes.

Today’s children, as they become more politically aware, will be much more radical than their parents, simply because there will be no other choice for them. This emergent radicalism is already taking people by surprise. The Green New Deal (GND), a term presently most associated with 29-year-old US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has provoked a wildly unhinged backlash from the “pro free market” wing, who argue that it’s a Trojan horse, nothing more than an attempt to piggyback Marxism onto the back of climate legislation.

The criticism feels ridiculous. Partly because the GND is far from truly radical and already represents a compromise solution, but mainly because the radical economics isn’t a hidden clause, but a headline feature. Climate change is the result of our current economic and industrial system. GND-style proposals marry sweeping environmental policy changes with broader socialist reforms because the level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below “absolutely catastrophic” is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo.

Right now we can, with a massive investment of effort by 2030, just about keep the warming level below 1.5C. This is “bad, but manageable” territory. Failing to put that effort in sees the world crossing more severe temperature barriers that would lead to outcomes like ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability.

We will simply have to throw the kitchen sink at this. Policy tweaks such as a carbon tax won’t do it. We need to fundamentally re-evaluate our relationship to ownership, work and capital. The impact of a dramatic reconfiguration of the industrial economy require similarly large changes to the welfare state. Basic incomes, large-scale public works programmes, everything has to be on the table to ensure that the oncoming system shocks do not leave vast swathes of the global population starving and destitute. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we cannot continue to treat the welfare system as a tool for disciplining the supposedly idle underclasses. Our system must be reformed with a more humane view of worklessness, poverty and migration than we have now.

Unfortunately for our children, the people they have to convince of all this are the people who have done very well out of this system, and are powerfully incentivised to deny that it is all that bad. Already, Joke Schauvliege, a Belgian environment minister, has been forced to resign after falsely claiming that she had been told by Belgian state security services that “ghosts” behind the scenes were behind demonstrations in Belgium.

This conspiracism of the elite, these claims that genuine mass movement can’t possibly really exist and must be in some way being guided by agents provocateurs, is just one of the ways in which those currently running things have resorted to a kind of political gaslighting in an attempt to maintain their grip on power.

 Dianne Feinstein rebuffs young climate activists’ calls for Green New Deal – video

Gaslighting is a term I don’t use lightly, because it describes a genuine form of emotional abuse, where an abuser will deny reality in an attempt to get their victim to literally doubt their own sanity, and this should not be diluted by overuse. Yet I struggle to think of another word that adequately sums up the way in which “sensible” adults are doubling down on their tactic of manufacturing a political reality which bears no relationship to the world we see around us. It’s the Marxism of Groucho rather than Karl: “Who are you going to believe? The serious political professionals or your own lying eyes?”

US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s meeting with schoolchildren petitioning her to take action over the issue went viral because of the way she condescended to them for, basically, asking her to leave them a planet behind to live on. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she said, “I know what I’m doing.” The obvious response is, of course, that messing something up for 30 years is quite long enough, thanks. Long tenure without results is not the same thing as expertise.

This is a tough and bitter pill to swallow for the political professionals whose feet are firmly under the table. It is increasingly obvious that all their tactics have done almost nothing except run down the clock, but still they insist that it’s the young who just don’t get it and that things aren’t that simple. They’re the living embodiment of the famous New Yorker cartoon, with a suited man sat in a post-apocalyptic landscape telling his young audience “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”

Many of today’s climate strikers won’t even be 30 by the time the 1.5C deadline comes around in 2030. They are asking us to consider a simple question: is their future worth more than preserving our reputations? What will our response to them be?

 Phil McDuff writes on economics and social policy

We Are Destroying Our Life Support System

The warming of planet Earth continues apace, and the ramifications become ever more stunning with each passing month. While no single meteorological event or phenomenon can be attributed solely to human-caused climate disruption, this is now nearly always the leading cause of the event, or at the very least a major contributing factor.

Recent data from the World Meteorological office showed that 2018 was the fourth warmest on record, making the last four years the hottest four years in Earth’s recorded history.

On that note, it is worth remembering that the single worst mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the “Great Dying” that happened 252 million years ago and took out as much as 96 percent of all marine species and two-thirds of terrestrial life, occurred due to rapid planetary warming.

Another feedback loop has been discovered in the Arctic, this time in Greenland, where it was recently reported that melting glaciers are yet another source of methane.

It was also recently revealed that Greenland saw an “unprecedented” loss of ice over the last two decades. Another study by a US research team had shown that the decade of 2004-13 experienced more sustained and intense melting there than during any other 10-year period in the 350-year record. This means that Greenland is contributing more to sea level rise than previously understood, adding more than at any other time that record keeping has existed. Melt water runoff there has increased 50 percent since the industrial revolution began.

Dear readers, take a deep breath, and keep reading. We must be aware of the reality of this crisis, if we are to behave accordingly.


A scientist returning to the Puerto Rican rainforest recently found that 98 percent of all the ground insects had disappeared since he was there 35 years ago. The scientist, Brad Lister, told The Guardian: “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet. It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”

His findings come on the heels of other disturbing studies that have revealed crashing insect populations in other places around the world. Lister has warned of an “ecological Armageddon” from these crashes.

Meanwhile, increasing temperatures alone are already threatening to decimate US crop yields. Farmer’s livelihoods are at risk as warmer temperatures, drought and floods combine to disrupt agricultural productivity. In addition to farmers struggling to make a living, food prices will, of course, escalate.

Another climate change impact with obvious consequences for humans is increasing heat waves. A study published late last year showed that more people globally are vulnerable to heat exposure, which means they will be at greater risk of heat stress, heart and kidney disease, and other heat-related issues that can kill. The study estimated that between 2030-50, climate change could also kill an additional quarter million people each year “due to malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria and heat stress.”

Another study showed that almost one-third of all of the bird species in Wales are now “declining significantly,” with some already having disappeared entirely.

recent report about the state of the Arctic showed that the number of Arctic reindeer has crashed by 58 percent in the last two decades alone, largely due to climate change.

Two scientists warned recently that the planet’s extinction toll may be far worse than previously understood. Climate change, overpopulation of humans, exploitation of resources and habitat destruction are combining to cause cascades of extinctions. The scientists warned that today’s rates, which are already 1,000 times the normal background extinction rate, could be a staggering 10 times worse.

In the US, another wave of US citizens have become climate change refugees. In the wake of Hurricane Florence in North Carolina last fall, many people of the New Bern community in the eastern part of the state have had their homes and lives destroyed. Already a largely old, poor and disabled community, these people cannot afford to stay where they are, and those who try to stay are beset with the psychological tolls and environmental toxins that are ravaging the area.

Even the corporate media are now reporting on “climate grief” — what happens to us when the experiences of extreme weather events and dire climate reports, such as this one, continue to intensify. Alongside them, the mental health impacts of depression and resignation about a grim future on the planet are striking more people than ever before. Even just last year, the American Psychological Association published a report on this subject, openly discussing trauma from living through extreme weather events, but also noting how “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”


In addition to the aforementioned dramatic news of the melting ice sheets and glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica, another study has revealed that glaciers in the Arctic are melting so dramatically they are pouring 14,000 tons of water every second into the ocean.

This means they are contributing more to sea level rise than even current melting in Antarctica, and that the Arctic region has thus contributed nearly one full inch to sea levels since just 1971.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 Arctic Report Card survey showed that sea ice had reached its second-lowest extent ever recorded as the Arctic experienced its second-warmest year on record. The report warns that this leaves the wildlife and communities across that region under great pressure as climate and ecosystems are undergoing dramatic changes.

Meanwhile, the melting of ice around the world continues apace.

In the Himalayas, a photo essay by the Nepali Times shows and describes the dramatic changes there, where the world’s highest glaciers are melting and receding at a shocking pace.

In Canada, a recent report warned that a stunning 80 percent of mountain glaciers in Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon will disappear within just 50 years from now.

Meanwhile, in the realm of the privileged, Miami’s affluent, many of whom are referring to themselves as “climate refugees,” are also abandoning their high-dollar oceanfront residences and moving to higher ground because of impending sea level rise. This is causing gentrification and suffering of the less privileged who happen to already be living in the areas where the rich are moving and driving up the costs of living for everyone.

Last November, the extremely well researched and comprehensive National Climate Assessment warned that, among many other things, increasingly warmer temperatures across the US threaten national water security. The report warned of physical alterations in the nation’s water supplies, including rising seas driving saltwater further inland underground, which threatens major water sources for cities such as Miami. Mountainous regions are seeing more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, endangering water supplies that rely heavily on snowpack. Meanwhile, in lakes, rivers and estuaries, warmer temperatures mean an increase in algal blooms like those which occurred in Florida last summer and fall, causing massive fish kills and disruption to life and tourism.

Before the heat wave that is now scorching Australia, flash flooding in Sydney caused chaos and two deaths when the heaviest November rainfall in decades struck the city.

Also on the sea level rise front, Venice made the news again recently with a tax on day tourists in hopes of raising money to address the crisis, while local residents and businesses deal with the chaos of a city struggling to survive against sea rise and constant flooding.

On the other end of the water spectrum, a recent study showed that “anthropogenic climate forcing has doubled the joint probability of years that are both warm and dry in the same location” since 1931, posing a very serious threat to agriculture on a planetary scale. The study also found that the frequency of simultaneous hot/dry conditions will keep increasing, and will reach about 20 percent over the next 30 years without dramatic reductions of fossil fuel emissions.

Farmers in the US Midwest are already sounding the alarm about the “radical” changes they describe as far as the dramatic impacts of drought and higher temperatures on their farms. They are already spending more money and time than ever in trying to figure out how to grow crops amidst ever-changing harsher conditions.

Worryingly, several studies already exist that show the dramatic decline in nutrients of food due primarily to increasingly warm temperatures, some by as much as up to 30 percent.

Meanwhile, the oceans continue to warm apace.

Off the coast of Northwestern Alaska, the cod population is now at the lowest level it has ever been, and state officials have declared disasters after multiple salmon fisheries have failed. Meanwhile, further to the north, salmon runs are dramatically increasing due to warmer temperatures, reflecting the disruptive, chaotic and unpredictable nature of our warming planet.

On that note, oceans are continuing to heat far faster than previously expected, and 2018 set yet another heat record for the warming oceans, a trend which further threatens marine life.


The Guardian recently reported how several studies have shown how the US is woefully prepared for extreme weather events to come, including the dramatic increase of wildfires that have been predicted as climate disruption continues to advance. Last year, the wildfires in Californiaalone destroyed thousands of structures and left 85 people dead.

Meanwhile, in January, wildfires scorched many parts of Australia, as large swaths of that country continued to bake under record-breaking high temperatures.


Temperature records around the world continue to soar, as do projections. In the UK, a recent report by the Met Office warned that summers there could be more than 5 degrees Celsius (5°C) warmer by 2070.

Very disturbing news came from a Japanese satellite that has spotted signs of methane gas bubbling up from beneath lakes that are forming in the tundra as Arctic permafrost continues to thaw. It is important to remember that methane is a far, far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Another troubling bit of news on this topic came in the form of a studyindicating that the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the highest mountain range on Earth, are already likely to be warmer than previously understood.

Denial and Reality

The Trump administration’s climate change denialism has, as usual, been off the charts since the last dispatch.

Their response to the National Climate Assessment, an intensely comprehensive study detailing the impacts of climate change across the US, including impacts that will cost the US hundreds of billions, if not trillions of dollars of damage in the coming decades, was to dismiss the findings of the federal report.

Then, in the wake of that move and unable to bury its own National Climate Assessment, since it was a government generated report, the Trump administration and its denialist colleagues launched a full-scale assault against the science in the report.

After releasing the report on Black Friday afternoon in an attempt to bury it, Trump simply said of the catastrophic findings, “I don’t believe it.” Following that, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler and then-head of the Department of Interior Ryan Zinke, carried forward the assault on the report, along with other climate change denialists, calling the report“alarmist” and extreme.

Furthermore, Wheeler went on to say that the Trump administration may even intervene in the next climate study.

Meanwhile, back in reality, a poll released in late November showed that nearly two-thirds of Republicans and the majority of all Americans acknowledge that climate change is real. I understand that reporting this is akin to congratulating people for acknowledging the reality of gravity, but it has, indeed, come to this in the United States.

Another poll also showed that seven in 10 Americans believe climate change is happening, a 10-point increase over four years ago.

This is good, as the impacts of climate change are only going to intensify, and then some, given the International Energy Agency’s recent announcement that carbon dioxide emissions from the world’s richer countries were set to increase through the end of 2018, a trend that broke a five-year decline.

More bad news came from another report in early December 2018 which showed that global carbon emissions, not just in richer countries, were on track to jump to an all-time high through 2018, increasing by 2.7 percent.

Meanwhile, at the time of this writing, atmospheric CO2 had already set three daily records for January, with an all-time high of 413.86 parts per million (ppm) on January 22.

The year 2018 saw three daily records set for the entire year, 2017 and 2016 saw two daily records each, and 2015 saw one.

Writing these climate dispatches has become increasingly difficult over the last five years. Each new report of the melting of glaciers and ice fields that is accelerating yet again, each new source of methane that is now speeding the warming of the already overburdened atmosphere, each new bird species listed as “declining significantly,” each new atmospheric CO2 level reached, and every round of temperature records across the planet leads to yet more grief, anguish, rage, anxiety, sadness — and finally, acceptance.

Yet, doing this research and collating it into this report each month is akin to watching, very closely, the slow-motion death of someone I love dearly.

At the same time, this work has brought some of the most magnificent people I’ve ever known into my life. Hence, the tragic drama of this Great New Era of Loss we have entered with Earth would not be complete without, of course, love.

One of these people in my life is author, teacher, healer and elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth. His writing and wisdom touched me so deeply at the exact moment in my life when I needed it more than I even knew. His presence in my life enabled me to conclude my recently published book properly.

Stan and I talk pretty regularly. He wrote me shortly after finishing my book, before it was published, as I had asked for his feedback.

Like me, Stan is burdened by the gravity of loss upon us now, and by us, I mean the big Us … all life on Earth. But here is what he wrote me, in part, as a response to this seemingly bottomless and unfathomable loss (Stan doesn’t use capital letters):

i read the other day that elephants are now being born without developing tusks, in areas where poachers have been killing them for the ivory. years ago in northern california, i heard a story about a place where lots of rattlesnakes lived, and the people there went on a series of extermination hunts, killing all they could find. the next generation of rattlers there carried no rattles, a quick adaptation to madness made by nature, by snake. it makes me wonder if earth has something in mind for her survival, or if human aberration has the power to change even nature’s mind. so many creatures and beings are now dying needlessly, that i wonder what’s going through her. i looked at big seas rolling in today, a storm coming, and though the surface was smooth and glassy, the waves huge, the roar was strong and carried far inland. i can open the door and listen from here.

why so many people have chosen to forget so much is completely beyond me.

with love and thanks,


Stan reminds me to see the beauty and the mystery, even in the loss. And in so doing, to also remember to go touch the Earth, in homage and respect, while so much continues to live today.

It is clear that runaway climate disruption is upon us, and I wonder if humans’ ability to adapt to this increasingly harsh new world will be as dramatic as that of the elephants and the rattlesnakes when faced with their annihilation.