“For so many years, talking about the weather was talking about nothing. Now it really is our survival.”
-Terry Tempest Williams
“Climate change debate is over, now it’s about climate adaptation.”
-Craig Fugate, former director of the Federal Emergency Management
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
We must change the narrative. The planet has drastically and rapidly moved beyond the ‘why’ of climate change. The collective needs to desperately and pragmatically admit the climate has indeed ‘changed’. The Earth’s equilibrium has been altered. How do we live in this new ecosystem while protecting, and taking care of each other…and Gaia? The earth needs to know we are trying.
Inside Climate News
Potent Mix of Record Heat and Dryness Fuels Wildfires Across the West
by Georgina Gustin
Wildfires burned across hundreds of thousands of acres in the American and Canadian West this week, fueled by scorching temperatures that are breaking heat and fire records across the region.
In California, while temperatures have eased, at least 15 cities have seen record-breaking heat, and the state has experienced its hottest summer on record. San Francisco hit 106 degrees over the weekend, breaking its previous high by 3 degrees. Stoked by unusually high temperatures, fires burned on thousands of acres just outside Los Angeles, while firefighters in Washington, Oregon and Montana battled dozens of blazes across those states.
By the end of the day Tuesday, at least 81 large fires were blazing across 1.5 million acres of the U.S. West, from Colorado to California and north to Washington. Over the Canadian border, British Columbia has already had a record-breaking fire season—and it’s not over yet. Cities including Seattle were shrouded in a smoky fog. In satellite pictures, the smoke could be seen traveling the jet stream and reaching the East Coast.
As firefighters battled the blazes, climate researchers pointed to studies finding that a warmed global atmosphere, with increasingly clear human fingerprints, will continue driving a potent mix of heat and dryness that’s projected to escalate in the West.
“These unprecedented extreme events, on the daily to the seasonal scale, are exactly the types of events that are more likely due to the global warming that’s already occurred,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “That’s not so much a future projection, but an observational reality, and that’s something we expect to increase in the future. When we get these extremes, there’s a human fingerprint.”
Swain co-authored a study led by Stanford researcher Noah Diffenbaugh published earlier this year that found human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have increased the chances of extreme heat across more than 80 percent of the globe’s surface area.
“The increased occurrence of severe heat, and the role of global warming on the occurrence of severe heat—that’s already happening,” Diffenbaugh said. “It wouldn’t be scientifically credible to make attribution statements without analyzing the event. That being said, we can see the odds of setting new records based on the global warming that’s already happening.”
While drought and high heat aren’t the only factors making wildfires more intense and frequent—researchers also blame encroaching development into wild areas and certain wildfire management practices—they are key drivers.
Nine of the 10 worst fire seasons in the past 50 years have all happened since 2000, and 2015 was the worst fire season in U.S. history, surpassing 10 million acres for the first time on record. So far this year, wildfires in the U.S. have burned 7.8 million acres, but the fire season is far from over. (In 2015, 8.4 million acreshad burned by early September.) The average fire season is 78 days longer than it was in the 1970s—now nearly seven months—beginning and extending beyond the typical heat of summer. By April of this year, wildfires had scorched more than 2 million acres in the U.S.—nearly the average consumed in entire fire seasons during the 1980s.
Last fall, researchers published the results of a study that found human-induced climate change accounted for about half the observed increase in fuel aridity, or forest dryness, in the western U.S. since 1979 and had nearly doubled the area of the U.S. West affected by forest fires since 1984.
During that same time period, temperatures across the West have risen. Temperatures are projected to rise further—and along with them, the tinderbox conditions that fuel wildfires.
“We know that global warming has already increased the probability of unprecedented high temperatures in the western U.S., including in California,” Diffenbaugh said. “And we know, with high confidence, that continued global warming will continue to intensify those increases.”
A forest fire spread along the Columbia River Gorge on Sept. 5, 2017. Credit: James C. Kling/CC-BY-2.0
Has Climate Change Intensified 2017’s Western Wildfires?
It was supposed to be a quiet year.
by Robinson Meyer
Last winter, a weak La Niña bloomed across the Pacific. It sent flume after flume of rain to North America and irrigated half the continent. Water penetrated deep into the soil of Western forests, and mammoth snowdrifts stacked up across the Sierra Nevadas. California’s drought ended in the washout.
Yet fires are now raging across the West. More than two dozen named firescurrently burn across Washington and Oregon. More than one million acres have burned in Montana, an area larger than Rhode Island, in the Treasure State’s third-worst fire season on record. And the largest brushfire in the history of Los Angeles currently threatens hundreds of homes in Burbank.
Noah Berger / Reuters
Canada may be experiencing an even worse year for wildfires: 2.86 million acres have burned in British Columbia, the largest area ever recorded in the province.
So what happened? How did a wet Western winter lead to a sky-choking summer?
The answer lies in the summer’s record-breaking heat, say wildfire experts. Days of near-100-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures cooked the Mountain West in early July, and a scorching heat wave lingered over the Pacific Northwest in early August.
“This will become an important year for [anecdotes about] the importance of temperature. Despite the fact that these forests were really soaked down this winter and spring, these heat waves have dried things out enough to promote really large fires,” says Park Williams, a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
“Since the 1980s, we’ve only burnt about 10 percent of the western U.S. forests. And that number to me means that there’s still a whole lot more to burn,” Williams said. He estimated that it would take another several decades for that excess century of fuel to burn out of the American woods. And in the meantime, the planet will only get hotter.
“According to climate models, by the end of this century, the western United States is still projected to warm by about another 3.5 degrees Celsius,” he told me. “And when we remember that the relationship between temperature and fire is exponential … we’re really talking about a very different western United States in 50 years.”