Year 4, Month 8, Day 20: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!!

The Reno News Review (NV) considers the wildfire situation:

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is trying to cope with drought and heat across the West.

And U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said Western heat and fires are signs of climate change.

The heat and fires jeopardize the livelihood of ranchers who depend on grazing, and threaten urban areas like Reno that depend on snowpacks for their water supplies.

“Since last fall and winter, we have been working with grazers across the West in anticipation of tough conditions related to drought,” said BLM deputy director Neil Kornze in a prepared statement. “In southwestern Montana, for example, the BLM worked with permitted ranchers to graze no more than 70 percent of their allotted forage on BLM-managed lands. As drought conditions continue, wild horses, livestock, and wildlife that rely on rangeland forage and water will face extremely challenging conditions that may leave them in very poor condition. We are taking action to address these situations as quickly and as effectively as we can, but our options are increasingly limited by conditions on the land.”

In Nevada, the BLM has been trucking 5,000 gallons of water day, five days a week to four locations for wild horses. A veterinarian was expected to be in Lincoln County this week. BLM employees reported that horses were not eating or drinking, raising questions about their health.

“The West is burning,” Reid said in Nevada on July 17. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, Charleston range like we just had.”

“The West is being devastated by wildfires,” Reid said a day later in D.C. “Millions of acres are burning. Millions of acres have burned. … They’re occurring all over. Why? Because the climate has changed. The winters are shorter, the summers are hotter.”

La la la la la la la la la la la. July 28:

The sad fact is that as long as the majority of American news media are financially beholden to corporate interests allied with fossil-fuel producers, the grim and compelling evidence of climate change will never be presented on prime-time TV without a protective dose of false equivalence. Here’s how that works:

A petroleum company provides generous funding to a “think tank,” which hires a videogenic person with a degree in a tangentially-related field (statistics, engineering, meteorology), gives them grand-sounding but semantically meaningless title, and equips them with a full array of obfuscatory talking points (“the science isn’t settled,” “action on climate change will damage the economy,” etc.).

When a climatologist is scheduled to appear, TV programs call the think tank, which sends a “Senior Policy Analyst” to provide “the other side of the argument,” thereby creating the impression that there is a legitimate dispute. If this mechanism were in place elsewhere in our national discourse, we’d be hearing from flat-Earthers, lizard-people theorists, faked-moon-landing believers, and adherents of the medieval medical theory of “humors.”

Could this be related to the fact that responsible action on climate change will reduce oil-industry profits by a small but significant margin? I wonder.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 8, Day 6: Damned Truths!

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports on Harry Reid’s readiness to connect the dots:

WASHINGTON — As firefighters head home from Southern Nevada, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday blamed “climate change” for the intense blaze that consumed nearly 28,000 acres and drove hundreds of residents from their homes around Mount Charleston this month.

Reid said the government should be spending “a lot more” on fire prevention, echoing elected officials who say the Forest Service should move more aggressively to remove brush and undergrowth that turn small fires into huge ones.

“The West is burning,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters in a meeting. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a fire in the Spring Mountains, Charleston range like we just had.

“Why are we having them? Because we have climate change. Things are different. The forests are drier, the winters are shorter, and we have these terrible fires all over the West.”

“This is terribly concerning,” Reid said. Dealing with fire “is something we can’t do on the cheap.”

“We have climate change. It’s here. You can’t deny it,” Reid went on. “Why do you think we are having all these fires?”

“You can make all the excuses,” he said, such as that fires are disasters that “just happen every so often.”

Avoid the comment thread if you value your sanity. July 18:

Linking single events with larger trends is problematic. Whether it’s an oncologist tracking the etiology of a malignancy or a politician connecting the dots between wildfires and climate change, it’s easy to misinterpret the causal chain. But this doesn’t make the statistics of probability irrelevant. The same people who dismiss extreme weather or fatal blazes as unconnected to the overall trends of atmospheric heating have no problem betting on the outcome of sports events!

But let’s say that the overwhelming majority (97 percent) of the world’s climate scientists have got it wrong, and the likelihood that climate change is connected to more frequent wildfires is actually relatively low. Well, here’s an important conservative politician’s analysis: “If there’s a 1% chance…we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” That was Dick Cheney, articulating the foreign policy doctrine that bears his name.

What’s the difference? Well, the connection between the intensifying greenhouse effect and more frequent natural disasters is much stronger than that between Saddam Hussain and 9/11 — but the probability of conservative politicians and their corporate paymasters opposing anything that would even slightly reduce their profit margins is 100 percent — an absolute certainty.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 24: Busted Flat In…. Boulder?

The Coloradoan notes a new study on climate change and wildfires:

Last year, 2012, the hottest year on record in both Colorado and the United States and the state’s worst wildfire year ever, may be just a taste of what climate change has in store for the West.

Colorado’s future under the influence of climate change will be significantly warmer and drier than recent years, and the impacts will affect the regions’ water, forests, wildfires, ecosystems and ability to grow crops.

That’s the conclusion of the draft of the federal government’s National Climate Assessment, which was released for public comment on Monday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The water content of Colorado’s snowpack and the timing of the spring runoff are changing, which could pose major challenges for the state’s water supplies and farmers, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University and co-author of the portion of the assessment addressing Colorado and the Southwest.

Reaching a bit for the metaphor, but what the hell. Sent January 17:

The unimaginable devastation wrought by 2012’s wildfires are “just a taste,” writes Bobby Magill, “of what climate change has in store for the West.” In the aftermath of the world’s hottest year on record, Americans may finally be waking up to the dangers posed by a rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect. The earlier phrase “global warming” was misleading, offering a picture of our planet as getting a little cuddlier and more comforting; after all, who doesn’t like being warm? The true picture as predicted by climatologists for several decades is now emerging: whatever climatic factors were already dangerous are going to be even more so. Did your region already suffer from occasional drought? Get ready for two or three years of water shortages. Occasional heavy rains? Be prepared for massive flooding. Hurricanes every now and then? Batten down the hatches and keep them battened down for the foreseeable future.

If last year’s wildfires were the appetizers, we can anticipate a multi-course banquet of climatic disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 19: Strike Anywhere…

The Tehama County Daily News (CA) notes that things are sorta kinda on fire:

LOS ANGELES (MCT) After several years of relatively benign fire seasons, the West is headed into a hot dry summer of potentially ferocious blazes like the ones that have scorched Colorado in recent weeks.

The wildfires that have already destroyed more than 700 homes and outbuildings along Colorado’s Front Range and blackened hundreds of thousands of acres of New Mexico wilderness are not likely to be the season’s last for one simple reason: drought.

“This year, fires are going big,” Tom Harbour, fire and aviation director for the U.S. Forest Service, said last week. “We’ve had some really extraordinary runs … fires that are running 10 miles in lighter fuels.

Fires that are running miles in forested areas.”

A dry La Nina winter and a paltry, quick-melting snowpack in much of the West have set the stage for another incendiary summer, compounding the effects of a long-term drought that has gripped the seven-state Colorado River basin for more than a decade.

“The reason Colorado is burning is they’ve had prolonged drought,” said Bob Keane, a forest service research ecologist based in Montana.

Add the high temperatures and gusting winds that hit the state last week, and you have a recipe for combustion.

Quick and dirty. Sent July 8:

No single event can be unambiguously linked to global climate change, because climate science doesn’t work that way. But any attempt to claim that the wildfires devastating America’s West aren’t connected to Earth’s burgeoning greenhouse effect is statistically absurd.

Climatologists have been predicting for years that the consequences of increased CO2 emissions would include weather that was hotter, weirder, fiercer, and less predictable. And while some of their forecasts were erroneous, most of those mistakes were underestimations of the speed and magnitude of the transformation in our environment.

Despite an ongoing campaign of climate-change denial, the atmosphere is still getting hotter. We’d mock any Colorado residents who refuse to heed the gathering flames — why, then, are climatologists and environmentalists whose decades of predictions on climate change have been overwhelmingly vindicated still treated with derision by the petroleum-funded professionals in our politics and media?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 7, Day 14: Liberals Have A Reality-Bias…

The Portland (ME) Press-Herald runs a WaPo article on climate change and the hell-on-earth that is Colorado:

WASHINGTON — Snow hardly fell during winter in snowy Colorado. On top of that, the state’s soaking spring rains did not come. So it was no wonder that normally emerald landscapes were parched as summer approached, tan as a pair of worn khakis.

All the earth needed was a spark.

Colorado and U.S. Forest Service firefighters are battling the state’s most destructive wildfires ever. Lightning and suspected arson ignited them four weeks ago, but scientists and federal officials say the table was set by a culprit that will probably contribute to bigger and more frequent wildfires for years to come: climate change.

In the past two years, record-breaking wildfires have burned in the West — New Mexico experienced its worst-ever wildfire, Arizona suffered its largest burn and Texas last year fought the most fires in recorded history. From Mississippi to the Ohio Valley, temperatures are topping record highs and the land is thirsty.

“We’ve had record fires in 10 states in the last decade, most of them in the West,” said U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Harris Sherman, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service.

A revision and extension of the letter from two days ago. Sent July 3:

Not too long ago, any public figure who pointed out that a runaway greenhouse effect would have significant negative consequences for humanity could look forward to insults and mockery from conservatives. Anyone who suggested that it would probably be a good idea to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would be called a “climate alarmist,” an “environazi,” or a “watermelon” (green on the outside, red on the inside — get it?).

The name-calling’s still going on, but some of the climate-change denialists are beginning to wake up. Even Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson publicly acknowledged the fact of human-caused global warming in a recent speech, although his assertion that humanity will “adapt” blithely glosses over the enormous human cost involved. More generally, the fact that America is undergoing a nationwide heat wave has rendered the denialist position harder to sustain.

More than three decades ago, climatologists started predicting that global warming would bring about this type of erratic and unpredictable weather, but politicians and the media have consistently ignored or derided their emergency signals. Such dismissals can now be understood as a grave abdication of the responsibilities of leadership.

“Alarmism” is just a sensible response to an alarming situation; as planetary temperatures rise and smoke billows above a burning Colorado, it’s obvious and inescapable: global climate change is as alarming as it gets.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 19: Double Whammy Bar

Two separate articles in the June 7 issue of the Vancouver Sun:

Planetary bad news:

The Earth’s ecosystems could reach a point of no return resulting in rapid irreversible collapse in as little as 50 years, according to projections by a group of 18 scientists.

Their article in the journal Nature today says that human activities – such as energy use and widespread transformation of the Earth’s surface for habitation and agriculture – are pushing the planet toward a critical threshold for “state shift” not unlike the transition from the last ice age about 12,000 years ago.

Such a shift would create a new nor-mal condition for the entire planet with a new range of temperatures, new ocean levels and widespread species extinctions resulting in an entirely new web of life.

It would not necessarily be a comfortable place for human beings.

“We’ve had a good long run of really benign conditions that have allowed humans to go from cracking rocks together to walking on the moon,” said Simon Fraser University biodiversity professor Arne Mooers, one of the authors of the article.

Local bad news:

The number of major forest fires in B.C. will likely increase by 50 per cent or more in the next 40 years according to a recent report on climate change.

Telling the Weather Story, released this week by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, addresses altering weather patterns across the country in the coming decades and urges Canadians to adjust to the realities of climate change.

The study predicts B.C. can expect an increase in wildfires over the average of nearly 2,000 blazes a year between 2000 and 2010. Furthermore, the province will likely see a host of other weather-related issues like warmer temperatures, declining — and, in some regions, disappearing — mountain snowpacks, more intense rainfall during the winter, and drier summers. The number of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes — responsible for nearly 60 per cent of fires — is also expected to rise.

“It’s not a just a possibility,” said Dr. Gordon McBean, the report’s lead researcher. “There’s a very real probability it will happen.”

McBean, a climatologist and professor at the University of Western Ontario, conducted the research with cooperation from the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, where he also serves as policy chairman.

Read the comments for the full flavor. Sheesh. Sent June 8:

The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s report on the increased risk of forest fires is a localized version of the dire planetary “tipping point” projections just published in the journal Nature. The two articles in the June 7 edition of the Sun reinforce one another in the same way that climate-change processes do. For example, hotter summers set the stage for more forest fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere in a positive feedback loop; the pine-beetle infestations brought by milder winters can leave whole forests of flammable dead trees — which, naturally, cannot reabsorb carbon as healthy forests do. Thawing Arctic permafrost releases even more carbon, while melting polar ice means less light is reflected back into space, in turn leading to greater heat absorption by the oceans.

Unfortunately, the mechanisms of denial are very strong, and many people will ignore this obvious crisis rather than contemplate changing their convenient lifestyles.

Humanity is a tenacious, flexible and adaptable species. We can survive the consequences of global climate change — but only if we stop denying the existence of the emergency, instead bringing all of our resources, ingenuity and commitment to bear on the problem.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 3, Day 16: I Guess I’ll Go Hang Out With Quinn The Eskimo

For the full flavor of this article on climate change’s effects in our national park system, I recommend visiting and reading the comments. Oy. Anyway, here’s the gist of the piece:

CODY — Summer visitors to the Shoshone National Forest and Yellowstone National Park could benefit from a warming climate, though fires would likely increase, water would run short by season’s end, and some species could vanish from the landscape.

Those are predictions of a new study released by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. The report looks at the impacts that climate change would have on the Shoshone and the consequences to the surrounding ecosystem.

Janine Rice, lead author of the study from the University of Colorado, found that climate records over the past 100 years indicate a 2-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperatures on the Shoshone during the summer and fall, and a 4-degree increase in winter and spring.

The report suggests that more warming has taken place at higher elevations than lower elevations. If the trend continues, temperatures across the forest could rise between 2 and 10 degrees in this century.

But Al Gore is fat. Sent March 16:

The Rocky Mountain Research Station’s new study on the effects of climate change takes on very powerful meaning when it’s understood in a larger context. To be sure, even relatively minor warming for Shoshone and Yellowstone National Parks will trigger profound consequences — there’s nothing trivial about more fires, less water, and an increase in regional extinctions.

But to really grasp the import of this study, it’s necessary to remember that climate change’s impacts aren’t restricted to a few beautiful pieces of parkland. Those wildfires will burn all over the West, not just in the sagebrush of Shoshone — and the water to extinguish them will be unavailable everywhere in the region.

There aren’t enough scientists to do predictive studies on every ecological niche on the planet. Those few areas which get investigated are the canaries in the coal mine for the rest of us. We need to pay attention.

Warren Senders


Year 2, Month 8, Day 11: Yogi & Boo-Boo Will Have To Wear Protective Clothing

The Sacramento Bee for July 25 describes a new study on the likely increase in wildfires as a consequence of climate change…and what it’s going to mean for Yellowstone National Park:

The study by Westerling and his colleagues, which will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the expected rising temperatures caused by climate change could increase the frequency of large wildfires in Yellowstone to an unprecedented level, according to a news release from the university.

The projected increase in fires would probably cause a major shift in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, with fewer dense forests and more open woodland, grass and shrub vegetation.

The change could happen by 2050, Westerling theorizes, with forests becoming younger, the mix of tree species changing and some forests failing to regenerate after repeated fires. That would affect the region’s wildlife, hydrology, carbon storage and aesthetics, the news release said.

“What surprised us about our results was the speed and scale of the projected changes in fire in greater Yellowstone,” Westerling said. “We expected fire to increase with increased temperatures, but we did not expect it to increase so much or so quickly. We were also surprised by how consistent the changes were across different climate projections.”

Sent July 26:

Yellowstone has long been the figurehead of our nation’s National Park system. From iconic geysers to astonishing ecologies, this extraordinary area is not only one of the world’s great wonders, but an unparalleled tourist attraction. Looking into the future, however, it’s hard to imagine the same crowds will show up for the regular forest fires that the UC Merced study predicts as a consequence of regional droughts and climate change? Yellowstone isn’t alone; other parks throughout the country are already feeling the effects of the past century’s emissions of greenhouse gases. How much devastation must global warming wreak on our country’s landscape before the professional denialists and their science-blind followers come to their senses? What would Theodore Roosevelt say to the current crop of law-makers who are eagerly destroying his legacy? Between climate change and anti-environment legislators, our country’s national parks are in greater danger than ever before.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 25: Smoke Signals

The July 9 edition of the Summit County Voice (CO), features a good report on how scientists are studying the relationship between climate change and the wildfires that have been wreaking havoc in the American West:

Fires are one of nature’s primary carbon-cycling mechanisms, said Dr. Melita Keywood, a researcher with Australia’s national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

A press release from CSIRO highlighted some of the questions Keywood raised in a recent presentation at a gathering of geophysicists.

“Understanding changes in the occurrence and magnitude of fires will be an important challenge for which there needs to be a clear focus on the tools and methodologies available to scientists to predict fire occurrence in a changing climate,” Keywood said.

She said the link between long-term climate change and short-term variability in fire activity is complex, with multiple and potentially unknown feedbacks.

Smoking is bad for your health. Sent July 9:

The key phrase in your report on wildfires and climate change can be found in the fifth paragraph: “the link between long-term climate change and short-term variability in fire activity is complex, with multiple and potentially unknown feedbacks.” Both parts of this sentence deserve careful attention. Climate denialists universally fail to understand that complicated phenomena are connected in complicated ways; their simplistic “analysis” reaches its most sophisticated level with “global warming can’t be real, because it’s cold outside.” And those same denialists have never been able to grasp the idea of “feedbacks,” loops of causation in which the symptoms of a problem exacerbate the problem itself (what happens when you and your partner mix up the dual controls on an electric blanket?). When a scientist uses a phrase like “multiple and potentially unknown feedbacks,” she’s giving us a very strongly worded warning: this problem has the potential to get much worse in ways we cannot yet imagine. Welcome to the future!

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 7, Day 1: Who Burned Cock Robin?

When it comes to those disastrous forest fires (still raging as this is being written on June 16), the experts are reluctant to point the finger of blame:

The fires searing parts of the West are an eerie echo of the past, a frightening reminder of a once terrible danger that had been held largely at bay for decades.

The number of large wildfires has been rising for roughly the past 25 years, and they are lasting longer during fire seasons that also last longer.

Is it global warming? Experts won’t say that, pointing instead to a variety of factors, including weather, insect infestations and more people living and camping in the woods.

Fortunately, I’m not an expert.

Sent June 16:

The unwillingness of climatologists to assert that global climate change has caused the Arizona wildfires says a lot more about scientific integrity than it does about the way those conflagrations got started. Ethical and responsible scientists are reluctant to describe a complex situation in simplistic ways; a climate specialist who asserted direct causality between global warming and increased forest fires would be rightly criticized by his or her professional colleagues. But when we dig a little deeper (something our media often forgets to do), we discover that these same scientists have been predicting for decades that an accelerating greenhouse effect will create conditions likely to bring more frequent fires, floods, snowstorms, tornadoes, and any other extreme environmental event you can imagine. While professional responsibility prevents scientists from stating unambiguous causality, moral responsibility demands that our politicians stop wasting time on trivialities, and address the looming threat of catastrophic climate change.

Warren Senders