Marine Heat Waves, Changing Ocean Currents and Capitalism’s Threat to Life

The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Extreme marine heatwaves in 2016 and 2017 have killed one-half of the reef.ROBERT LINSDELL / FLICKR; EDITED: LW / TO

Reprinted from truthout.org

https://truthout.org/articles/marine-heatwaves-changing-ocean-currents-and-capitalisms-threat-to-life/

 

It would have been unthinkable not many years ago to imagine the impending death of the Great Barrier Reef. The world’s largest living structure and a world heritage site unsurpassed for its tremendous beauty, the Great Barrier Reef has been one of the planet’s most important ecosystems. Now, after consecutive years of prolonged, extreme marine heat waves in 2016 and 2017, one-half of the reef is dead.

Yet the reef, which has gone through immense challenges over millions of years of changing climates, is not entirely gone yet. Leading coral reef scientist Terry Hughes recently told the Guardian that, “The Great Barrier Reef is certainly threatened by climate change, but it is not doomed if we deal very quickly with greenhouse gas emissions. Our study shows that coral reefs are already shifting radically in response to unprecedented heatwaves.”

Further work from other research teams documented in April that globally, marine heat waves have increased in frequency and are of longer duration. Scientists from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies published a study finding that between 1925 and 2016, marine heat waves occurred 34 percent more often, and lasted 17 percent longer. The result has been a 54 percent increase in the number of marine heat wave days happening each year globally.

The study brought together a range of ocean temperature data over the time period studied. Controlling for climate variability, the authors were able to determine that the increase in marine heat waves was related to an increase in sea surface temperature. “With more than 90 percent of the heat from human-caused global warming going into our oceans, it is likely marine heat waves will continue to increase,” said study co-author Neil Holbrook from the University of Tasmania.

The paper cites the impact of recent marine heat waves in a number of the world’s oceans, concluding that, “These events resulted in substantial ecological and economic impacts, including sustained loss of kelp forests, coral bleaching, reduced surface chlorophyll levels due to increased surface layer stratification, mass mortality of marine invertebrates due to heat stress, rapid long-distance species’ range shifts and associated reshaping of community structure, fishery closures or quota changes, and even intensified economic tensions between nations.”

The news of increasing ocean heat waves and their devastating impact is truly alarming, especially in connection with the many other signs of accelerating climate change and general ecological crisis, including in just the past several months.

Arctic, Antarctic Melt and the Ocean Conveyor Belt

After another abnormally warm year in large parts of the Arctic region, including mid-winter temperatures that went above freezing at the North pole, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported April 2018 essentially tied for the lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record with April 2016. More worrying, not only was the sea ice coverage at a historic April low, but the amount of thicker, multi-year ice cover “has declined from 61 percent in 1984 to 34 percent in 2018. In addition, only 2 percent of the ice age cover is categorized as five-plus years, the least amount recorded during the winter period,” according to the Center.

With the Arctic warming at twice the global average, less ice is forming and more is melting in summer so less of the ice lasts through the warmer months to become multi-year ice. New ice forms in fall and winter, but this ice is now increasingly new, younger ice, instead of building on the thicker and more stable multi-year ice. As ice melts and ice coverage is increasingly younger, less thick and less stable, sea ice is being lost, and the Arctic Ocean is becoming more open in summer. The increasingly ice-free open ocean absorbs the sun’s energy much more readily than the ice-covered ocean, accelerating warming. This dangerous positive feedback loop underway in the Arctic is already impacting climate worldwide.

For the Arctic itself, the disappearing ice threatens to devastate the species and ecosystems that have evolved in connection with it. The decline of Arctic ice and ecosystems, forced by greenhouse gas emissions from the predominant capitalist economies of the planet, also threatens genocide for the culture and way of life of Indigenous peoples throughout the region who have lived for millennia in an ice-covered world.

Another recently published study has shown that melting glaciers in East and West Antarctica are freshening the surrounding ocean and slowing the formation of ocean “bottom water.” Normally, Antarctic bottom water is formed by the sinking of cold, salty water that results as sea ice forms and pushes out salt into surrounding waters. This cold, dense water sinks, mixes with and cools warmer salty water brought by deep ocean currents to Antarctica. But this process is now slowing because of increased glacial freshwater melt. The warm water is stratified, trapped at the bottom, where it is further speeding the melt of Antarctic glaciers from below in these regions. It’s another feedback loop that will likely accelerate sea level rise.

In the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, as well as in the Arctic regions off Norway and Greenland, the process of very dense, cold, salty water sinking is a major factor in causing overturning circulation in the world’s oceans. This is called thermohaline circulation, the process whereby deep-ocean currents are generated by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). This is also known as the “ocean conveyor belt.” Ocean currents are very complex and dynamic processes with many factors involved. Essentially though, the ocean conveyor belt drives deep ocean currents that course powerfully around the globe, overturning and mixing enormous quantities of water. In certain regions, this creates upwelling — bringing nutrient-rich water from the ocean’s bottom back to the surface, fueling life. The conveyor belt currents are also a central factor in distributing heat around the planet and stabilizing the Earth’s climate.

Melting sea ice and glaciers are now pouring more fresh water into the ocean, making the waters where this occurs less salty and dense, so less likely to sink. The effects of freshening waters on thermohaline circulation and ocean currents in the Southern Ocean are not yet known, but studies on the North Atlantic this year found that increasing fresh water melt in the Arctic has caused a slowdown in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC). One of the studies suggested the slowdown has been around 15 percent since 1950. Climatologist Michael Mann said the AMOC slowdown is “happening about a century ahead of schedule relative to what the models predict” and, “I think we’re close to a tipping point.”

What acceleration of ice melt and changing ocean currents will mean for sea level rise that threatens the world coastlines, islands and huge swaths of humanity; for the impact on world climate; and for ocean life and ecosystems that humans also rely on to eat and breathe, is difficult to exactly predict. Nonetheless, it’s clear the climate crisis is already extreme and accelerating. Much depends on whether human society acts quickly to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions currently warming the planet, and takes other urgent steps to prevent ecological disaster.

Instead of being reduced, however, carbon emissions continue to grow, recently measured at 410 parts per million, a level not seen in millions of years. In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that April 2018 was the 400th straight month that global temperatures were warmer than average.

The Problems of Trump and Capitalism

Faced with this situation of potential ecological catastrophe, Trump and his allies who wield power in the US, lie that global warming is a fabrication, a hoax, or impossible to confirm. They deny the overwhelming evidence and cover over clearly demonstrated science. But this isn’t just a denial of reality, as bad as that is. This is, as The New York Times journalist Justin Gillis said of Scott Pruitt’s denial of climate change, a “civilization-threatening lie.” This is a conscious act that sows confusion, denies people knowledge and prevents them from being able to respond to the existential danger climate change represents. Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Interior Department and other agencies are moving as fully and as quickly as they can to overturn or eliminate every rule, regulation and barrier that stands in the way of fossil fuel development and use. Their goal is to protect the “freedom” of giant corporations to plunder the natural world to maximize their profitability, and to enhance US “energy dominance,” no matter the destruction it brings.

At the end of May, the EPA announced its official proposal to rollback Obama-era regulations requiring automakers to make cars with higher fuel efficiency standards. If adopted, the likely result is a large increase of greenhouse emissions by the US, already by far the leading contributor to global warming historically. In January, Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to open up 90 percent of the country’s offshore coastal regions to oil drilling.

Companies have already applied for permits to begin work to develop new oil and gas projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, the largest and most pristine wildlife refuge in the country. Moreover, according to a piece in the Hill, “drilling into the refuge is just the tip of the iceberg. Trump is aggressively pushing Arctic drilling projects on water and land, selling off vast tracts of public lands and oceans, and rolling back drilling safety regulations meant to prevent catastrophic oil spills.”

In May, the White House canceled the vital NASA Carbon Monitoring System that uses satellite and aircraft instruments to track carbon and methane emissions and monitors country’s commitments to greenhouse gas cuts.

Bigger Than Trump

What the Trump regime is doing environmentally (and otherwise) is a threat to planetary life that must be stopped. This crisis, however, didn’t begin with Trump. The operation of the entire world capitalist system has raised greenhouse gases to the level they are and brought us to this juncture. Trump is just the latest and most destructive manifestation of an omnicidal system. The problem we face is that power rests in the hands of a capitalist class that is incapable of confronting our current ecological unraveling as the emergency it is.

The result is a crisis that is inexorably accelerating, with essentially nothing on the level actually needed being done to stop it. Instead of being able to respond from the need to protect life on Earth and world humanity, the capitalist rulers are constrained by the interests and needs of their system for profitability to contend with and beat out rivals.

Karl Marx said presciently of capitalist economic relations, “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.”

The capitalist competitive drive for accumulation is why, despite moves by Obama to limit drilling in some places and make modest cuts to greenhouse emissions, fracking and oil and gas production skyrocketed under his administration. It’s also why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned as a climate change fighter and protector of First Nations rights, has now promised to sink billions of Canadian government dollars into buying the Trans Mountain pipeline that investors were just about to pull out of. Trudeau said of the huge reserves of tar sands oil, the production of which is poisoning Indigenous people and lands in Alberta and the full burning of which would mean climate catastrophe, “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there.”

Exactly. No capitalist country would. That’s exactly why capitalism cannot be allowed to continue to rule and destroy our planet. Winning a better world, is up to us. What better day to begin, than World Ocean’s Day.

Scott Pruitt Must Go, and the Trump Destruction of Nature and People Must Stop!

We’ve seen over the past year and more that Pruitt’s reason d’etre at EPA is to take down environmental rules and regulations that are deemed a limit to the “freedom” of capitalist businesses to gut nature to maximize profitability. Pruitt was appointed by Trump for this despicable work because of his resume as Oklahoma Attorney General  attacking the very things the EPA is supposed to protect-clean air, water, soil, wildlife, people’s health and ecosystems, etc.

Now, Pruitt is mired in a deep scandal, facing 12 different investigations arising from his outrageous hubris. Pruitt has his staff investigating places around the world he wants to visit, while fake “reasons” for the trips are made up to justify them. And any business Pruitt does on such trips, is dirty business. On one essentially tourist trip to Italy, he dined with the Vatican’s Cardinal Pell, the highest ranking Vatican official to be charged with child abuse. Also present was Leonard Leo, a Federalist Society lawyer who essentially is a head architect of Trump’s efforts to fill the country’s judiciary with right wing racists, bigots and extremists. (This piece on Leo’s judicial picks for Trump will set your hair on fire.)

Pruitt for his part tours the country and world, going to first-class restaurants, flying first class, and spending literally millions of dollars while he directs the deconstruction of environmental protection. Overwhelmingly, his meetings are with industry officials, essentially for planning how to go forward with eliminating any barriers to their exploitation of natural resources, which he deems ordained by God. Meanwhile, his EPA staffers carefully guard his schedule, appearances and security- eliminating any chance for the people to actually question him or protest him, because of fear of how hated he, and what he’s doing, is. So we need to find ways! One idea, how about protests at EPA offices or federal buildings?

Read or listen to this important and interesting interview with Eric Lipton, NYT Washington Bureau reporter on Fresh Air. It’ll burn you up and give impetus to demanding this guy resign now!

As Pruitt testifies today at another Congressional hearing, it’s important to push for his ouster, but at the same time connect the resistance to demand an end to  all the ways the EPA has been made into a vehicle for destruction of the environment under Trump.

Getting rid of Pruitt can be a step forward but it won’t stop this regime from continuing it’s assault on nature. As one sign of this, the New York Times has reported that senior White House officials are calling for Pruitt to be replaced by the new #2 at the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who has built his career defending the coal industry’s “right” to destroy the climate.

According to this report,

“Some Republicans have said that Mr. Wheeler, a former Capitol Hill and E.P.A. staff member — known as a low-key but highly experienced Washington insider — would quite likely be as effective, and possibly more so, than Mr. Pruitt at undoing regulations, without drawing the embarrassing headlines of his boss.”

So efforts to push out Pruitt need to be linked to condemning the whole assault on nature being carried out by Trump and his cronies.

Further, Trump and Pence  need to be  not just resisted, but forced out of power and the direction of things reversed not just because of the threat they represent to the environment, but because of everything else this regime is doing. I’m speaking of the dangerous moves toward war,  including nuclear war, most represented by Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal; the moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the sickening backing of open mass shooting of non-violent protesters by Israel in Gaza;  the vicious attacks on immigrants, including the heartless plan to separate children from parents at the border and incarcerate both; the moves to undermine and do away with the rule of law and stock the  judiciary with racists, bigots and religious lunatics; and the overall implementation of an essentially fascist order.

 

The Growing Danger of Ecosystem Collapse and Trump’s War on Nature

Thursday, February 08, 2018

By Curtis JohnsonTruthout | News Analysis

(Photo: Chris)(Photo: Chris)

In 1992, 1,700 world scientists issued a prescient Warning to Humanity that “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course.” They warned that human practices, if not checked, “may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.” The statement argued saving life as we know it meant transforming our species’ interaction with nature; lowering greenhouse gas emissions and eliminating fossil fuel use, reducing deforestation, preserving biodiversity and lowering the human footprint on natural ecosystems.

Last November, 15,000 scientists, the largest scientific grouping to ever co-sign and support a journal article, issued a Second Notice warning humanity. They wrote, “The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing the Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life.” And that since then, we not only haven’t made sufficient progress to address these issues, but, “alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.”

These warnings, and the new conclusion that things are only getting “far worse,” should shock the collective soul, and rouse people to radical action. These are not rantings by doomsayers searching for a “worst-case scenario” to drum up change. What thousands of the world’s leading scientists are telling us is that human society (as it is presently constituted) threatens the existence of life on Earth. What we must confront is whether we care enough about the continued existence of the natural world — its myriad wonders, including the human species itself — to act powerfully and quickly to save it.

Scientists are now fairly confident that Arctic warming is creating conditions for more extreme weather events in North America.

The dangers the scientists warned of are now pouring down with increasing force. Last year was the second-warmest year in recorded history, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, surpassed only by 2016. Seventeen of the 18 warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 2001. Last year was also a record year of warmth in the world’s oceans, contributing to the most destructive storms in US history, including a series of unprecedented Atlantic hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, Houston and Florida. One, Hurricane Harvey, dumped rainfall amounts never seen in recorded history, amounts now linked by scientific study with climate change. This was followed by climate change-fueled drought throughout the Western US that led to massive wildfires causing dozens of deaths, destruction of forests, homes and businesses, and episodes of choking smoke impacting millions of people. Following this came more record-breaking fires in Southern California, including the largest in state history.

As bad and destructive as all this was, these were only the latest pieces of an overall puzzle, signs of a profound transformation of life on Earth. A brief look at just a few of the scientific reports from the past two years give evidence of a growing danger of ecosystem collapse.

Unravelling of Ecosystems on Land and Sea

Even with dramatic retreat and advance over millennia, polar ice has maintained and characterized Earth for millions of years, including the entire life of human existence. But that may be ending.

Coming after years of studies documenting the decline of Arctic sea ice, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) annual Arctic Report Card for 2017 found that “the Arctic shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen region of past decades.” Jeremy Mathis, director of the Arctic Research Program at NOAA, who co-authored the report, said the Arctic is “going through the most unprecedented transition in human history.” The loss of sea ice means more heat from sunlight being retained by darkly colored open water instead of reflected back into the atmosphere, leading to a “runaway effect.” More Arctic tundra is also thawing, further releasing greenhouse gases that warm the planet. The changes are causing disruptions in the Arctic ecosystem, more widespread wildfires and undermining the ability of Indigenous people to sustain their mode of life.

The transformation of the Arctic has stunning consequences for an essential part of the planet’s ecosystem and for causing climate impacts far beyond the Arctic. As one example, Mathis said scientists are now fairly confident that Arctic warming is creating conditions for more extreme weather events in North America. A December 2017 study also linked Arctic warming to increasing the risk of drought in California. More remains to be learned, but the end of the Arctic as we know it marks a frightening tumble into unknown territory.

Arctic melt is only one part of the disappearance of ice at the poles. A recent study in Greenland, which mapped coastal glaciers and the bedrock on which they lie as they flow into the sea, found two to four times as many glaciers as previously thought are exposed to warm salt water at depth — meaning they are more exposed to melt from warming oceans. If all of Greenland were to melt, it would contribute to more than 20 feet of sea level rise.

At the other end of the planet, scientists have been tracking the breaking up of ice sheets in West Antarctica. In December, a team studying ice sheet disintegration and collapse of ice cliffs concluded that taking into account these mechanisms, estimates of median sea level rise by 2100 should be increased from two-and-a-half feet to almost five feet. This would inundate land that 153 million people currently live on. The scientists emphasized there is uncertainty in these predictions, and that these estimates and final outcomes depend on whether global carbon emissions continue to increase or are cut.

As ocean warming increases, ocean ecosystems are being damaged and transformed in frightening ways.

The death of coral reefs would mean the death of some of the ocean’s most important ecosystems.

Scientists warn that kelp forests — coastal ecosystems rich in biodiversity — are disappearing from Tasmania to California. They’re wilting and dying due to the nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit ocean temperature rise. Kelp ecosystems are being replaced by regions dominated by voracious sea urchins that are barren of other forms of life.

In early January, a National Geographic story titled, “Climate Change is Suffocating Large Parts of the Ocean,” warns, “A new study says warming has reduced oxygen levels in large swaths of the deep ocean, threatening marine life around the world.” In summarizing this study, Science Daily wrote, “the amount of water in the open ocean with zero oxygen has gone up more than fourfold.” Lead author of the study Denise Breitburg, a marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Research Center, wrote that “loss of oxygen in many ways is the destruction of an ecosystem,” and “This is a global problem…. It requires global solutions.”

As if this isn’t bad enough, large sections of the Great Barrier Reef off the Australian coast have been killed by two straight years of coral bleaching caused by ocean warming. In January 2018, Coral reef expert Terry Hughes and colleagues released a new paper that found tropical sea surface temperatures occurring under today’s La Niña (colder ocean cycle) temperatures are warmer than El Niño (warmer ocean cycle) temperatures of three decades ago. Hughes’s paper studied bleaching histories of 100 reefs globally and concluded, “Tropical reef systems are transitioning to a new era in which the interval between recurrent bouts of coral bleaching is too short for a full recovery of mature assemblages.”

Without insects, we could see a collapse of whole ecosystems.

The consequences of coral bleaching, combined with overfishing, destructive storms and pollution in reef systems worldwide are enormous. The death of coral reefs would mean the death of some of the ocean’s most important ecosystems, home to 25 percent of the world’s marine life and nurseries to a fourth of the world’s fish. Not only are we facing the wiping out of enormous natural beauty and diversity, this would mean disappearance of a good portion of the food supply literally hundreds of millions of people rely on to live. The ending of coral reefs that is already underway means destruction of a key world ecosystem that must be prevented.

The extinction of species — what many scientists have called a “sixth extinction” — is underway on land as well as in the oceans and waterways. In October 2016, a landmark study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund and the ZSL Institute of Zoology released data revealing “overall global vertebrate populations are on course to decline by an average of 67 percent from 1970 levels by the end of this decade, unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact on species and ecosystems.” This precipitous decline is being caused by deforestation, pollution, overfishing, the illegal wildlife trade and climate change.

There is also growing concern about declines in populations of insects. North American honeybee colonies have declined by 59 percent since World War II. A recent report of a study at 63 nature reserves across Germany found flying insects declined 77 percent in the last 25 years. One of the study’s authors, Dave Goulson from Sussex University in the UK, wrote, “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.” There are still remaining questions about if these results were particular to this region, but this is another worrying wake-up call. Insects are the most populous group of animals on the planet. Human agriculture relies on them for pollination of crops. And they are the base of ecosystems worldwide. Without insects, we could see a collapse of whole ecosystems.

Capitalism is incapable of interacting with nature in a sustainable way.

Humanity is on a path of ushering in the rapid disintegration of the natural world as we know it. Given the lateness of the hour, what is called for is an emergency effort to mobilize humanity to save the planet. We are confronted by the necessity to quickly act on all the scientific warnings issued over many years: to end fossil fuel use and transition to sustainable energy development; to create planetary reserves, especially for key ecosystems and areas of biodiversity on land and in the oceans; to restrict and walk back grazing and animal agriculture while reforesting and rewilding large areas on the planet; to stop the endless expansion of human development eating up green space and natural habitat; to move against pollution, stop use of destructive pesticides, and overharvesting in the oceans and land.

All this and more could be done, and would give us at least a fighting chance of preventing some of the worst destruction to come, including the possibility of an overall collapse of living ecosystems that threaten human survival. Standing in the way are not people per se, but the pattern of organized economic life under capitalism. Capitalism, driven by competition, profitability and national economic/political interests, is incapable of interacting with nature in a sustainable way. It is incapable of meeting the challenge of these times to prevent life on Earth from slipping away.

This is true to greater or lesser extent in the entire capitalist world, but especially so in Trump’s United States. At the very moment of frightening decline of planetary ecosystems and accelerating climate change, Trump, his regime and cohorts in Congress, have launched a scorched-earth campaign against the environment — a war on nature. Trump and his ilk aren’t like Nero fiddling as Rome burned; they’re stoking the inferno with whole forests.

They have purged climate change from government websites, while denying its existence. They’ve chastised scientists for raising the connections of last summer’s hurricanes to warming oceans. Trump has ordered the Clean Power Plan scrapped, is moving to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement and has called for drastic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget, especially targeting programs to deal with climate change. This administration loves fossil fuels and hates renewable energy so much it announced a plan on February 1 to cut research on renewables 72 percent.

The EPA and Interior Department have been turned into shameless instruments of environmental destruction. Scientists and officials in the EPA, the Interior Department and the National Park Service have been forced outlet goblocked from advising or have resigned in protest. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last remaining truly pristine wilderness areas left on the planet, is now open for drilling, a provision snuck through in the Republican tax bill. Bears Ears and Grand-Escalante National Monuments — with all their archaeological and cultural treasures, and particularly precious to Indigenous people — have been gutted and eviscerated. Now Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Trump and Republicans in Congress have their sights set on more monuments and national lands to pry open for extractive interests. In January, the regime declared almost all US coastal regions open for drilling. There is no regulation to protect land, water, air, wildlife or people’s health that these eco-destroyers are bound to respect.

Many factors are involved in these decisions being fully implemented, including whether drilling in many regions is profitable. Dozens of court cases have also been filed to stop many of these actions, and opposition is widespread. So, all of this is not yet decided. Much could be stopped. But that’s up to us.

Trump isn’t just the most environmentally unfriendly, pro-business president ever. As Noam Chomsky recently put it, “There has never been an administration, here or for that matter anywhere, which is committed openly to trying to undermine the prospects for organized human life in the not very distant future.”

This is a man with a disdain for (and complete lack of acquaintance with) reason, science, compassion and evidence-based thinking. What this war on nature is about: feasting, plundering and unmitigated profit-making for capital. It’s also about fascist nationalism; harnessing nature and all its bounty like a set of draft horses to the goal of US “energy dominance,” as part of dominating the globe by whatever means necessary, including nuclear war. The war on nature links up to, and is part of, the Trump regime’s overall efforts to remake the country in a fascist way.

 

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CURTIS JOHNSON

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Public Lands and Waters Will Cause Irreparable Harm

Thursday, January 18, 2018 By Curtis JohnsonTruthout | Interview

 Grand Staircase-Escalante, New Mexico. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)Grand Staircase-Escalante, New Mexico. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management)

In December, Trump announced that he would shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 85 percent and 46 percent respectively. The announcement came after Trump had ordered Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in April to review 27 national monuments created since 1996 that were 100,000 acres or larger, and Zinke subsequently recommended that these and other monuments be reduced.

Trump’s move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history, removing 2 million acres from national monument status. It’s a clear break with practice of previous presidents, especially over the past several decades, who have largely expanded or created new monuments that set aside land for protection under authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Act provides for presidents to establish national monuments to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government.”

Trump’s move represents the largest delisting of protected federal lands in US history.

As a result of this decision by the Trump regime, tens of thousands of acres in both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante that contain magnificent Native cultural artifacts, archaeological sites precious to the cultural life of six tribes and rich deposits of dinosaur fossils have been removed from national monument protection. The move by Trump, despite claims from both Trump and Zinke, opens the possibility for fossil fuel and uranium extraction on these lands, and the building of new roads, off-road vehicle use, and expansion of grazing and other practices that threaten real harm to these natural wonders. The decision also completely rejected the public comments of more than 2 million people who overwhelmingly supported maintaining the monuments as they were. Zinke arrogantly rejected these expressed viewpoints, saying, “I don’t bow to public pressure,” while simultaneously justifying the review and ultimately the decision to shrink the monuments, claiming the original proclamations to establish them had been “made without public consultation.”

In his final report to Trump, Zinke also recommended slicing the size of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument on the border of Oregon and California, as well as the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Cascade-Siskiyou was established in 2000 and expanded in 2017 by Obama. In supporting a call for its expansion in 2015, ecologists and biologists who had studied the region described it as an “ecological wonder” that is “home to a spectacular variety of rare and beautiful species of plants and animals, whose survival in this region depends upon its continued ecological integrity” Scientists specifically cited the need to preserve the biodiversity in the face of increased threat from climate change.

Zinke also pushed for changing the management rules for six other national monuments, including three marine monuments that would remove protected status and very likely open them to exploitation by commercial fisheries at a critical time of decline of ocean life.

Five different lawsuits have been filed against Trump, et al over slashing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. One of the lawsuits to defend Bears Ears was filed by the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and Zuni Tribe, all of whom have a deep connection to the land and history in the region. Shaun Chapoose of the Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, “The Bears Ears region is a cultural landscape — a place to nurture our families in our traditions. It’s a sad state of affairs when the president of this great nation shows manifest disregard for our history and culture as a people, but we are prepared to fight for our rights and to protect Bears Ears.” Earthjustice has filed lawsuits on behalf of eight environmental, wildlife and public lands protection groups to protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Even the outdoor clothing company Patagonia has joined lawsuits.

Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses.

Randi Spivak is public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and spoke with Truthout about Trump’s decision, as well as the larger environmental stakes of the battle over public lands. CBD is one of the groups actively leading a movement to protect public lands, and a complainant in the lawsuits.

Curtis Johnson: Trump and Zinke have claimed the gutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments was done to allow local people to control their own land and to redress years of “overreach” by federal bureaucracy. They’ve claimed that the archaeological and artistic treasures of Bears Ears and fossils in Grand Staircase-Escalante would still be protected because the lands won’t be literally handed over to the states or private interests. How do you see that and how would you respond to that line of argument?

Randi Spivak: Let’s be clear: these are [the US’s] public lands; they belong to everyone from the citizens of Utah, to New Jersey to North Carolina. This has nothing to do with state’s rights. These lands have always been federal public lands. Read the law Congress enacted making Utah a state and Utah’s own Constitution — or that of any Western state. Each includes language forever disclaiming any interests in federal lands within state boundaries.

As far as claims that the lands are still protected, slashing protections from 2 million acres of land leaves a lot unprotected. In Bears Ears, 56,000 archaeological sites will no longer have protection. And the same goes for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Each monument proclamation was carefully mapped and vetted, so cutting any amount — whether it’s an archaeological treasure or Native American sacred site — will now be at risk by stripping those protections.

So, following up on that, Zinke has said all these areas will still be federal lands, and so there are still laws against taking out Native art and so forth. Can you tell us a little about if these things are protected as national monuments versus just federal lands?

While these lands will still be publicly owned, the current laws don’t provide the kinds of protections that come with national monument status. Normal management of public lands [is] heavily skewed toward extractive industries and many other destructive uses. About 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management lands are open to oil and gas drilling; over 90 percent of all public lands are open to livestock grazing. And on most public lands, you can drive off-road vehicles.

Proclaiming a national monument usually means that the area is no longer open to new drilling, fracking and mining. We know that oil and gas companies have expressed interest in portions of Bears Ears that the president has stripped of protections, and that a uranium company, Energy Fuels Resources, urged the Trump administration to reduce Bears Ears and hired a team of lobbyists to press their interest.

Another aspect of the kinds of protections that national monuments provide for archeological sites, ancestral ruins or sensitive habitat is motorized vehicles that are limited to designated roads. Each monument has a management plan developed with public input that identifies the designated roads. Stripping protections will mean more people driving machines across sensitive streams and washes, through treasured architectural sites and despoiling sacred areas.

It was interesting that in the announcement, Zinke and Trump tried to stay away from talking about extraction but focused on hunting and fishing, which was clear were already allowed in the monuments. You know they kept talking about wanting to make sure hunting and fishing are going to continue to be allowed….

That’s an outright lie. None of the monuments Zinke wants to gut restrict hunting or sport fishing. All of them leave hunting and fishing regulations up to state wildlife agencies. National monuments are open for everyone in the world to explore, and the only way to “lock up” public land is to auction it off for drilling, fracking, mining and logging.

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies.

But Zinke’s recommendations to Trump do call for stripping protections for three marine national monuments — Rose Atoll, Pacific Remote Islands and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Marine monuments prohibit or phase out commercial fishing to protect a wide range of marine life — including fish, turtles, whales, dolphins and coral reefs — from overfishing [and] harmful practices such as bottom trawling. Studies have shown that protected areas are a boon to the fishing industry because the no-commercial-fishing monument protections enable healthy fish populations to swell and then swim outside of protected areas into commercial zones where they can be fished.

What do you think this monument decision indicates about what Trump and the rest are planning for public lands and waters in general? Zinke has already recommended in addition to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two other national monuments should be shrunk and rules governing management of six others be changed. How do you see the stakes of this? Where are they going with this whole effort?

Unfortunately, Trump will probably follow Zinke’s recommendations that would shrink the boundaries for two other monuments in Oregon and Nevada, and reduce protections through management changes for national monuments in New Mexico, Maine and for three marine monuments. I think it’s about two things. First Trump continues play to his narrow political base. Bears Ears was all about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) whispering in Trump’s ear to “do something,” and he did. And it’s the same thing with Greg Walden (R-Oregon) and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Walden wants to reward the logging industry by opening up these lands to heavy logging.

Under the guise of “energy dominance,” Trump is looking to open up our public lands and oceans to the fossil fuel industry to get every drop of oil, gas and coal that they can and remove protective regulations for our air, climate, wildlife, waters and lands that stand in the way. Their road map is clear.

So, these decisions from Trump on the environment are coming in a roll. The same week they made this decision on the monuments, Trump announced he’s opening the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans for drilling. Then this new tax bill is passed, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. So how does the monument decision connect to the whole picture of what the Trump regime is doing to the environment?

Trump is looking to boost fossil fuel extraction and reward his billionaire industry cronies. The battle over national monuments is no different, but is one of many battles to conserve [the US’s] public lands for this and future generations.

Trump is a climate denier. He’s withdrawing the US from the global climate change accord; overturning the Clean Power Plan’s attempt to make power plants more efficient; expanding offshore drilling into every ocean off [the US’s] coasts, even overturning offshore drilling safety regulations adopted after the Deepwater Horizon disaster; [he] has done away with Obama’s landmark ban on mining federal coal propping up the dying coal industry. The Trump administration even asked the fossil fuel industry what federal regulations they consider to be a burden to them, and increasingly we’ve seen the Trump administration attempt to hide fracking damage on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management, responsible for oil and gas drilling on public lands, is basically sidestepping the law and is increasingly not requiring any analysis or public disclosure of harm from fracking to communities, wildlife, climate, land and water. It’s a de facto reversal of Obama-era reforms, which increased transparency and environmental review before approving lease auctions.

The thing that really hits me, and I haven’t seen it talked about so much, is the impact and the stakes of everything you’re talking about at a time when we’re already in an escalating crisis of climate change and general environmental decline. For instance, a recent study showing  global populations of vertebrates on pace to decline by 67 percent from 1970 levels by 2020, and scientific study after study about the melting polar regions and so forth. I want to really convey, what would you say about the stakes? Some environmental groups say, “Well, he’s not going to get away with it,” or for instance, the necessities of the market will argue against developing a lot of these resources because sustainable energy is more profitable and oil prices are low. But I see a great danger, especially given this environmental crisis we’re facing as a whole.

Let me answer in two parts. People are somewhat right in saying a lot will depend, for example, on the price of oil. The recent oil and gas auction on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska — even though the government auctioned off millions of acres, very little was actually leased because of the vagaries of drilling in those areas and also the price of oil. But if oil prices rise again, there will be more interest from industry. And there’s still an export market for [US] coal, a significant amount [of which] is mined on public lands. In no way does the market completely protect us here, in no way.

If a company buys a lease at auction, and for virtually no money, they can sit on these leases for decades. Technically, it’s 10 years for a federal oil and gas lease, but they can renew them. Companies can speculate and sit on these leases ’til such time that the price may make it profitable. So, it may be that we don’t see wholesale drilling tomorrow in many places, but the danger is still there.

Trump is getting us in such a deep hole on the climate crisis. He’s locking us into a fossil fuel future. And the damage we’ll see to ecosystems, to the oceans, wildlife — it’s scary.

Certain things, like withdrawing the Grand Canyon uranium, that will take a while to do, they have to go through a process in which the public will get to weigh in. Maybe they won’t succeed. They can’t do everything with the snap of a finger. But make no mistake: They’re going to cause some irreparable harm here. Everything Trump and Zinke are doing will harm species, public lands, waters, and exacerbate climate change. They are dragging us into a deep hole, a bad future.

Thanks so much, that’s very helpful and I appreciate your time and your work which is so important.

Thank you. Even though these are dark times for our public lands, oceans, wildlife and our climate, it’s important that we all keep fighting. The Center for Biological Diversity is resisting Trump in every possible way — especially in the courts. So far, the Center has filed 46 lawsuits against Trump. This regime will not last forever. To get involved I would encourage readers to get connected with Ignite Change, a nationwide movement that’s standing up to save life on Earth.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

 Original Link

CURTIS JOHNSON

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.

Scientists Warning to Humanity: Second Notice

In 1992 Scientists issued an extremely prescient and  powerful warning to humanity about how human impacts due the environment threatened the future of life on earth. The statement was signed by 1700 scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences.

The statement’s introduction read, “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

Now, a new warning was issued, a second notice. The article was signed by over 15,000 of the worlds scientists. According to the authors, “ As far as we know, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.”

The statement reads in part:

“The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing the Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the planet can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on the Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future (Crist et al. 2017). They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.

On the 25th anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.”

It then goes on to detail how, and to what degree, the degradation has continued and increased.

Please read these important statements. We must reflect on the scope of the problem, it’s source, and then act so we may preserve the remaining ecosystems and species of our planet, and even defend humanity’s existence itself, before it becomes too late to do so.

 

Our Summer of Fire and the Fires to Come

Thursday, October 19, 2017

By Curtis JohnsonTruthout | News Analysis

 

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. Early morning mandatory evacuations happened on Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Rd. (Photo:Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

 

Explosive wildfires have raged in Northern California over the last two weeks. Forty-one people are dead, and at least 6,700 structures have been destroyed, making these the most destructive fires in the state’s history. Parts of the city of Santa Rosa have burned to the ground. Extremely hot and dry conditions, continuing impacts of the state’s drought, and high winds combined to create fires so fast-moving, many residents were forced to flee for their lives with only minutes notice. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate. In the last several days, better weather has been helping firefighters fight the blazes, though many are still continuing. Air quality in the region has been called the worst in recorded history due to wildfire smoke.

The fires in Northern California come after a summer of infernos and smoke spanning the West.

It began in Seattle on August 1, 2017. Coming out of work that day, I looked around to try to fathom why the entire atmosphere was thick with haze. Maybe the city’s smog had suddenly become abominably worse for unexplainable reasons? Looking around, I noticed it was smoke that lay everywhere. It filled my throat and lungs. The world seemed suddenly wrong, without sense.

These days, and especially this summer, living on Earth feels like existing in dread of the next environmental apocalypse. That day, it felt like it had arrived.

That night, I heard the news. Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia was blanketing the area.

For the next two weeks, it was hard to take a breath outside. The air was acrid, lung-burning. The blue, fresh summer skies Seattle is known for were extinguished. Being outside felt like walking in a stagnant, dead, smoky bubble. The sun and moon eerily appeared through a deep haze, orange or blood red. It was like living in an alternate universe. The smoke returned throughout August and early September.

The Seattle Times said that the region’s “natural air conditioning,” marine air blown by winds from the west, had broken down. Air quality levels in August plunged so severely, at times Seattle and Portland had air quality worse than Beijing. Elderly people, children and those with compromised respiratory systems were warned to avoid going outside. The general population was told to avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

I was happy to get out of town on August 11 to head for the Oregon coast and hiking in the Redwoods in Northern California. I looked forward to being able to breathe fresh air again. But it became clear the smoke went way beyond Washington State. As we drove into Eugene, giant plumes of white smoke billowed out of the Willamette National Forest to the east. Further south, more clouds filled the sky from the North Umpqua complex fire. Driving down Highway 101, we came to Brookings on the Pacific coast at the southern tip of Oregon. Smoke choked the town. A fire up the Chetco River had just “blown up” and was spreading in all directions. A few days later, we heard that people were being evacuated immediately due to the fires’ rapid spread, in certain spots all the way down to the ocean.

Arriving in Redwood National Park, we were amazed to see the skies there clouded with smoke. In the late afternoon in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove, rays of sunlight angling through smoke and off the trees turned the grove a beautiful but surreal red. Coming home in late August, Oregon was smothered in smoke far thicker than it had been in Seattle, from the southern border almost to the northern. It was hard to imagine people having to try to live and function every day in this.

Summer of Heat and Western Fire

This summer, Seattle broke records for the driest in recorded history, the most consecutive days without rain — 55 — and also tied for the warmest summer on record.

Similar conditions were present throughout the West. High-pressure systems repeatedly set up and refused to budge along the north Pacific coast or slightly onshore, and blocked any developing weather systems from the west. After weeks without rain, forest brush and understory that had grown thick after an unusually wet winter withered and dried to a crisp. It was like jet fuel awaiting a match. It was only a matter of time until lightning strikes from dry storms, as well as humans, set things alight.

Scorched by record temperatures, British Columbia (BC) went up in flames in July. Fires raged all summer and 1.2 million hectares burned — the equivalent of 4,680 square miles — an area almost as large as the state of Connecticut. The area burned exceeded the yearly average of area burned in BC from 2006-16 by almost 10 times.

In Oregon this summer, a Rhode Island-sized area went up in flames. The Chetco Bar Fire scorched old-growth redwoods in a protected grove at the northern edge of the Redwoods range, severely burning 25 percent of the trees. Another major fire was one along the Columbia River Gorge in northeast Oregon. Started by fireworks on September 2, the fire was fanned by extreme heat and easterly winds. It exploded. Dozens of hikers were forced to hike for their lives to escape. Embers crossed the Columbia River and set off new fires in Washington.

In late August and September, offshore winds created by high pressure inland pulled in more smoke to the Seattle area, now from Washington’s own wildfires. Ash fell from the sky, reminding people of the volcanic explosions from Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke

The smoke didn’t just make life miserable at times this summer for the millions of people throughout the West; it was downright unhealthy.

Joshua Benditt, a pulmonologist with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he was getting many calls from his patients with lung problems due to the wildfire smoke. Benditt said the poor quality of air from the smoke meant, “It’s very difficult for patients with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and even some other kinds of lung diseases. It’s quite irritating to them and it can cause coughing and wheezing and actually even respiratory failure.”

Bonnie Henry, a deputy provincial health officer in BC, told the Vancouver Sun in August that emergency calls and hospital visits had increased 20 to 50 percent among people with respiratory and other health conditions.

In the inland regions closer to the fires, the air was worse than on the coast. Sarah Coefield, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, described how desperate the situation was becoming for people in Seeley Lake, Montana where elderly, children and sick people were choking on smoke.

These types of conditions existed to varying degrees for weeks throughout the West. Air quality values ranged from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “very unhealthy” and worse. In early September in Spokane, Washington, air quality reached hazardous levels for several days.

satellite image from NASA on September 5 showed smoke being blown across the US by the jet stream. NASA said, “Smoke from wildfires can be very dangerous. A 2017 Georgia Tech study showed the smoke from wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals into the atmosphere.” This study directly measured the amount of emissions from several Western wildfires of some of these potentially dangerous gases, as well as particulate matter pollution that is a mix of microscopic solids and liquid droplets. The study found that the particulate pollution from wildfires, already known to be a large source of particulate pollution in the West, was actually three times worse than previously thought.

A 2016 study, called a “Critical Review of Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke Exposure” found that globally, the estimated premature mortality caused by wildfire smoke is 339,000 people yearly. High levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfire smoke have led to increases in deaths in Malaysia, Russia and Australia. The study drew a clear connection between wildfire smoke exposure and increased morbidity for people with asthma, COPD and general respiratory problems.

The Georgia Tech study cites other scientific studies that have linked particulate matter (PM) from wildfires to increased respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. While more research is required to fully resolve the whole picture of health impacts of PM in humans, the health impacts from fire smoke is clearly cause for real concern, when literally millions of people are living for weeks at a time in regions choked with wildfire smoke.

Climate Change and Increasing Forest Fires

Wildfires have been a natural occurrence in the history of forests over many, many millennia. In many ways, fires have played a crucial role in helping regulate and regenerate the health of the forest. Natural variation in weather patterns is one factor in creating conditions for wildfires. But what has been happening over the last several decades is far from normal.

Mike Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Service at the University of Alberta, says the “evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming” of the link between climate change and increasing fires globally. The length of fire seasons worldwide increased by 19 percent from 1978 to 2013, due to longer periods of warm and dry weather in a quarter of the world’s forests. While the pattern is not uniform, various parts of the world are seeing clear changes over the last decades, according to Flannigan, including Alaska, Siberia, the boreal forests of Canada and elsewhere.

In the Western US, the length of the wildfire season has increased from five months long in the 1970s, to seven months today with 2015 being the worst wildfire season in the West on record as tracked by the National Interagency Fire Center, with over 10 million acres burned. As of October 15, the amount of land burned in 2017 would rank third highest. According to the EPA, of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, nine have occurred since 2000.

In the Pacific Northwest as a whole, temperatures have risen 1.5°F since 1920. Extremely warm temperatures and drought mix with historically low amounts of winter snowpack to create conditions setting the table for fire.

The connection of climate change and a warming planet to increasing forest fires isn’t just confirmed by observational statistics. Scientific studies have started quantifying the contributions of a warmer planet to increasing fires. A 2016 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that over half of the increases in “fuel aridity” (metrics that measure the degree of lack of moisture in fuels) since the 1970s, and a doubling of the amount of forest area burned since 1984 were due to human-caused climate change. A 2017 study in the same journal concluded global warming was responsible for increasing the severity and probability of the hottest monthly and daily events in 80 percent of the globe that they were able to study.

In a sense, the relationship isn’t rocket science, but it is basic science. Warming temperatures means warmer air, and warmer air holds more moisture, sucking it out of plants and trees making them drier and more likely to ignite and readily burn. When this happens over whole regions of millions of acres, these conditions predispose regions to burn more readily. When the warmth and dryness lasts for longer periods of time, the time when wildfires happen also lengthens.

There are other ways in which climate change is contributing to increasing fires in the West. Lightning strikes are increased by warmer temperatures. It’s estimated that for every degree Celsius of warming, strikes increase by about 12 percent.

Furthermore, bark beetle infestation of forests is spreading northward and to higher elevations throughout the West as the planet warms. As winters become warmer and spring comes earlier, conditions for beetle survival increases. Drought-induced stress severely weakens trees’ ability to fend off beetles. Beetles interfere with a tree’s nutrient delivery and this can kill trees, providing more raw fuel for fires. The beetle infestation has killed tens of millions of acres of forest in North America, and is the largest known insect infestation in North American history.

Human-caused activity is contributing in other ways to forest changes and fire increases.

Forest and other natural habitat continues to be eaten up by new housing and sprawl, driven by the inability of capitalism to restrict development and protect natural areas. Forest Service policy over many years has been to suppress fires, and this has contributed to a build-up of large amounts of fuel on public lands. As human habitation continues to encroach on forests, more fires are sparked. The US Forest Service is also increasingly pushed to try to fight fires to protect houses and towns, in some cases further adding to build-up of fuel. Many foresters are advocating that more scientific criteria be used to differentiate when and which fires should be fought, and which should be allowed to burn up accumulated fuel and return the forests to a more natural fire cycle.

The 2017 Fires and the Larger Picture of a Changing Climate

The smoke and fires this summer were a wake-up call about how quickly things can change in the natural environment and how large the stakes are. But is this devastating summer just the beginning of much worse things to come? And if this is the harbinger of the future, what will this mean for the health of humans and ecosystems?

This summer has been one of truly devastating “natural” disasters overall. Intriguing and important scientific debates emerged from this hurricane season, including over whether global warming was causing more extreme and long-lasting weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey’s stall over Houston that caused record rainfalls.

Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, has been studying the relation between the warming of the Arctic, the loss of sea ice and changes that are being observed in weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, particularly at certain times of the year.

She has advanced a theory that the warming of the Arctic is causing the jet stream to wobble at certain times, creating big waves that draw warmer air up into the Arctic from the southern latitudes. Francis believes that with these big waves, which have been observed, the jet stream is also weakened in its flow from west to east. The jet stream then becomes more susceptible to any obstacles in its path — physical ones, such as mountain ranges, but also areas of warm temperature, for example. The weakened, wavy jet stream leads to weather patterns that are more persistent. The main cause of this phenomenon is the way in which global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic, lessening the temperature difference between the Artic, and the mid-latitudes.

These phenomena are also further warming the Arctic and melting more sea ice via a number of feedback loops.

Truthout asked Francis via email if this Arctic warming may also be responsible for hot, dry weather patterns that have occurred more frequently in the West over the last several years in summer, contributing to such massive wildfires.

She replied, “There are several new papers that connect Arctic warming and sea-ice loss in the Pacific sector of the Arctic with a strengthened Pacific ridge in the jet stream (large northward bulge), but the mechanism is not simple.”

“It appears that there are two factors that need to happen simultaneously to create the strong, persistent ridge that has been so prevalent in recent years along the western coast of North America. One factor is the natural occurrence of a ridge in this location, owing usually to warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures along the west coast — e.g., a pattern known as a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation. If there is also substantial ice loss/warming in the Pacific Arctic sector, that ridge tends to be strengthened, which makes it more persistent. This favors the conditions conducive to wild fires: dry and hot.”

This link is alluring, if not yet definitively proven. Truthout also spoke with Nick Bond, research meteorologist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. He said that the weather pattern we saw on the west coast this summer with the persistent ridge of high pressure was very unusual, but, “There’s plenty of internal variability in the system — I’m kind of reluctant, one particular weird year, to ascribe too much to that, but on the other hand, this weather we’re having, is the kind of weather we expect to be more common in future decades … in the long term maybe this is something we better get used to.”

So, whether this summer’s pattern of persistent high-pressure ridges and abnormally hot, dry weather is already a result of climate change enhancing natural variation, or if it’s a harbinger of what’s to come, these are important things to watch. Regardless, it’s clear that the West, along with the planet, is warming overall, and that this is contributing to the conditions leading to larger wildfires right now. The impact of increasing wildfires on people’s health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

CURTIS JOHNSON

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics. Follow him on Twitter: @curtisjohnson70.

The Floods in Houston, Trump the Abominable, and Climate Change

 

The flooding in Houston and suffering of the people is heartbreaking to watch. I fear things will get worse as the situation continues. Many people are coming together to help each other in a time when it’s becoming clearer that this system is utterly incapable of preparing for and taking care of people’s needs, especially when confronted with such a devastating “natural” disaster. It’s important that people do anything they can to help people and to demand their needs for food, safety, rescue, etc. are met.

One site I have come across (from 350.org) is environmental justice groups raising money to help people there.

The specter of the fascist Trump, fresh off of pardoning the racist oppressor Joe Arpaio and defending  neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Chalottsville, trying to cynically cash in by visiting Texas and acting like everything is ok while not even addressing those suffering, is stomach-churning and abominable.

Trump has gutted climate research and measures to confront it, proposed huge budget cuts for natural disaster preparedness and response, and gutted  an Obama era flood protection rule. Harvey is a storm climatologists are saying is likely fueled by climate change-both by warming of Gulf waters and also increasing amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere. For deeper understanding of this, see the following:

Piece in the Atlantic, including quotes from climatologist Kevin Trenberth.

This piece from Ecowatch.

And this piece in Truthout by Dahr Jamail.

More pieces making this link to climate change and warning about the future.

Rolling Stone-Houston, a Global Warning by Jeff Goodell

As I tweeted about Goodell’s  piece in retweet of Tim Ream

Good piece, looking underneath phenomena Goodell cites shows this isn’t simply man-made catastrophe, but one caused by capitalist system

Interview with James Hansen by Democracy Now

Harvey is What Climate Change Looks Like– by Eric Holthaus

There is also an increasing problem of toxic pollution from chemical plants, oil processing plants, etc. poisoning people in the wake of Harvey. And this will disproportionately impact poor people and oppressed nationality people.

Under Trump’s sacrificing of any rules and regulations protecting the environment to expand capitalist profitability,  and his fascist attacks against Black people, Latinos, women, the law, the media and the poor of the planet-these type of situations will continue and get dangerously worse- as climate change and environmental disaster worsen. Only the people, rising together, can put a stop to this fascist regime.

More deeply, as Goodell’s article points out without really naming the source of the problem, the problems with doing away with flood protections, zoning limiting growth in flood zones, wetlands, etc. predate Trump. Underneath all of these phenomena are the rules and functioning of a capitalist system that is driven by competition and profitability, and therefore incapable of taking account of either the safety of the environment or the people of the planet. We need a global uprising of people, and revolution.