Tags: climate, climate change, Energy, environment, wildfires
Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images
Is there a connection between wildfires and climate change — the fires that are currently devastating the Western states (particularly California, Washington, Oregon)? As of September 14th (10pm ET), CNBC notes that:
- Historic wildfires are burning millions of acres and destroying homes and entire towns in California, Oregon and Washington state.
- The fires have killed at least 33 people and dozens more are missing.
- In Oregon, more than 40,000 people have fled their homes.
- The state is preparing for a “mass fatality event” and has declared a state of emergency, according to Gov. Kate Brown.
- The air quality in several Western U.S. cities is among the worst in the world.
- The fires have killed at least 33 people across the states and dozens more are missing.
- More than 1 million acres of land in Oregon have been burned and at least 10% of the state’s population is in evacuation zones. (TBG: There are more than 30 fires in Oregon alone.)
- In California, more than 3 million acres have burned, a record in the state’s history. The August Complex that started from a series of lightning strikes last month has become the biggest wildfire ever in California. (TBG: Temperature records continue to be broken. It got to over 131 degrees in the San Fernando Valley.)
So, what is the connection between Climate Change and the wildfires? A recent University of Washington study, provides a timely analysis:
“Recent years have brought unusually large and damaging wildfires to the Pacific Northwest – from the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014 that was the largest in Washington’s history, to the 2017 fire season in Oregon, to the 2018 Maple Fire, when normally sodden rainforests on the Olympic Peninsula were ablaze. Many people have wondered what this means for our region’s future.
A University of Washington study, published this winter in Fire Ecology, takes a big-picture look at what climate change could mean for wildfires in the Northwest, considering Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana.
“We can’t predict the exact location of wildfires, because we don’t know where ignitions will occur. But based on historical and contemporary fire records, we know some forests are much more likely to burn frequently, and models can help us determine where climate change will likely increase the frequency of fire,” said lead author Jessica Halofsky, a research scientist at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and with the U.S. Forest Service.
The review was done in response to a survey of stakeholder needs by the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, a UW-hosted federal–university partnership. State, federal and tribal resource managers wanted more information on the available science about fire and climate change.
“We’re on the cusp of some big changes. We expect that droughts will become more common, and the interaction of climate and fire could look very different by the mid-21st century,” said David Peterson, professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Starting the process of adapting to those changes now will give us a better chance of protecting forest resources in the future.”
The greatest increased risk was found for low-elevation ponderosa pine forests, of the type found at lower elevations on the east side of the Cascade Range in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho. This ecosystem has the highest fire risk today and also has the highest increase in risk due to climate change. The authors predict with high confidence that wildfires in this region will become larger and more frequent.
“We can’t attribute single fire events to climate change. But the trends in large fire events that have been occurring in the region are consistent with expected trends in a warming climate,” said co-author Brian Harvey, assistant professor at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. His UW research group studies forests and fires in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies.
Northwest Ecosystems are Under Threat:
The authors also summarize how other Northwest ecosystems might experience the combined threats of drought, warmer temperatures and insect outbreaks. Moist, coniferous forests — found on the Olympic Peninsula, in Western Washington and in Northern Idaho — will likely burn more often, but fires won’t be significantly larger than they were historically. Fires in subalpine, high-elevation forests, found in mountainous terrain, will similarly become more frequent but only slightly larger or more severe.
After describing the threats, the authors evaluate potential strategies to prepare. Land managers could remove dry organic material, or fuels, and maintain forest densities at lower levels to reduce the severity of fires, since the severity of wildfire is more controllable than the frequency or total area burned. Thinning would also help the remaining trees to withstand drought. Planting genetically diverse seedlings could also help with regeneration after fires — an important step for long-term survival of forests.
Landowners Can Play a Role:
Rural landowners can also play a role, the authors write.
“Individual landowners can reduce hazardous fuels, promote species that can survive fire and drought, and increase diversity of species and structures across the landscape,” Peterson said.
Historically the Northwest has had lower risk of wildfire than other states, such as California, but that may be changing.
“In general, the climate in the Northwest is cooler and wetter than in most low-elevation areas of California,” Halofsky said. But the Northwest summers are dry and warm. “Climate change will accentuate dry summers, and Northwest climate will become more similar to current-day California climate, leading to more and bigger fires.”
The study was funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior through its UW-hosted Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. Additional funding came from the U.S. Forest Service through its Pacific Northwest Research Station and Office of Sustainability and Climate.
NOTE: At TBG, we believe that Climate Change is real and we believe that there is a link between climate change and wildfires. For more information on our Energy & Environment solutions, send an email.
SPOTLIGHT ARTICLE: EDF
Will wildfires keep spreading with climate change?
Not only is the average wildfire season three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, but the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled — burning six times as many acres.
Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. If we don’t break the warming cycle, we expect more wildfires in the years ahead.
How climate change affects wildfires
Although human activities — such as lighting campfires and discarding lit cigarettes — are mainly responsible for starting the fires, hotter weather makes forests drier and more susceptible to burning.
Rising temperatures, a key indicator of climate change, evaporate more moisture from the ground, drying out the soil, and making vegetation more flammable.
At the same time, winter snowpacks are melting about a month earlier, meaning that the forests are drier for longer periods of time.
Meanwhile, shifting meteorological patterns can drive rain away from wildfire-prone regions, a phenomenon scientists discovered in California and have linked to human-made climate change.
As drought and heat continue with rising greenhouse gas emissions, we expect more wildfires in years ahead, especially with the fire seasons getting longer.
We have the power to break the cycle and get on track toward a more sustainable future.
We can keep spending an ever-rising amount of money to address devastating fires and other weather disasters that climate change makes worse — or we can work together to slow and eventually stop the greenhouse gas emissions warming our planet.
SPOTLIGHT ARTICLE: Carbon Brief
Explainer: How climate change is affecting wildfires around the world
This year has seen unprecedented wildfires cause havoc across the world. Australia recently battled its largest bushfire on record, while parts of the Arctic, the Amazon and central Asia have also experienced unusually severe blazes.
It follows on from “the year rainforests burned” in 2019. Last year saw the Amazon face its third-largest fire on record, while intense blazes also raged in Indonesia, North America and Siberia, among other regions.
A rapid analysis released this year found that climate change made the conditions for Australia’s unprecedented 2019-20 bushfires at least 30% more likely. Further analysis – visualised below in an interactive map – has shown that, globally, climate change is driving an increase in the weather conditions that can stoke wildfires.
But despite a growing field of evidence suggesting that climate change is making the conditions for fire more likely, research finds that the total area burned by wildfires each year decreased by up to a quarter in the past two decades.
Understanding this paradox requires scientists to assess a vast range of influential factors, including climate change, human land-use and political and social motivations.
In this explainer, Carbon Brief examines how wildfires around the world are changing, the influence of global warming and how risks might multiply in the future.
- When and where are most of the world’s wildfires?
- How is climate change affecting wildfire risk?
- Interactive global map which locates 73 wildfire scientific studies
- Are wildfires increasing across the globe?
- How will wildfires change in the future?
Click here for the rest of the article.
SPOTLIGHT ARTICLE: CNBC
At least 33 dead as wildfires scorch millions of acres across Western U.S. — ‘It is apocalyptic’
The fires have killed at least 33 people across the states and dozens more are missing. More than 1 million acres of land in Oregon have been burned and at least 10% of the state’s population is in evacuation zones. The state has dealt with the worst destruction as blazes have already decimated two towns.
The fires have blanketed the West Coast with smoke and have made air pollution in some cities among the worst in the world. Portland, Oregon has the second worst air quality globally behind Vancouver, Canada, which is also battling wildfires. The city of Seattle ranks third, San Francisco seventh and Los Angeles ninth.
Health officials recommend people in areas with poor air quality limit time outdoors, keep windows shut and have air conditioners running on recirculation in order to avoid drawing air inside.
Authorities said a man has been arrested and charged with arson in connection with a fire in southern Oregon that has burned hundreds of homes. Oregon’s state fire marshal Jim Walker, who has served since 2014, has resigned after being placed on administrative leave on Saturday afternoon, according to the state police department. The police department said it was “conducting an internal personnel investigation.”
In California, more than 3 million acres have burned, a record in the state’s history. The August Complex that started from a series of lightning strikes last month has become the biggest wildfire ever in California.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California gave a bleak update on the situation on Friday afternoon, saying the worst forecasts of climate change have impacted his state. He vowed to direct his administration to speed up California’s environmental goals and invest more in green energy.
“California, folks, is America fast forward,” Newsom said during a press conference at the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area in Butte County, which is damaged from the North Complex Fire. “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.”
President Donald Trump, who issued a major disaster declaration in August, will visit California on Monday where he will join local and federal fire and emergency officials to be briefed on the fires. The president is set to visit McClellan Park in Sacramento County, where the state’s fire agency Cal Fire has based its operations.
Trump for weeks has remained silent about the worsening fires and blamed the state of California in August for not managing its forests. The president has previously questioned human-caused climate change, as well as pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords and dismantled a slew of major climate and environmental policies.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said the president continues to closely monitor the states impacted by the fires and provide federal assistance.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday said that the state needs much more assistance from the Trump administration to fight the fires and condemned the president for his claims that the fires are a result of poor forest management.
“I listen to fire professionals, not the president of the United States or politicians when it comes to what actually causes these fires. It’s been very clear that years of drought, whether it’s too much water and too much rain in parts of our country right now, or too little,” Garcetti said on CNN.
“This is climate change and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand,” Garcetti said. “Talk to a firefighter if you think climate change isn’t real.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the amount of land burned by the fires in just the past five days amounts to the state’s second-worst fire season following the season in 2015, and said the fires should be called climate fires, not wildfires. Fires in the state destroyed most of the homes in the town of Malden and killed a 1-year-old boy.
Climate change has triggered excessive heat and drought conditions across the world that exacerbate wildfires. In fire-prone California, six of the 20 biggest wildfires in state history have occurred this year.
Gov. Inslee and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley on Sunday told ABC News that conditions in their states were “apocalyptic” and thousands of people have lost their homes in the fires.
“It is apocalyptic … I could never have envisioned this. The east winds came over the top of the mountain, proceeded to turn the fires into blow torches that went down and just incinerated a series of small towns,” Merkley said. “You have community after community with fairgrounds full of people, of refugees from the fires.”
Inslee said it’s “maddening” that Trump denies climate change is fueling the fires: “The only moisture in eastern Washington was the tears of people who have lost their homes … and no——w we have a blow torch over our states in the West, which is climate change.”
“If this is not a signal to the U.S., I don’t know what it will take,” Inslee said. “These people whose homes were destroyed … they deserve action against climate change.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday said that the state is sending roughly 190 additional firefighters and 50 more trucks to California. Fire crews are also being sent in from Utah and Colorado.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said the fires demonstrate that climate change poses an “existential threat to our way of life.”
“Our thoughts are also with the millions of Americans living just outside the path of these fires, forced into an awful choice between relocating in the midst of an ongoing pandemic or staying put in a place where every breath they draw forces them to inhale smoke,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday.
“The science is clear, and deadly signs like these are unmistakable — climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life,” Biden said. “President Trump can try to deny that reality, but the facts are undeniable.”
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