Climate Change

We are the cause, we are the solution

2017 was the worst for wildfires of any year reported by British Columbia. Three million acres burned, about 10x the average. 2014, 2015 and 2018 also rank among the ten worst ever.

2017 was the worst year on record for California wildfires. With the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire measured as the largest wildfire in the state’s history, the current year may be worse.

As of mid-August 2018, 15 states are reporting large fires, from Alaska to New Mexico. Washington has had more fires this year than ever before. Utah is experiencing its most destructive fire season in 2018 and the year will likely be Colorado’s worst too.

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Destruction from Wildfires is likely to get worse.

Park Williams, a research scientist at Columbia University, says fire and aridity, which is controlled by heat, exist in an exponential relationship. Every degree of warming does more to promote fire than the previous degree of warming. Wildfires are a “canary in the coal mine” for the effects of climate change, Williams said.

Researchers also found that the area of annual burned forest in the Pacific Northwest has increased by nearly 5000 percent since the early 1970s.

The Union of Concerned Scientists was founded in 1969 by Nobel laureate Dr. Henry Kendall and others at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. UCS reports:

Earth’s surface has undergone unprecedented warming over the last century, and especially in this century.

Every single year since 1977 has been warmer than the 20th century average, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001, and 2016 being the warmest year on recorded history…

The fingerprints that humans have left on Earth’s climate are turning up in a diverse range of records and can be seen in the ocean, in the atmosphere, and on the Earth’s surface.

Scientists agree that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere, like when we choose to extract and burn coal, oil, and gas, or cut down and burn forests…

We are the cause, we are the solution.

Knowing that human activities are the main driver of global warming helps us understand how and why our climate is changing, and it clearly defines the problem as one that is within our power to address.

We cannot avoid some level of warming caused by the heat-trapping emissions already present in the atmosphere, some of which (such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) last for 100 years or more. But, with aggressive measures to reduce emissions and adapt to those changes we cannot avoid, we have a small window to avoid truly dangerous warming and provide future generations with a sustainable world.

I note that BC Government webpages pay little or no attention to climate change as a driver of wildfire. Public servants have sound advice for homeowners and recreationalists but government provides few comments about the elephant in the room, which is fossil fuel production, something BC is working to increase.

Marc Lee of CCPA wrote this during what he calls “the sunny lull between the end of flooding season and the start of fire season.”

LNG Canada proposes to export 12 million tonnes of LNG per year to start, with a plan to double that to 24 million tonnes, with a project lifetime of 40 years. These amounts are what would be exported and combusted in Asia, and by accounting convention they are not counted in BC’s GHG emission totals.

A new LNG terminal would also increase BC’s domestic GHG emissions. The emissions from LNG Canada are from the gas supply chain (fracking, processing and transportation) and the liquefaction facility itself. LNG Canada claims its planned facility would be twice as efficient in terms of GHG emissions per tonne of LNG produced, but such a bold claim should be treated with skepticism.

The proposed facility would use some BC Hydro grid electricity, but only to keep the lights on; the liquefaction process itself would burn gas—a lot of it.

BC was not going to hit its legislated target for reducing GHG emissions by 2020. So, Environment Minister George Heyman moved the goal posts back. Now, the new target date is 2030. At the same time, government is continuing record level subsidies to natural gas producers. Vast quantities of BC gas are shipped to Alberta to facilitate production of bitumen, which some call the dirtiest oil on earth.

With the corporate media dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, most politicians refuse to do more than talk about climate change. Words are cheap, particularly when they are not backed by meaningful actions.

The slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill” inevitably leads to “Burn, Baby, Burn.


Media malpractice and the bitumen bubble, Paul McKay, National Observer, April 26, 2018:

But when the stakes are so high, and when there are whiffs of panic, extortion and even all-out political warfare in the air, it is precisely the time business journalists should be asking tough questions and demanding answers….

That is our job. It is our professional, perhaps even patriotic, duty to do it well.


While reading for this article, I learned about one major cause of fire that I had never thought significant.

According to the BC government, 60% of the province’s wildfires are naturally caused, with the vast majority ignited by lightning. The other 40%, they say, are the result of human activities like smoking, campfires and hot vehicle exhaust systems. To my knowledge, electrical transmission facilities have not been blamed for major fires in BC.

Power lines and electrical equipment are a leading cause of California wildfires, Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2017:

The explosive failure of power lines and other electrical equipment has regularly ranked among the top three singular sources of California wildfires for the last several years.

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Power Lines Are Burning the West, Kendra Atleework, The Atlantic, May 25, 2018:

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The private utility company Pacific Gas and Electric, known to Californians as PG&E, is under investigation. Total damage for the Northern California wildfires comes to $9 billion. PG&E has started stockpiling cash.

In California, this is a familiar story…

A power line can start a fire if it breaks in the wind. It can start a fire when a tree or a branch falls across it, or when lines slap together, or when equipment gets old and fails without anyone noticing. In 2015, fires started by electrical lines and equipment burned more acres in California than any other cause. …In recent years, they have consistently been among the three major causes of California wildfires.

… In recent decades, wildfires in the American West have begun to range farther and burn longer. Scientists …concluded that “wildfires across western North America have increased in number and size over the past three decades, and this trend will continue in response to further warming.”

12 deadly California wildfires last fall were reportedly caused by downed power lines, Associated Press, June 8, 2018:

California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection says 12 Northern California wildfires last fall, including two that killed a total of 15 people, were caused by downed power lines.

The agency said in a report Friday that investigators determined the fires “were caused by electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”

PG&E’s bid to change wildfire liability rules appears dead for now, San Francisco Chronicle, August 18, 2018:

As fires burned across Northern California last fall, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. launched a lobbying campaign whose outcome could mean billion of dollars for the utility.

PG&E, joined by California’s other big utility companies, pushed Sacramento to change a system that holds them financially liable for any wildfires sparked by their equipment…

The utilities’ 10-month lobbying push, however, appears to have failed. At least for now…


 

Categories: Climate Change

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9 replies »

  1. Fortunately, there are municipal elections coming in October. We should be electing people who get things done instead of arguing.
    We need to remove the dead trees near power lines and offer incentives to help property owners in removing forest litter and around our regional parks.

    Also, smokers tossing cigarette butts from car windows could devastate a municipality’s economy.. Hefty Fines should imposed as a warning as they are potential arsonists.

    BC Hydro should be removing the dead tree branches over their power lines. Perhaps fire damage will be BC Hydro’s excuse to build even more dam infrastructure instead of building solar panels. We should also be getting the maximum benefits from the Columbia River Treaty instead of building the boondoggle Site C Dam.

    Our ground water wells are drying up on Vancouver Island. Many of the Douglas fir trees are dying. Branches are snapping … it’s called “sudden limb failure”.

    The smoke is affecting everyone so you can imagine what it must do to firemen and first responders and eventually the health care system. BC wildfires are now being mentioned on Texas TV news.

    As smoke blankets the earth, it is cooling it down …. but we are also filling our lungs with particulates. Shipping Dirty oil through pipelines to fuel foreign economies and fuel lifestyles is greed -disguised as a solution to improve Canada’s environment.

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  2. There is virtually no investment in preventing forest fires, as the government has greatly cut back on preventative measures, one being fuel on the ground.

    One would think the government would finance those trying to come up with solutions for this, but the fire season is one of big profits for friends of the government like Conair of Abbotsford and a score of smaller air tanker companies.

    Strangely, Coulson, owners of the Martin Mars is none too friendly with the BC Government and the giant flying boat stays idle.

    Forest fires? it is a growth industry in BC, especially those who profit from it.

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  3. A high tension hydro line suddenly snapped, right in front of my place, early last week. It sparked and a grass fire resulted. A quick thinking purolater delivery man jumped out with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out, staying safely away from the lice line. The fire Dept arrived, dealt with some smouldering wood retaining wall material, and thought that all was ok. The property has been vacant for about 3 years, owners unable to sell at asking price. House is older, lots if tree debris on roof, lots of dead cedars around perimeter. Well, when all looked okay, suddenly many feet of dry cedar hedge burst into a wall of flames. I have pics if the firefighters with that wall towering over and in front of them. Fortunately this did not happen at night when the snapped line would not have been evident until too late.

    Thinking of the smoke we have, it will be in not too many more years when we will reminisce about seeing blue sky in the summer. We also have to be aware of how this particulate material blocks the sunlight needed to grow food crops. Dinosaurs were thought to go extinct in a similar manner, we’re they not? If we are next, at least the planet will eventually return to some equilibrium. The planet would be better off without humans, no doubt.

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    • the planet would be better of without humans, as you write. If we continue as we are, that will be accomplished in approx. a 100 yrs.

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  4. Saw a tweet from Turnip@2020 today.

    “I have a suggestion. How about reporters stop asking whether or not political leaders ‘believe’ in climate change and start asking if they understand it instead.”

    I think actions speak louder than words, so we already have our answer. Either they do understand, in which case they are truly evil, or they don’t understand and they are just as dangerous.

    Either way they need replacing.

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  5. Evolving happens very slowly for nature to do what is reasoned. Climate warming=climate change=burning up in flames from co2/no gases we put there.
    When it’s over and done then everybody can see what happened. Trouble is…..
    But gee what about the money to run everything.??? says the State of the political Mind.
    Who has the wit??
    Us.
    You’d be a fool to be led by the State in your understandings even though they want to lead you badly to be elected, play the game…be human afterall. Meaning their State of Mind survives meaning all of us.
    So how does one elect the intuitive who will be right in the end?
    A novel event for us I think.
    There are so many elephants out there unnoticed it feels like a stampede with rapid pace of change.
    I’m choosing to be untrampled by reading “Insights”.
    Hugh

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  6. Yes, the earth is warming up and its due to human activity. However, Canada isn’t the only country in the world, and regardless of what we do, and we ought to do more, nothing is going to change. We have only to look south of the border to see what the American not so environmental dept. is doing.

    then there is the no small matter of first world countries, setting up factories in 2 and 3 world countries and polluting the hell out of them. One British corporation has so polluted an area in India the people started rioting and the electricity was cut off to the plant. Canada has more than a few mining corporations operating in foreign countries, where they pollute to a degree which would never be permitted in Canada.

    Our forest fire problem started decades ago. First winters weren’t as cold as they once were and the pine beetle took hold, that as I recall started some time in the 1960s. The trees were dead and nothing was done. We could have burnt the beetle out, but that was considered too extreme. As the decades passed, entire sections of the province had dead trees. It looked awful. Nothing was done by either the B.C. Lieberals or the NDP.

    Then we had the Kelowna fire. Following that a great report was written by a Gary Filmon, former premier of Manitoba. Did the B.C. Lieberals follow the recommendations? Not so much, it was expensive. Today we live with the results.

    Whether we build the pipeline or not, these fires will continue until we stop destroying our environment and the earth’s temperatures go down. Is that going to happen? Doubtful. There is too much money at stake and money is still the name of the game. The 1% of the 1% believe they can continue as they wish, because they can avoid the dirty air by moving. Most working people, don’t want to give up their jobs, their incomes, for what they see as something which will disappear in the fall. Unless the world gets its collective act together, nothing will change, and the world will eventually have a very big problem. None of us will be alive at that point anyhow, but some may have great grandchildren who will be. We do need to change.

    To have a better world environment, the first thing we in the first world need to do is stop consuming. We don’t need 5 t.v.s or 3 cars, and 5 bathrooms, or granite counter tops every 5 years or you get the drift.

    What we need to do is have a look at how we can avoid some of the fires. We can’t stop the lighting, but we need to ensure people don’t go into the back woods starting earlier around June. No One! Many of these forest fires are started by campers who are camping in unregulated areas. In the late 60s camping in the Gulf Islands was banned to the extreme fire hazards.

    Road maintenance companies, hired by various levels of government need to do their jobs, cutting grass, removing dead trees, etc. from road sides. B.C. Hydro on Vancouver is. does a good job of keeping trees and such away from the lines, but Telus and their lines, disgusting, debris everywhere. limbs laying on lines.

    Fines need to be increased for those who toss cigs, etc. out car windows. it ought to be as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving. Yet, where I live on Vancouver Island, all summer long, along a main road I see cig. butts beside the road. If one of those catches the grass on fire, the trees will go and my home next to it, will be gone in a matter of minutes.

    those who would throw cigs out their car windows don’t care about the environment and they can’t be persuaded to change their ways and they will be in favour of that pipeline which will lead to more climate change, etc. This crap we will pump isn’t for our use in Canada, its for foreign nations who don’t care much about the environment, even less than Canadians. Its all about the money and until we deal with the greed problem we don’t solve the environmental problem.

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  7. As usual, Mr. Edwardson puts it all in perspective: “Either they do understand, in which case they are truly evil, or they don’t understand and they are just as dangerous.”
    A quote everyone with a conscience and basic reading skills should focus on. But no, like my family members with enough plastic toys to fill three daycares, they practice green house cleaning and all believe they are doing the good and right thing.

    e.a.f.
    ‘…then there is the no small matter of first world countries, setting up factories in 2 and 3 world countries and polluting the hell out of them…”

    Over there and up there. Both out of sight. People in Vancouver, give zero thought to what goes on over there in China and India because it is removed from their narrow world. People from Vancouver give zero thought to the logging practices up there in Knight Inlet because it is removed from their narrow world.

    Only when the smoke reaches out and touches their daily lives do they wonder because, going back to Lew’s comment; ordinary people understand just enough and do just enough to feel good about themselves.

    Ok folks, let’s crank up the BBQ, treat the pool, pop a can and talk about the oddity of that poor Resident Orca, J50, possibly being poisoned by toxins. How can that be?

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  8. Tim, your comment, “people understand just enough an do just enough to feel good about themselves”, is oh, so bang on! They’ve got people giving up plastic bags. It makes almost everyone feel good, but really its just another money grab. I know Thrifties charges for their paper bags and that money goes to charity, the rest, I suspect are making money. But is it doing anything really for the environment? Not so much, those “reuseable” bags are made in china and are even more difficult to get rid of and are dirty. People don’t wash them and then there is the issue of washing them and using more detergents and water. Then those giving up their one use bags and feeling virtuous go out and buy another plastic things and another t.v. and get the latest phone. One of the t.v. stations at noon had an item on about getting your kid ready for school, some sort of plastic foam lunch container and a whole lot of plastic small container. what the hell happened to a lunch kit which lasted the school yr or longer and wax paper?

    Being environmental is also a good method of saving money. Keeping your vehicles for 10 yrs and looking after them is much more enviormental than purchasing a new one every time some one says they have a new more “environmental” car on the market.

    I refuse to pay for plastic bags, its a money grab, but when they were free I used them and then used them as garbage bags. My vehicles and I go 10 yrs together, longer than a spousal unit. Some of my t.v.s actually went 18 an 20 years.

    Nothing is going to change until we make the really big changes such as charging Canadian companies for polluting over seas. We do it with citizens who are pedophiles, why not corporations who destroy enviornments in other countries. And boy are your right on about the logging. Most people don’t see it, but if you live around Nanaimo, you sure see all those big logging trucks going up and down the highway. People wonder why bears and cougars come into their communites, well usually its because some lumber company destroyed their habitat and they need to eat.

    Mr Green Weaver needs to get his arse into gear and come up with a plan regarding sustainable environmental logging. It can be done. But we haven’t heard much from the greens at all as the province burns. Certainly they could look at ways to help the environment and present them to the government, who may be willing to implement some of them.

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