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.
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.
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.
Power Lines Are Burning the West, Kendra Atleework, The Atlantic, May 25, 2018:
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…
Temperatures in the Arctic Circle this month were hotter than they were in Southern Spain. That’s not good.
— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) August 20, 2018
Categories: Climate Change