Alaska’s wildfire season of 2015 may be the state’s worst ever – ‘What happens in the summer of 2015 has the potential to change the whole trajectory for the next 100 years or more’0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 27, 2015
By Chris Mooney
26 July 2015
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (Washington Post) – Hundreds of wildfires are continually whipping across this state this summer, leaving in their wake millions of acres of charred trees and blackened earth.
At the Fairbanks compound of the state’s Division of Forestry recently, workers were busy washing a mountain of soot-covered fire hoses, which stood in piles roughly six feet high and 100 feet long. About 3,500 smokejumpers, hotshot crews, helicopter teams and other workers have traveled to Alaska this year from across the country and Canada. And they have collectively deployed about 830 miles of hose this year to fight fires.
An hour north of the state’s second-biggest city, firefighters were attacking flames stretching across more than 31,000 acres, including an area close to the Trans-Alaska pipeline system, which stretches from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. And that’s just one of about 300 fires at any given time.
“People don’t fathom how big Alaska is. You can have a 300,000-acre fire, and nobody knows anything about it, because nothing’s been done about it, because of where it is,” says Tim Mowry, spokesman for the Alaska Division of Forestry.
The staggering 2015 Alaska wildfire season may soon be the state’s worst ever, with almost 5 million acres already burned — an area larger than Connecticut. The pace of the burn has moderated in the last week, but scientists say the fires are just the latest indicator of a climatic transformation that is remaking this state — its forests, its coasts, its glaciers, and perhaps most of all, the frozen ground beneath — more than any other in America.
Alaska has already warmed by more than 3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past half-century, much more than the continental United States. The consequences have included an annual loss of 75 billion metric tons of ice from its iconic glaciers — including those covering the slopes of Denali, the highest peak in North America — and the destabilization of permafrost, the frozen ground that underlies 80 percent of the state and whose thaw can undermine buildings, roads and infrastructure.
Also pummeled are the state’s Arctic coastlines, which are facing intense erosion as seas rise and declining sea ice exposes shores and barrier islands to punishing waves. The situation has grown so bad that some native communities, including tiny Kivalina, Alaska, sitting on a barrier island along the Chukchi Sea, may now have to be relocated, given the dangerous loss of land to the sea.
Earlier snowmelt transforms the state further. In 2015, the starting place of the Iditarod sled dog race had to be relocated north, to Fairbanks, because there wasn’t enough snow on the ground in some places.
But arguably the most dramatic change — threatening to transform the state’s 126 million acres of forests and, perhaps, worsen climate change in the process — is occurring with the state’s wildfires.
Alaska’s forests make up 17 percent of the U.S. total, and while they’ve always burned, they may now be entering a major new combustive period. The blazes are so intense and extensive that they could transform an entire ecosystem, even as the fires also hasten the thawing of permafrost — which itself contains vast quantities of ancient carbon, ready to be emitted to the air.
“The more severe the fire, the deeper that it burns through the organic layer, the higher the chance it will go through this complete conversion,” says Ted Schuur, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University who spends summers in Fairbanks and specializes in studying permafrost. “What happens in the summer of 2015 has the potential to change the whole trajectory of [the burned area] for the next 100 years or more.” [more]
Half of Columbia River sockeye salmon dying due to hot water – ‘The river flow is abnormally low, but on top of that we’ve had superhot temperatures for a really long time’0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 27, 2015
By Keith Ridler
27 July 2015
BOISE, Idaho (Associated Press) – More than a quarter million sockeye salmon returning from the ocean to spawn are either dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warming water temperatures.
Federal and state fisheries biologists say the warm water is lethal for the cold-water species and is wiping out at least half of this year's return of 500,000 fish.
"We had a really big migration of sockeye," said Ritchie Graves of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The thing that really hurts is we're going to lose a majority of those fish."
He said up to 80 percent of the population could ultimately perish. […]
The fish become stressed at temperatures above 68 degrees and stop migrating at 74 degrees. Much of the basin is at or over 70 degrees due to a combination that experts attribute to drought and record heat in June.
"The tributaries are running hot," Graves said. "A lot of those are in the 76-degree range."
In Idaho, an emergency declaration earlier this month allowed state fisheries managers to capture endangered Snake River sockeye destined for central Idaho and take them to a hatchery to recover in cooler water. Of the 4,000 fish that passed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, less than a fourth made it to Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. An average year is 70 percent.
"Right now it's grim for adult sockeye," said Russ Kiefer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He said sockeye will often pull into tributary rivers in search of cooler water, but aren't finding much relief.
"They're running out of energy reserves, and we're getting a lot of reports of fish dead and dying," he said.
Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead are listed as endangered or threatened in the Columbia River basin. […]
Graves said that this year's flow in the Columbia River is among the lowest in the last 60 years. But he said the system has experienced similar low flows without the lethal water temperatures. He said the difference this year has been prolonged hot temperatures, sometimes more than 100 degrees, in the interior part of the basin.
"The flow is abnormally low, but on top of that we've had superhot temperatures for a really long time," he said. [more]
21 July 2015 (KidsCount.org) – The KIDS COUNT Data Book [pdf] is an annual publication that assesses child well-being nationally and across the 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Using an index of 16 indicators, the report ranks states on overall child well-being and in economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
The 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book focuses on America’s children in the midst of the country's economic recovery. While data show improvements in child health and education, more families are struggling to make ends meet, and a growing number of kids live in high-poverty neighborhoods. In addition to ranking states in several areas of child well-being, the report also examines the influence of parents’ education, health and other life circumstances on their children.
National data mask a great deal of state-by-state and regional variations in child well-being. A state-level examination of the data reveals a hard truth: A child’s chances of thriving depend not just on individual, familial and community characteristics, but also on the state in which she or he is born and raised. States vary considerably in their amount of wealth and other resources. State policy choices also strongly influence children’s chances for success.
We derive a composite index of overall child well-being for each state by combining data across the four domains: (1) Economic Well-Being, (2) Education, (3) Health and (4) Family and Community. These composite scores are then translated into a single state ranking for child well-being.
Minnesota ranked first among states for overall child well-being, followed by New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Minnesota’s number one ranking marks the first time in nearly a decade that a New England state did not hold the top spot for child well-being in our report. The three lowest-ranked states were Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi.
The map on page 17 shows the distinct regional patterns that emerged from the state rankings. All of the northeastern states were in the top 10 in terms of overall child well-being, apart from Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and
Rhode Island. Most of the states in the Midwest and Mountain regions ranked in the middle on overall child well-being, with the exception of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, Utah and Nebraska, which were in the top 10.
States in the Southeast, Southwest and Appalachia — where the poorest states are located — populated the bottom of the overall rankings. In fact, with the exception of California, the 15 lowest-ranked states were located in these regions. States in the Southwest occupied three of the five lowest rankings for child well-being.
Although they are not ranked against states, children in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico experienced some of the worst outcomes on many of the indicators we track. When available, the data for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are included in Appendix 2.
As will be explored in the sections that follow, the overall rankings obscure some important variations within states. Although most states’ rankings did not vary dramatically across domains, there were a few exceptions. For example, Colorado ranked among the top 10 states in the Education domain, but placed 44th in the Health of its children. Wyoming ranked second for Economic Well-Being, but was among the worst 10 states for Health. For all states, the index identifies bright spots and room for improvement.
Overall Rank: 2015
2 New Hampshire
7 North Dakota
8 New Jersey
18 South Dakota
28 New York
31 Rhode Island
35 North Carolina
42 South Carolina
43 West Virginia
49 New Mexico
Climate scientists: When the end of human civilization is your day job – ‘The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet’0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, July 27, 2015
By John H. Richardson
7 July 2015
(Esquire) – The incident was small, but Jason Box doesn't want to talk about it. He's been skittish about the media since it happened. This was last summer, as he was reading the cheery blog posts transmitted by the chief scientist on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was exploring the Arctic for an international expedition led by Stockholm University. "Our first observations of elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, were documented … we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites. … The weather Gods are still on our side as we steam through a now ice-free Laptev Sea. …"
As a leading climatologist who spent many years studying the Arctic at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State, Box knew that this breezy scientific detachment described one of the nightmare long-shot climate scenarios: a feedback loop where warming seas release methane that causes warming that releases more methane that causes more warming, on and on until the planet is incompatible with human life. And he knew there were similar methane releases occurring in the area. On impulse, he sent out a tweet.
"If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we're f'd."
The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines:
CLIMATOLOGIST SAYS ARCTIC CARBON RELEASE COULD MEAN "WE'RE FUCKED."
CLIMATE SCIENTIST DROPS THE F-BOMB AFTER STARTLING ARCTIC DISCOVERY.
CLIMATOLOGIST: METHANE PLUMES FROM THE ARCTIC MEAN WE'RE SCREWED.
Box has been outspoken for years. He's done science projects with Greenpeace, and he participated in the 2011 mass protest at the White House organized by 350.org. In 2013, he made headlines when a magazine reported his conclusion that a seventy-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already "baked into the system." Now, with one word, Box had ventured into two particularly dangerous areas. First, the dirty secret of climate science and government climate policies is that they're all based on probabilities, which means that the effects of standard CO2 targets like an 80 percent reduction by 2050 are based on the middle of the probability curve. Box had ventured to the darker possibilities on the curve's tail, where few scientists and zero politicians are willing to go.
Worse, he showed emotion, a subject ringed with taboos in all science but especially in climate science. As a recent study from the University of Bristol documented, climate scientists have been so distracted and intimidated by the relentless campaign against them that they tend to avoid any statements that might get them labeled "alarmists," retreating into a world of charts and data. But Box had been able to resist all that. He even chased the media splash in interviews with the Danish press, where they translated "we're fucked" into its more decorous Danish equivalent, "on our ass," plastering those dispiriting words in large-type headlines all across the country.
The problem was that Box was now working for the Danish government, and even though Denmark may be the most progressive nation in the world on climate issues, its leaders still did not take kindly to one of its scientists distressing the populace with visions of global destruction. Convinced his job was in jeopardy only a year after he uprooted his young family and moved to a distant country, Box was summoned before the entire board of directors at his research institute. So now, when he gets an e-mail asking for a phone call to discuss his "recent gloomy statements," he doesn't answer it.
Five days later: "Dr. Box—trying you again in case the message below went into your junk file. Please get in touch."
This time he responds briefly. "I think most scientists must be burying overt recognition of the awful truths of climate change in a protective layer of denial (not the same kind of denial coming from conservatives, of course). I'm still amazed how few climatologists have taken an advocacy message to the streets, demonstrating for some policy action." But he ignores the request for a phone call.
A week later, another try: "Dr. Box—I watched your speech at The Economist's Arctic Summit. Wow. I would like to come see you."
But gloom is the one subject he doesn't want to discuss. "Crawling under a rock isn't an option," he responds, "so becoming overcome with PTSD-like symptoms is useless." He quotes a Norse proverb:
"The unwise man is awake all night, worries over and again. When morning rises he is restless still."
Most people don't have a proverb like that readily at hand. So, a final try: "I do think I should come to see you, meet your family, and make this story personal and vivid."
I wanted to meet Box to find out how this outspoken American is holding up. He has left his country and moved his family to witness and study the melting of Greenland up close. How does being the one to look at the grim facts of climate change most intimately, day in and day out, affect a person? Is Box representative of all of the scientists most directly involved in this defining issue of the new century? How are they being affected by the burden of their chosen work in the face of changes to the earth that could render it a different planet? […]
Among climate activists, gloom is building. Jim Driscoll of the National Institute for Peer Support just finished a study of a group of longtime activists whose most frequently reported feeling was sadness, followed by fear and anger. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a practicing psychiatrist and graduate of Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth slide-show training, calls this "pretraumatic" stress. "So many of us are exhibiting all the signs and symptoms of posttraumatic disorder—the anger, the panic, the obsessive intrusive thoughts." Leading activist Gillian Caldwell went public with her "climate trauma," as she called it, quitting the group she helped build and posting an article called "16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout," in which she suggests compartmentalization: "Reinforce boundaries between professional work and personal life. It is very hard to switch from the riveting force of apocalyptic predictions at work to home, where the problems are petty by comparison." […]
"Oh yeah," says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, almost casually. "The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet. There's going to be huge dislocations if that comes about."
But things can change much quicker than people think, he says. Look at attitudes on gay marriage.
And the glaciers?
"The glaciers are going to melt, they're all going to melt," he says. "But my reaction to Jason Box's comments is—what is the point of saying that? It doesn't help anybody." […]
"Bad things are going to happen. What can you do as a person? You write stories. I do science. You don't run around saying, 'We're fucked! We're fucked! We're fucked!' It doesn't—it doesn't incentivize anybody to do anything." […]
Box says his home state of Colorado isn't doing so great, either. "The forests are dying, and they will not return. The trees won't return to a warming climate. We're going to see megafires even more, that'll be the new one—megafires until those forests are cleared." [more]
Protesters film ‘incomprehensible’ slaughter of hundreds of whales in the Faroe Islands – ‘I hate whale meat but I love to kill them’2 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, July 24, 2015
By John Vidal
24 July 2015
(The Guardian) – Faroese villagers have slaughtered about 250 pilot whales in the past 24 hours according to Sea Shepherd activists monitoring the traditional summer hunts in the north Atlantic islands.
The whale pods, which migrate past the islands in July and August, were herded by flotillas of small boats on to two beaches where villagers waded into the water to kill them with lances.
Seven protesters, mainly from European countries, have been arrested this week for allegedly interfering with the the traditional community hunts, known as “grindadráp”.
Amsterdam-based direct action group Sea Shepherd, which has 36 people on two boats close to the islands and a further 20 supporters on Faroese islands, claimed on Friday that the Danish navy was helping the Faroese whalers. Although the islands are self-governing, they are financially dependent on Denmark.
“It was perfectly clear that the Danish navy ships Triton and Knud Rasmussen were present to guard one grindadráp, and that the slaughter [only] proceeded with the full consent of the Danish navy,” said Wyanda Lublink, captain of the Sea Shepherd boat Brigitte Bardot.
“How Denmark – an anti-whaling member nation of the European Union, subject to laws prohibiting the slaughter of cetaceans – can attempt to justify its collaboration in this slaughter is incomprehensible,” he said. [more]
By Chris Graham
24 July 2015
(New Matilda) – An annual Danish whale hunt – with the signature sea turning red from blood – has been captured on film by activists. READER’S WARNING: This story contains images and graphics of an extremely graphic and disturbing nature.
International environmental and animal rights group Sea Shepherd has captured shocking footage of the annual slaughter of pilot whales in a remote corner of the Danish coastline. Yesterday, around 200 pilot whales were speared through the spine on the “killing beaches” of Denmark's Faroe Islands. They’re called ‘killing beaches’ because each beach must be licensed for the annual hunt, and have shallow gradations where the whales can be beached right on the shoreline. Dozens of boats drive the whales into the shallow coves, before hundreds of local men wade into the shallow waters and drag the wahles further onto the beaches. A spear is then driven down through the whales' spines. In the process, they cut the main arteries leading to the whales’ brains, causing them to bleed heavily, and staining the beach and water red with blood. [more]
By Captain Paul Watson
24 July 2015
(Facebook) – Yesterday, the Faroese killed 114 whales in Torshaven and 111 on the island of Vagur - a total of 221 whales slaughtered.
One teenage whaler mockingly yelled at one of our people and said, "I hate whale meat but I love to kill them."
That pretty much sums up the mentality.
Washington state’s terrifying new climate threat: ‘Urban wildfires’ – ‘We’re seeing significant amounts of fires in places where we’ve never seen fires before’0 comments Posted by Jim at Thursday, July 23, 2015
By Lindsay Abrams
22 July 2015
(Salon) – Wildfire season isn’t what it used to be.
In Washington state, a combination of ongoing drought and rapid development made 2014 particularly nightmarish, and this year’s unusually hot conditions are fueling another season of dangerous blazes — more than 300 so far, including one, 3,000-plus acre wildfire that destroyed homes and businesses in central Washington.
That’s no longer out of the ordinary. Washington firefighters are bracing themselves for an onslaught of oxymoronic-sounding “urban wildfires,” NPR reports – basically, brush fires that bump right into cities, threatening entire communities. Officials there say it’s a “growing threat,” one more commonly associated with cities like San Diego — although increasingly, they point out, the weather in Washington state seems to resemble that of southern California.
John Sinclair, chief of Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue, told NPR he’s not qualified to say what’s causing the drought and rising temperatures, but the trend, he maintains, is clear: ”We’re seeing significant amounts of fires in places where we’ve never seen fires before.”
Added Peter Goldmark, the commissioner of public lands with the state’s Department of Natural Resources, ”We need more resources to deal with this emerging threat of really hot conditions, which make our many communities at risk.” [more]
By Keven Drews
22 July 2015
WEST KELOWNA, B.C. (The Canadian Press) – Relentless forest fires burning across British Columbia may be the new normal, Premier Christy Clark warned as she stood not far from a raging fire that threatened homes in her own riding.
Clark spoke near the Westside Road fire outside West Kelowna on Wednesday, where flames have forced emergency officials to issue evacuation orders to the residents of 70 homes.
It's one of 10 evacuation alerts or orders across the province, where more than 250 blazes are burning, 43 of which broke out on Tuesday following a series of lightning storms.
The premier said she is concerned that climate change has altered the terrain, drying out the land and making it more vulnerable to fire, and as a result what B.C. is seeing isn't unusual and will happen more often.
As of Wednesday, the province has spent more than $140 million battling the 1,300 wildfires that have broken out this season, and Clark said the province could spend another $300 to $400 million this year if the pace continues.
She doesn't think the fires will put the province into a deficit, because the government ran a surplus of $1.7 billion last year and is expected to run a surplus again this coming fiscal year, Clark said.
"I am mostly concerned … that the forest fire season won't give us a break and that we're going to see more homes threatened, more people's livelihood threatened, more forest resources lost."
Clark said B.C. must continue to fight climate change, be better prepared for wildfires and have the necessary resources to fight them.
The fire in Clark's riding is particularly unsettling because hundreds of homes were lost in 2003 when a wildfire swept through Kelowna -- just across Okanagan Lake from the current blaze.
"In Kelowna, we are becoming more and more familiar with this, and so it's kind of like every summer they kind of get the band back together," said Clark.
"Everybody comes to the co-ordination centre," she said. "They all know how they interrelate because sadly we are doing this every year now, but boy we do it better than anybody else in the world." [more]
By John Vidal
22 July 2015
(The Guardian) – Two international volunteers with the Sea Shepherd conservation society face prison if found guilty on Thursday of interfering with a hunt for pilot whales in the Faroe islands.
Susan Larsen of San Francisco and Tom Strearth of Bremen, Germany, were arrested by the Danish navy earlier this week after following a flotilla of small Faroese boats thought to be heading for a “grindadráp” - a traditional Faroese hunt where dozens of migrating pilot whales are herded into a bay where they are then slaughtered by hand.
The new Faroese Pilot Whaling Act passed by the islands’ government – which many believe is specifically intended to prevent Sea Shepherd volunteers trying to stop the cull – could lead to two years’ imprisonment.
But they are condemned by Sea Shepherd as an “unnecessary obscenity”. Pictures of the traditional grindadráps are marked by bloody water and whales being cut up.
According to Sea Shepherd, which has dozens of volunteers on the islands monitoring for suspected whale hunts and two boats at sea, 33 pilot whales were killed last year and around 1,300 were killed in 2013. […]
“For hundreds of years the people of the Danish Faroe Islands have been herding migrating pilot whales and other small cetaceans into shallow water and slaughtering them. The grindadráp is the largest slaughter of marine mammals in Europe, and is widely criticised as being both cruel and unnecessary,” said Rosie Kunneke, a spokeswoman for Sea Shepherd. [more]
By Captain Paul Watson
22 July 2015
(Facebook) – Two Sea Shepherd Land Crew members in the Faroe Islands tested the new law on Monday.
They spotted a pod of dolphins before the whalers knew about them and did not report the pod to the Grindmaster.
This is a blatant violation of:
3.-(1) When pilot whales or other small whales that may be killed lawfully have been sighted on the sea territory or closer to the shore, a message of the sighted whales must immediately be communicated to the district administrator (the sysselmand), irrespective of whether the pilot whales have been observed by persons on board a boat or a ship, a helicopter or an aircraft or persons on shore.
The lawbreakers were Florian Stadler from Germany and Christophe Bondue from France.
Christophe entered the police station and confessed his crime to an officer saying, “I saw the dolphins this morning and did not report it. What are you going to do about it.
The officer replied, “That’s okay.”
Land Team leader Rosie Kunneke was told later that if Sea Shepherd crew continue to report sightings they will consider it harassment unless the report includes a photograph with a date stamp and landmarks indicating where the sighting took place. How the police expect Sea Shepherd to produce photographs of landmarks from on the sea is a mystery.
This bizarre law is becoming more complex and silly every day. The law does not mention date stamped photos and landmarks but this seems to be an amendment by the Faroese police.
The police are now also investigating the prop-fouling of the Sam Simon by some as yet unidentified Faroese citizens. This was reported today in the Faroese media. The story says that Sea Shepherd did not file a complaint. This is not accurate. Sea Shepherd Captain Adam Meyerson did file a complaint today. He was delayed from doing so because he could not leave the Sam Simon until he found safe anchorage to allow him to do so.
Captain Meyerson has formally filed the complaint.
The story today in the Faroese media:
The police investigate vandalism against Sam Simon.
It was yesterday there was a grindabod in Kalsoyarfirdi. Boats were present there, but the whales disappeared. One of the ships from Sea Shepherd was also there with two motorboats from the organisation. The police have confiscated one boat, and handcuffed the people on board, one woman and one man.
The leader of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, followed the driving of the whales, and mentioned that the Danish navy ship Triton, did nothing whilst a Faroese boat attempted to stop Sam Simon by prop foulling.
In.fo has today spoken to Andras Marr Poulsen, who is a police inspector, in order to find out whether Sea Shepherd has reported this incident. The incident has not been reported, but Andras Marr Poulsen says, that the police have, on their own initiative, chosen to investigate the matter.
”It is a part of the investigation work, which we do. In this case the police can choose on their own initiative to investigate the matter.”
Andras Marr Poulsen says, that possibly it can be a breach of paragraph 252 of the criminal code/law, which states that:
”Punishment of jail up to eight years is given to those, who to their own gain, and of reckless behaviour, endangers someones life or health.”
End of translation.
I doubt that we will see any charges against the Faroese for something that the police actually observed and it will be interesting to see how the police will proceed in convicting two Sea Shepherd crew members for disrupting a Grind that had not actually taken place.
Attached video is Christophe Bondue reporting to the police that he failed to report a pod of pilot whales to the whalers.
22 July 2015 (Desdemona Despair) – The Kids Count project keeps track of lots of data relating to the health and well-being of children in the United States. Des whipped up this graph in no time using the graphing tool at the Kids Count Data Center. The percentage of children in extreme poverty was level at 8% before the Great Recession and rose rapidly to 10% after, where it has remained since 2010 [cf., Graph of the Day: U.S. children living in low-income and poor families, 2007-2013].