Global fishing in 2014 (Total: 110,625 x 10³ t). Graphic: Sea Around Us

By Helen Davidson
14 June 2017

DARWIN (The Guardian) – As climate change pushes marine species towards cooler waters, and the fishing industry expands around the globe, the tropics are emptying out, a leading fisheries expert has warned.

The federal government is expected to release its new management plan for marine reserves in coming weeks, after a 2016 review recommended winding back protections. However Dr Daniel Pauly has called for the creation of more, saying they are the only realistic form of mitigation to the current crisis.

Pauly, principal investigator at the Sea Around Us research organisation, said it was unknown whether the “explosion” of fishing industries or global warming was having the biggest impact on fish stocks, but both needed to be addressed.

“The depth, the distance from the coast, all of these were factors which protected fish. Now we go everywhere … now nothing protects the fish,” he said during an observation tour of Darwin’s tropical harbour.

“Climate change is something that is already being perceived by fish. It’s already happening and they’re already moving,” he said.

Dr Daniel Pauly says an expanding fishing industry and climate change are contributing to the emptying of fish species in the Australian tropics as they seek cooler waters. Photo: Helen Davidson / The Guardian

Warmer waters were pushing marine species away from the equator at a rate of about 50km per decade as they followed the ideal temperatures for feeding and spawning.

“In temperate areas you will have the fish coming from a warmer area, and another one leaving. You’ll have a lot of transformation but they will actually – at least in terms of fishery – adapt. In the tropics you don’t have the replacement, you have only fish leaving.”

Research by Pauly and the Sea Around Us has repeatedly called for greater focus on fisheries data from a global perspective rather than local, to properly assess the impact of commercial competition and climate change. […]

Pauly said there were only a few nations – of which Australia was one – that studied the species loss in the tropics.

“You can have entire fisheries collapsing without knowing because you cannot separate the global warming-induced migration from the reduction due to fishing, or even pollution. So we will never know for sure why this or that collapse has occurred, except in a few cases.” [more]

Marine expert warns of climate emergency as fish abandon tropical waters

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, pictured in the foothills of north Boulder, Colorado, on 11 August 2016, is one of the young plaintiffs in the climate case. Photo: Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

By Karina Brown
15 June 2017

(Slate) – America is out of the Paris Agreement, and although that might be the best option for the future of the Earth, all things considered, it still is a terrible indicator of our prospects for fighting climate change. Currently, cities and states are individually signing back onto the agreement, which might be the best shot of American action, at least for now. But there’s still one small but possible way the U.S. could be forced to take climate change seriously while Trump is in office: if the two dozen kids pushing a landmark environmental lawsuit against the federal government for imperiling their future by causing climate change win their case.

Since Trump took office, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice has been trying to squelch the case using the same argument originated by government lawyers under the Obama administration: that climate change simply isn’t the government’s problem. The legal strategy deployed by the new administration hasn’t changed—the same lawyer who represented the government in the Obama years is still arguing the case under Trump. But while the case’s importance has been elevated, the new administration is displaying the same distaste for transparency and casual discarding of legal norms that are becoming sadly standard.

In 2015, two dozen kids sued the U.S. federal government, claiming it violated their civil rights by failing to safeguard a livable Earth for future generations. The suit claimed that the government has known since at least the 1960s that climate change is real, that it’s caused mostly by humans’ use of fossil fuels, and that it deliberately covered up that certainty. When the suit was first filed, it was directed at then-President Barack Obama. And federal prosecutors were still under Obama’s direction when they filed the initial reply to the lawsuit—just one week before the inauguration. The prosecutors’ assessment graphically described the dire reality of climate change and seemed designed to make it extremely hard for the Trump administration to use climate change denial as a defense.

When Donald Trump took office, he automatically became the defendant in the case, adding a new dimension. Observers wondered how an administration led by a man who has called climate change a hoax would respond to the suit, especially given the trap the Obama administration had set up.

At a hearing in April, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin read aloud from the Obama-era government’s answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. He listed a mere fraction of the dozens of claims from the lawsuit that the government, under Obama, had agreed were true. Here is a sampling:

You further admit that: Climate change is damaging human and natural systems, increasing the risk of loss of life, and requiring adaptation on larger and faster scales than current species have successfully achieved in the past, potentially increasing the risk of extinction or severe disruption for many species; that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations, and this threat will mount over time as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and result in ever greater rates of climate change; that human activity is likely to have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-1900s and that climate change is likely to increase cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, toxic exposures, mental health and stress disorders.

Judge Coffin then asked whether the Department of Justice, now under the authority of Sessions and Trump, planned to walk back everything it had admitted in the case under the previous administration.

“Has the government officially retreated from any of these admissions?” the judge asked. “Are these admissions not binding on the government, after having been made in the government’s answer?”

The government’s lawyer in the case, Sean Duffy, the same Department of Justice attorney who signed the answer from which the judge had just read aloud, said he didn’t know.

“The administration certainly could move to amend its position,” Duffy said. “However, we haven’t received guidance from above. So we don’t know yet.” [more]

The Trump Response to the Kids’ Climate Lawsuit Isn’t Denial. It’s Evasion.

Geographical distribution of deadly climatic conditions underdifferent emission scenarios. a–d, Number of days per year exceeding thethreshold of temperature and humidity beyond which climatic conditions become deadly (Fig. 1b), averaged between 1995 and 2005 (a, historical experiment), and between 2090 and 2100 under RCP 2.6 (b), RCP 4.5 (c)and RCP 8.5 (d). Results are based on multimodel medians. Grey areas indicate locations with high uncertainty (that is, the multimodel standard deviation was larger than the projected mean; coefficient of variance >1).The expected lower number of deadly days at higher latitudes (Fig. 4) may help explain the large variability among Earth System Models in the projected number of deadly days at higher latitudes (for example, in thecase for New York (illustrated in Fig. 4j) the one model projects nine deadly days by 2100; yet any other model projecting 18 days will double the variability). Graphic: Mora, et al., 2017 / Nature Climate Change

19 June 2017 (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa) – Seventy-four percent of the world’s population will be exposed to deadly heatwaves by 2100 if carbon gas emissions continue to rise at current rates, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change. Even if emissions are aggressively reduced, the percent of the world’s human population affected is expected to reach 48 percent.

“We are running out of choices for the future,” said Camilo Mora, associate professor of Geography in the UH College of Social Sciences and lead author of the study. “For heatwaves, our options are now between bad or terrible. Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heatwaves, and while models suggest that this is likely to continue, it could be much worse if emissions are not considerably reduced. The human body can only function within a narrow range of core body temperatures around 37oC. Heatwaves pose a considerable risk to human life because hot weather, aggravated with high humidity, can raise body temperature, leading to life threatening conditions.”

A team of researchers lead by Mora conducted an extensive review and found over 1,900 cases of locations worldwide where high ambient temperatures have killed people since 1980. By analyzing the climatic conditions of 783 lethal heat episodes for which dates were obtained, researchers identified a threshold beyond which temperatures and humidities become deadly. The area of the planet where such a threshold is crossed for 20 or more days per year has been increasing and is projected to grow even with dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, about 30% of the world’s human population is exposed to such deadly conditions each year.

Numerous examples, such as the 2003 European heatwave that killed approximately 70,000 people, the 2010 Moscow heatwave that killed 10,000 people and the 1995 Chicago heatwave that killed 700 people are staggering examples of the risk to life posed by heatwaves. But beyond these highly cited examples, little was known about how common such killer heatwaves are.

The international group of researchers and students coordinated by UH Mānoa set out to answer that question. From over 30,000 relevant publications, the researchers identified 911 papers with data on 1,949 case studies of cities or regions, where human deaths were associated with high temperatures. From those cases, dates were obtained for 783 lethal heatwaves in 164 cities across 36 countries, with most cases recorded in developed countries at mid-latitudes. Some of the cities that have experienced lethal heatwaves included New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney and Sao Paulo.

When analyzing the climatic conditions for those cities, the researchers discovered a common threshold beyond which temperatures and humidities became lethal. In agreement with human thermal physiology, the threshold was such that as relative humidity increases, lower temperatures become lethal.

“Finding a threshold beyond which climatic conditions turn deadly is scientifically important yet frightening,” said Farrah Powell, a UH Mānoa graduate student and one of the co-authors in the study. “This threshold now allows us to identify conditions that are harmful to people. And because it is based on documented cases of real people across the globe, it makes it that more credible and relevant. The scary thing is how common those deadly conditions are already.”

A web-application accompanying the paper allows counting, for any place on Earth, the number of days in a year when temperature and humidity exceed such a deadly threshold (Fig.2a/2b). For example, by 2100 New York is projected to have around 50 days with temperatures and humidities exceeding the threshold in which people have previously died. That same year, the number of deadly days for Sydney will be 20, 30 for Los Angeles, and the entire summer for Orlando and Houston.

The study also found that the greatest risk to human life from deadly heat was projected for tropical areas (Fig. 2). This is because the tropics are hot and humid year round, whereas for higher latitudes the risk of deadly heat is restricted to summer.

“Warming at the poles has been one of the iconic climatic changes associated with the ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases,” said co-author Iain Caldwell, a UH Mānoa post-doctoral researcher. “Our study shows, however, that it is warming in the tropics that will pose the greatest risk to people from deadly heat events. With high temperatures and humidities, it takes very little warming for conditions to turn deadly in the tropics.”

“Climate change has put humanity on a path that will become increasingly dangerous and difficult to reverse if greenhouse gas emissions are not taken much more seriously,” says Mora. “Actions like the withdrawal from the Paris agreement is a step in the wrong direction that will inevitably delay fixing a problem for which there is simply no time to waste.”

Contact

Dan Meisenzahl, (808) 348-4936
Spokesman, University of Hawaii

Deadly heatwaves will continue to rise, according to study led by UH Manoa researcher


ABSTRACT: Climate change can increase the risk of conditions that exceed human thermoregulatory capacity1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Although numerous studies report increased mortality associated with extreme heat events1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, quantifying the global risk of heat-related mortality remains challenging due to a lack of comparable data on heat-related deaths2, 3, 4, 5. Here we conducted a global analysis of documented lethal heat events to identify the climatic conditions associated with human death and then quantified the current and projected occurrence of such deadly climatic conditions worldwide. We reviewed papers published between 1980 and 2014, and found 783 cases of excess human mortality associated with heat from 164 cities in 36 countries. Based on the climatic conditions of those lethal heat events, we identified a global threshold beyond which daily mean surface air temperature and relative humidity become deadly. Around 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to climatic conditions exceeding this deadly threshold for at least 20 days a year. By 2100, this percentage is projected to increase to ~48% under a scenario with drastic reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and ~74% under a scenario of growing emissions. An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable, but will be greatly aggravated if greenhouse gases are not considerably reduced.

Global risk of deadly heat

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said on 15 June 2017 that the Trump administration’s proposed budget “supports the EPA’s highest priorities,” even though it proposes massive funding cuts to programs that ensure clean air and water. Photo: Melina Mara / The Washington Post

By Brady Dennis
15 June 2017

(The Washington Post) – President Trump once vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,” leaving behind only “tidbits.” On Thursday, the man he appointed to lead the EPA went to Capitol Hill to defend a budget proposal that would begin that promised dismantling.

“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee, adding in his prepared remarks that the Trump administration’s proposal “supports EPA’s highest priorities” while aiming “to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.”

The “trimmed” budget he referenced would amount to a cut of more than 31 percent, or $2.4 billion annually — a larger percentage than at any other federal agency. The administration wants to rid the EPA of thousands of employees and sharply reduce or eliminate a variety of national and regional programs.

Pruitt encountered swift resistance Thursday from members of both parties, who described the EPA’s work in their districts as both vital to environmental protection and an economic engine in many areas.

“I’ll get straight to it. The fiscal year 2018 budget request for EPA is a disaster,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), adding that it would “surely impact EPA’s ability to fulfill its critical mission of protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Ken Calvert (Calif.), and several other Republicans also were quick to distance themselves from many of the administration’s proposals, saying Congress is unlikely to go along with such deep — and deeply unpopular — cuts to environmental programs around the country.

“You have a tough job here today,” Calvert said. “This budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member on this subcommittee. … This is perhaps not how you personally would craft EPA’s budget, but it’s a budget you have to defend here today.” [more]

EPA head defends White House’s plan for massive cuts to his agency

To run DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Trump chose Daniel Simmons, a staunch foe of renewable energy. Simmons previously worked with the Institute for Energy Research and the American Legislative Exchange Council (a right-wing group that lobbies against progressive policy at the state level). DOE has now tasked Simmons with running “a task force for cutting regulations.” Graphic: Amanda Northrop / Vox

By David Roberts
14 June 2017

(Vox) – In September 2016, speaking to an audience of fossil fuel executives at a Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh, Donald Trump promised, “Oh, you will like me so much.”

They didn’t give him much money during his campaign, presumably because, like most people, they were confident he wouldn’t win. But they made up for it quickly after the election. According to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, “oil, gas and coal companies and executives contributed more than $1 out of every $10 raised for Trump’s inauguration, for which he raised nearly $107 million overall” (a new record).

The love affair between Trump and fossil fuel companies has blossomed ever since. Recently, Kathleen Sgamma, president of the oil and gas trade group Western Energy Alliance, gushed to the New York Times, “not in our wildest dreams, never did we expect to get everything.”

“Everything,” in this case, denotes a long list of friendly appointments and regulatory rollbacks. For all its controversies, distractions, failures, and unfilled jobs, the Trump administration has been steady and true in its devotion to fossil fuel interests, giving them a greater presence inside executive agencies, stripping them of regulatory restraints, and proposing to defund their competitors.

There are some areas of policy where Trump faces friction from courts, Congress, or other elements of the conservative coalition. He has stumbled on health care, on his travel ban, and on foreign policy. But when it comes to environmental and energy policy, the coalition is aligned. All the party’s most powerful and influential factions support a pro-fossil, anti-regulatory agenda; there is an extensive infrastructure of big money, think tanks, and lobbyists built to support it.

It’s worth noting that a pro-fossil fuel, anti-regulatory approach is not particularly popular in the US, in either party. Majorities in every congressional district support limiting local pollution and carbon emissions from coal plants. Majorities in every Congressional district believe America’s focus should turn toward wind and solar. Majorities in every state support the Paris climate agreement.

But the money and intensity on the GOP side support fossil fuels. And there is no faction on the right that cares enough about climate or environmental issues to prioritize them over the larger culture war. So there is no friction.

The relative lack of conflict makes the fossil fuel takeover quieter than other parts of the Trump reality show, but not for lack of activity. Trump has moved aggressively to make good on his promises.

In its first 100 days, the administration overturned, reversed, or suspended 23 environmental rules and regulations. Even the White House website has vanished any mention of climate change and replaced it with a paean to energy production.

It’s been a full-court press. In this post, I’m going to review a few of the highlights — some of the people with whom the administration is staffing its agencies, as well as a few of the rule and procedure changes it has already put in place. It is by no means comprehensive (and will likely soon be out of date), but it should offer some perspective on the sheer breadth of the administration’s work on behalf of fossil fuels.

Like so many areas of Trump policy, it is reminiscent of George W. Bush’s administration, only more shameless. It is too soon to say if Trump will be “worse than Bush” on this score, but it’s already clear that he feels less of a need to cover his decisions with a veneer of “balance.” [more]

Donald Trump is handing the federal government over to fossil fuel interests

Summary cartoon of the proposed mechanism of Dansgaard-Oeschger events. a, Stadial conditions with a relatively low atmospheric CO2 level. b, Stadial conditions with rising CO2. c, Interstadial conditions with a high CO2 level. Location of the palaeosalinity record38 is highlighted by the red star in a. ... Graphic: Zhang, et al., 2017 / Nature Geoscience

20 June 2017 (Cardiff University) – Scientists believe they have discovered the reason behind mysterious changes to the climate that saw temperatures fluctuate by up to 15°C within just a few decades during the ice age periods.

In a new study published today, the researchers show that rising levels of CO2 could have reached a tipping point during these glacial periods, triggering a series of chain events that caused temperatures to rise abruptly.

The findings, which have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience, add to mounting evidence suggesting that gradual changes such as a rising CO2 levels can lead to sudden surprises in our climate, which can be triggered when a certain threshold is crossed.

Dansgaard-Oeschger events

Previous studies have shown that an essential part of the natural variability of our climate during glacial times is the repeated occurrence of abrupt climate transitions, known as Dansgaard-Oeschger events.

These events are characterized by drastic temperature changes of up to 15°C within a few decades in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. This was the case during the last glacial period around 100,000 to 20,000 years ago.

It is commonly believed that this was a result of sudden floods of freshwater across the North Atlantic, perhaps as a consequence of melting icebergs.

Co-author of the study Professor Stephen Barker, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “Our results offer an alternative explanation to this phenomenon and show that a gradual rise of CO2 within the atmosphere can hit a tipping point, triggering abrupt temperature shifts that drastically affect the climate across the Northern Hemisphere in a relatively short space of time.

“These findings add to mounting evidence suggesting that there are sweet spots or ‘windows of opportunity’ within climate space where so-called boundary conditions, such as the level of atmospheric CO2 or the size of continental ice sheets, make abrupt change more likely to occur…”

El Niño-like warming pattern

Using climate models to understand the physical processes that were at play during the glacial periods, the team were able to show that a gradual rise in CO2 strengthened the trade winds across Central America by inducing an El Niño-like warming pattern with stronger warming in the East Pacific than the Western Atlantic.

As a result there was an increase in moisture transport out of the Atlantic, which effectively increasedAMOC hysteresis and trend analysis in the increasing CO2 scenario of the experiment CO2_Hys. a, AMOC hysteresis associated with CO2 changes. Time points defined in Fig. 1a are shown by letters, within which point A and E are indicated by red and blue circles, respectively. b–e, Trend in the CO2 increasing scenario (interval A–B… Graphic: Zhang, et al., 2017 / Nature Geoscience the salinity and density, of the ocean surfaces, leading to an abrupt increase in circulation strength and temperature rise.

“This does not necessary mean that a similar response would happen in the future with increasing CO2 levels, since the boundary conditions are different from the ice age,” added by Professor Gerrit Lohmann, leader of the Paleoclimate Dynamics group at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Nevertheless, our study shows that climate models have the ability of simulating abrupt changes by gradual forcing as seen in paleoclimate data.”

Building on this study, the team intend to produce a new reconstruction of global ice volume across the last glacial cycle, which will help to validate their proposition that certain boundaries can define windows of instability within the climate system.

The research was led by a team at the Alfred Wegener Institute and included academics from Cardiff University, Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology and the University of Bremen. The work was supported by a collaborative, German BMBF-funded project on paleoclimate modeling (PalMod), the Helmholtz Association and the UK NERC.

Scientists throw light on mysterious ice age temperature jumps


ABSTRACT: Glacial climate is marked by abrupt, millennial-scale climate changes known as Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles. The most pronounced stadial coolings, Heinrich events, are associated with massive iceberg discharges to the North Atlantic. These events have been linked to variations in the strength of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. However, the factors that lead to abrupt transitions between strong and weak circulation regimes remain unclear. Here we show that, in a fully coupled atmosphere–ocean model, gradual changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations can trigger abrupt climate changes, associated with a regime of bi-stability of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation under intermediate glacial conditions. We find that changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations alter the transport of atmospheric moisture across Central America, which modulates the freshwater budget of the North Atlantic and hence deep-water formation. In our simulations, a change in atmospheric CO2 levels of about 15 ppmv—comparable to variations during Dansgaard–Oeschger cycles containing Heinrich events—is sufficient to cause transitions between a weak stadial and a strong interstadial circulation mode. Because changes in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation are thought to alter atmospheric CO2 levels, we infer that atmospheric CO2 may serve as a negative feedback to transitions between strong and weak circulation modes.

Abrupt North Atlantic circulation changes in response to gradual CO2 forcing in a glacial climate state

By Lauren Frayer
20 June 2017

ELVAS, Portugal (Los Angeles Times) – Once shaded in canopies of leaves, the N-236-1 is a rural road that cuts through central Portugal, hugging hillsides pungent with eucalyptus and pine.

Now it is littered with husks of burned cars. Along the shoulder, ashen wisps of tree trunks stand sentinel like totem poles. A headline in Portugal’s Expresso newspaper calls it “The Saddest Street in Portugal.”

It’s where many of the 64 victims of Portugal’s deadliest wildfire were burned alive last weekend, trapped in their cars.

Even as thousands of firefighters still battle the flames, and coroners identify the charred remains of those who were unable to escape, investigators are probing the cause of the fire. Portugal’s prime minister says dry lightning was likely to blame.

But as its accomplice, environmentalists finger a newcomer, which has populated these hills as quickly as Portuguese have abandoned them for jobs in the city: eucalyptus trees. [Reminiscent of Australia’s “Black Saturday” forest fires in 2009. –Des]

Non-native eucalyptus and gum trees, with their medicinal fragrance and frosty blue-green leaves, now cover a quarter of all forested land in Portugal. First imported from Australia in the 18th century, they are among the world’s fastest-growing trees, and have become Portugal’s most common one — a profitable cash crop for paper and pulp. Portugal is Europe’s largest producer of eucalyptus pulp. It’s one of the country’s biggest exports.

But eucalyptus trees can exacerbate deadly fires. Their sap is flammable, and so is their bark, which flies off when burned, igniting new fires up to 100 yards away.

Smoke rises from fire in the Leiria District of Portugal, on 17 June 2017. Photo: Paulo Cunha / European Pressphoto Agency

California has had a similar history with eucalyptus trees, which bore at least some of the blame for the second-deadliest fire in the state’s history — the 1991 Oakland hills fire that claimed 25 lives.

“Our climate is like California. It’s normal to have fires here. But with the introduction of eucalyptus, they have lots of material to burn,” said João Branco, with the Portuguese environmental group Quercus. Its name is Latin for “oak,” a native tree the group is lobbying to have planted instead of eucalyptus.

Native oaks and laurels are more resistant to fires, but eucalyptus trees burn faster and hotter, making wildfires harder to control. The Portuguese government has pledged to ban new eucalyptus plantations, but the law has not yet been finalized.

“The government was negligent. This was a predictable fire, because it’s very well known in Portugal, the problem of eucalyptus and its connection to fires,” Branco said. “Everybody knew this could happen. It was a matter of time.” [more]

Reeling from its deadliest forest fire, Portugal finds a villain: eucalyptus trees


Forest fire rages on the IC8 in Portugal, on 17 June 2017. Photo: Financial Tribune

By Miguel Riopa
21 June 2017

(AFP) – Portugal's N236, now dubbed the "road of death", lies charred black from the devastating fire that swept from one side of forest to the other, trapping families and couples in their cars, and firefighters who had come to the rescue.

Road signs are burnt and unreadable, plumes of smoke rise from the ground on either side, and blackened car tracks cut across the tarmac, a grim reminder of the fierce blaze that killed 47 people Saturday, among the 64 victims of the giant fires.

Why were they caught in the inferno? Should the road have been blocked by police? Should they have been directed elsewhere?

Or was the fire moving so fast and unpredictably that there was nothing anyone could have done? […]

Serra da Fonseca said that many of those who met their death on the N236 had been spending the day at a popular resort with an artificial wave pool in Castanheira de Pera, and decided to go home when they heard about the fire.

He wonders why they were allowed to take the road south to the main IC8 road that goes through the area, even if that was the quickest route, when police knew that a fire was raging in the area.

"They should have told them to go the opposite way," he said, pointing to the N236 that runs past his restaurant into the hills above, where a thick cloud of smoke now hangs from another forest fire.

"It's longer but it was safer that day."

But for Samantha, a Briton who lives nearby, heading south appeared to be the quickest route for people who did not know the area well, particularly at a time of confusion when the fire was spreading at lightning speed.

"If you're a tourist, you go that way," she said.

"I don't think anyone knew the extent of it."

And on Saturday, there were only a few policemen working, said David, a 44-year-old cameraman who lives in Lisbon but who was visiting his parents.

"In the panic, they couldn't avoid the tragedy, it was impossible," he said. [more]

Questions swirl over Portugal fire's 'road of death'

20 June 2017 (United Nations) – Extremely high May and June temperatures have broken records in parts of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States, the United Nations weather agency reported today, warning of more heatwaves to come.

The heatwaves have arrived unusually early, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, noting at the same time that average global surface temperatures over land and sea are the second highest on record for the first five months of 2017, according to analyses by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Raging wildfires in Portugal

In Portugal, extremely high temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius contributed to the severity of the devastating, fast-moving weekend wildfires that ripped through the country's forested Pedrógão Grande region, some 150 kilometres (95 miles) north-east of Lisbon, leaving dozens dead and more injured.

WMO reported that Portugal is not the only European country experiencing the effects of the extreme weather, as neighbouring Spain – which had its warmest spring in over 50 years – and France, have seen record-breaking temperatures. France is expected to continue see afternoon temperatures more than 10 degrees above the average for this time of year.

Plane traffic halted in southwestern US

On the other side of the Atlantic, the US is also experiencing record or near-record heat. In parts of the desert southwest and into California, temperatures have hovered near a blistering 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). Media reports suggested today that some plane traffic was halted in and out of Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport in Arizona because it was too hot to fly.

The flight cancellations came amidst of one of the hottest days in the past 30 years of record keeping in the US state.

Death Valley National Park in California issued warnings to visitors to expect high temperatures ranging from 100 to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to over 49 degrees Celsius), WMO added.

WMO will set up an international committee of experts to verify the temperature and assess whether it equals a reported 54 degrees Celsius recorded in Kuwait last July, what was then the highest temperature for Asia, as well as for the entire Eastern hemisphere.

Record high temperatures grip much of the globe, more hot weather to come – UN agency


Year-to-date global temperatures for 2017 and other eight warmest years on record, 20 June 2017. Graphic: NOAA

20 June 2017 (WMO) – Parts of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the United States of America have seen extremely high May and June temperatures, with a number of records broken. The heatwaves are unusually early and are occurring as the Earth experiences another exceptionally warm year.

Average global surface temperatures over land and sea were the second highest on record for the first five months of 2017, according to analyses by NOAA, NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Only 2016 saw higher global temperatures due to a combination of a very powerful El Niño event, which has a warming impact, and long-term climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. So far in 2017 there has been no El Niño event.

Climate change scenarios predict that heatwaves will become more intense, more frequent and longer. It is also expected that the number of hot days will continue to rise.

Europe

The Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD), which acts as WMO’s Regional Climate Centre for Europe’s Node on Climate Monitoring, has issued a Climate Watch Advisory valid until at least 25 June. It states that a period with significantly above-normal temperatures and heat waves is expected for most parts of western Mediterranean (from Portugal to western Balkans).

National meteorological and hydrological services are issuing regular forecasts,  heat-health advice, as well as information on air quality, UV levels and wildfire risk.

The heatwave originated as a result of very hot air moving up from the Sahara to the Iberian Peninsula and parts of the Mediterranean.

Iberian Peninsula

Extremely high temperatures of around 40°C contributed to the severity of the disastrous wildfire in Portugal which has claimed dozens of lives.

An amber alert for heat – the second highest warning level – continues to be in place in the area on 20 June.

The Portuguese national meteorological service, IPMA, said that over the weekend, when the fire broke out, more than one third of its weather stations measured temperatures over 40°C. The meteorological service said that for 20 June, 5 municipalities are at maximum fire risk and 58 at very high risk.

Spain

Spring 2017 (from 1 March to 31 May 2017) has been extremely warm, with an average temperature of 15.4 ° C, which is 1.7 ° C above the average of this term (reference period 1981-2010). It has been the warmest spring since 1965, having exceeded by 0.06 ° C the previous highest value, which corresponded to the spring of 2011. It has therefore been also the warmest spring since the beginning of the 21st century.

The marked contrast observed between the maximum temperature anomalies, which were on average 2.5 º C above the normal value of the term, and those of the minimum temperatures, which were only 0.9 ºC higher than the normal ones.
May was extremely warm, with a temperature that surpassed the normal value by 2.4 ° C. As of June, the average temperature is well above normal values.

A number of places broke temperature records for June for both maximum daytime temperatures and minimum overnight ones.

These include Granada airport, 41.5°C, Madrid Retiro 40.3°C and Madrid airport 40.1°C on 17 June. The peak if the minimum temperatures was on the 19th June, when  Salamanca and Zamora had record overnight temperatures of 22.1°C and 23.7°C.

AEMET also reported extreme fire hazard for parts of the country on 20 June.

France

Fifty one departments in France have an amber alert for high temperatures on 20 June, according to Meteo France. Temperatures for Monday included 38°C for Bordeaux, 36°C forLimoges, 34°C for Mulhouse and 33°C for Paris, Toulouse, Brest and Lille, according to Meteo France. A number of stations broke June records, including Cuers at 37.6°C and Toulon 35.3°C. Records for minimum night-time temperatures were also beaten (25.1°C in Montpellier, 25°C in Marseille) on Friday 16 June. Meteo France said that very high temperatures will continue until Friday 23 June, with temperatures between 32 °C and 38 °C in the afternoon, or more than 10°C above the average for this time of year. Other parts of Europe Many other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, also witnessed above average temperatures into the low to mid 30°s.     

USA

Near record to record heat has been reported in the desert southwest USA and into California, with highs near 120°F (49°C) in places. More than 29 million Californians were under an excessive heat warning or advisory at the weekend. The US National Weather Service has warned that dangerous heat will continue through at least Friday 23 June in Nevada, Arizona, parts of California and Las Vegas. Phoenix recorded 118°C (47.8°C) on 19 June. In the 11,059 days since the start of record keeping, 118°C heat has only been recorded 15 times. A number of flights to Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport were reportedly cancelled because it was too hot to fly. Death Valley National Park, California, issued warnings to visitors to expect high temperatures of 100°F to over 120°F (38°C to over 49°C). Death Valley holds the world record for the highest temperature, 56.7°C recorded in 1913.

North Africa, Middle East, and Asia

The temperature in United Arab Emirates topped 50°C on 17 May, with 50.5°C in Mezaira. In the center of Iran's Kuzestan province in the south-east of the country, neighboring Iraq, temperatures reached 50°C on 15 June.  The heatwave in Morocco peaked on 17 May, when there was a new reported record of 42.9°C  Larach Station in northern Morocco. The high June temperatures follow above average temperatures in parts of the world at the end of May. The town of Turbat in southwestern Pakistan reported a temperature of 54°C. WMO will set up an international committee of experts to verify the temperature and assess whether it equals a reported 54°C temperature recorded in Kuwait last July.

High temperatures and heatwaves take hold

By Joe Sandler Clarke and Sam Cowie
5 June 2017

(Energydesk) – There has been a significant increase in the number of indigenous people and environmental activists killed over land disputes in Brazil, as human rights experts warn of a dangerous political mood in the nation.

New research shared with Energydesk by Brazilian human rights NGO Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), shows that 37 people have been killed in the first six months of the year in rural land conflicts, eight more than at the same time in 2016.

The data comes as President Temer’s right-wing government has cut funding dramatically for the country’s indigenous rights agency, Funai.

CPT, which has been collecting data on rural violence since 1985, has found that so far the number of people killed in these disputes is set to exceed last year’s figures, when 61 people died.

At the end of April, violence against indigenous people in Brazil made international headlines, as 13 members of the Gamela community in Maranhão state were attacked by farmers wielding machetes in brutal land dispute.

A couple of week’s earlier, nine people were stabbed and shot over a territorial dispute in Mato Grosso state, in the Amazon.

Jeane Bellini, national coordinator of CPT told Energydesk that recent years have a significant increase in the number of people being killed in rural land conflicts.

Indigenous people protest a significant increase in the number of environmental activists killed over land disputes in Brazil, as human rights experts warn of a dangerous political mood in the nation. Photo: Greenpeace Energydesk

Bellini believes the current political turmoil in Brazil, the former President Dilma Rousseff was ousted last year while sitting President Michel Temer is embroiled in a corruption scandal, has helped fuel the violence.

“Rural violence has accelerated under President Temer,” she said. “Actually, it isn’t only the government. I would say that the political instability created by all of those irresponsible people in congress, as well as Temer and his government have added. I mean, they’re doing things that are completely against the needs and the rights of the people.”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, told Energydesk that there is a close correlation between the government’s moves to cut the agency and the increase in violence.

She explained: “There is increased violence because the offices of Funai at the state levels are not functioning anymore. Funai is the only government agency trusted by Indigenous people. People look up to Funai to protect them. Now there is no body trying to protect them.”

Tauli-Corpuz visited Brazil at the end of last year and found government agencies unable to function.

She told Energydesk in December that she visited Funai regional offices which had no staff: “We went to the office in Bahia and there was no one there. There have been huge cutbacks, and they have continued since I came back from my trip.” […]

“I have a sense that the situation in the country is deteriorating,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. [more]

Brazil: Increase in number indigenous activists killed as political crisis threatens Amazon

 

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