The Plateau wildfire in August 2017 is considered to be the largest ever recorded in British Columbia history. Photo: B.C. Wildfire Management

By Mike Laanela and Brady Strachan
Aug 22, 2017

(CBC News) – Hundreds of firefighters and dozens of aircraft are working to contain the largest wildfire ever recorded in British Columbia's history.

Nineteen wildfires have merged in the province's Interior, creating a single blaze that's estimated to be more than 467,000 hectares [1.15 million acres] in size, according to fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek with the B.C. Wildfire Service.

The massive Plateau fire, which stretches 130 kilometres from one end to the other, is located on the Chilcotin Plateau, 60 kilometres west of Quesnel and 60 kilometres northwest of Williams Lake.

Skrepnek says crews are making good progress on the fire, but because of its size, it's expected to continue burning for some time.

"Just given the sheer scale of this fire, you know it is going to be active for some time to come and it's going to be quite some time before we would be even close to calling it contained or calling it under control."

The fire was created by the merging of the Chezacut, Tautri, Bishop's Bluff, Baezaeko, Wentworth Creek, Arc Mountain, and other wildfires. The first of those was discovered on July 7 and the cause is listed as "under investigation."

It is now so big the wildfire management branch has set up two incident command teams at the northern and southern ends to co-ordinate the firefighting efforts of more than 400 firefighters, 25 helicopters and dozens of pieces of heavy equipment.

Previously, the biggest wildfire in B.C. history was a 220,000 hectare blaze that burned in the northeastern part of the province in 1958. [more]

Hundreds of firefighters battling largest wildfire ever recorded in B.C.

Resignation letter of Daniel M Kammen, science envoy for the Department of State, addressed to Trump, dated 23 August 2017. The accompanying tweet reads, 'Your response to Charlottesville enables racism, sexism, & harms our country and planet.' Graphic: Daniel M Kammen / Twitter

By Dana Liebelson
23 August 2017

WASHINGTON (Huffington Post) – A science envoy for the Department of State sent a resignation letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday with a not-so-subtle secret message: “IMPEACH.”

Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, told Trump in a letter dated Wednesday that his decision to quit his State Department post is “in response to your attacks on core values of the United States.” As one example, he cited Trump’s reaction to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, calling the response “consistent with a broader pattern of behavior that enables sexism and racism.”

But it’s Kammen’s acrostic — the first letter of each paragraph spelling out a word — that sends a blunter message to Trump: IMPEACH.

Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department could not immediately be reached for comment, nor could Kammen.

He noted in his letter that he has served the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the State Department in a number of roles since 1996. The Science Envoy program, which he was a member of, brings together U.S. scientists and engineers to “identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation.” [more]

State Department Science Envoy Quits With Not-So-Secret Message For Trump: ‘IMPEACH’

Workers at Cooke Aquaculture’s net pen operation near Port Angeles, Washington. Photo: Puget Soundkeeper

22 August 2017 (Puget Soundkeeper) – On 19 August 2017, Cooke Aquaculture’s net pens near Cypress Island reportedly released over 300,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound waters. The company’s statement blames “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse.” But the release occurred Saturday afternoon, when charts show that tides and currents were well within predictions. The eclipse took place Monday morning.

Every West Coast state except for Washington has banned Atlantic salmon net pens for their negative impact. Intensive farming of these non-native fish in Puget Sound waters poses a tremendous risk to native fish stocks, which include endangered Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Cooke’s statement is misleading, distracting from their failure to secure the pens safely and to adequately prepare for predictable tide events. In fact, over the last month, there were at least 11 days with higher tides than occurred on August 19th. And king tides during the winter are routinely much higher than those reported this month.

Escaped Atlantic salmon can compete with native fish and transmit disease and parasites. Farmed salmon are treated with antibiotics and are fed with artificial dyes to make the fish meat more appealing to consumers. These fish do not belong in our waters. The best way to provide sustainable seafood is to restore our once world famous native salmon fisheries.

Cooke Industries has plans to expand a net pen site near Port Angeles and install up to 20 more sites in the Puget Sound area. A hearing is scheduled on the Port Angeles proposal on September 7th, and the North Olympic Sierra Club group is holding a free info session on August 29th in Sequim which will feature presentations by Kurt Beardslee of Wild Fish Conservancy and Puget Soundkeeper Chris Wilke.

For more information, visit Our Sound, Our Salmon.

Aquaculture operation releases 300,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound

By Lisa Friedman And Brad Plumer
21 August 2017

WASHINGTON (The New York Times) – The Interior Department has ordered a halt to a scientific study begun under President Obama of the public health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which was conducting the study, said in a statement Monday that they were ordered to stop work because the Interior Department is conducting an agencywide budgetary review.

Last year, West Virginia officials asked the Obama administration to look into the health effects of mountaintop mining, a technique used to extract underlying coal.

The National Academies assembled a 12-member expert committee to assess “new approaches to safeguard the health of residents” living near the mines.

“Mountaintop removal mining has been shown to cause lung cancer, heart disease, and other medical problems,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. “Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple.” [more]

Coal Mining Health Study Is Halted by Interior Department


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WASHINGTON, 21 August 2017 (NAS) – In an August 18 letter, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement informed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that it should cease all work on a study of the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mine sites in Central Appalachia. The letter states that the Department has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000, largely as a result of the Department’s changing budget situation.

The National Academies will go forward with previously scheduled meetings for this project in Kentucky on August 21-23 -- which are allowed to proceed according to the letter -- and encourages the public to attend open meetings in Hazard and Lexington on August 21 and 22. The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed.  We are grateful to our committee members for their dedication to carrying forward with this study.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

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Statement Regarding National Academies Study on Potential Health Risks of Living in Proximity to Surface Coal Mining Sites in Central Appalachia

Lummi fishers out for chinook were shocked to find Atlantic salmon in their nets on 21 August 2017,  after an escape of an unknown number of Atlantic salmon from a Cooke Aquaculture net pen operation off Cypress Island. A pen holding more than 300,000 salmon imploded on 19 August 2017. Photo: Ellie Kinley

By Lynda V. Mapes
22 August 2017

(Seattle Times) – It’s open season on Atlantic salmon as the public is urged to help mop up a salmon spill from an imploded net holding 305,000 fish at a Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cypress Island.

Lummi fishers out for chinook on Sunday near Samish, south of Bellingham Bay, were shocked to pull up the spotted, silvery sided Atlantic salmon — escapees that turned up in their nets again on Monday.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is urging the public to catch as many of the fish as possible, with no limit on size or number. The fish are about 10 pounds each. No one knows yet how many escaped. But the net had some 3 million pounds of fish in it when it imploded about 4 p.m. Saturday, said Ron Warren, fish program assistant director for the WDFW.

The department has been monitoring the situation and crafting a spill-response plan with Cooke, Warren said.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Cooke said “exceptionally high tides and currents coinciding with this week’s solar eclipse” caused the damage [but see “Solar eclipse” tide not responsible for release of 300,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound]. Cooke estimates several thousand salmon escaped following “structural failure” of a net pen. […]

Lummi fishers were incensed at the Atlantic salmon intruding in home waters of native Washington Pacific salmon. “It’s a devastation,” said Ellie Kinley, whose family has fished Puget Sound for generations. “We don’t want those fish preying on our baby salmon. And we don’t want them getting up in the rivers.” [more]

Solar eclipse’s tides blamed for broken net, up to 305,000 Atlantic salmon dumped into waters near San Juans

Area under control of insurgent groups and area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, 2016. Graphic: UNODC

22 June 2017 (UNODC) – Opium production on the increase In 2016, global opium production increased by one third compared with the previous year. Although there was also an increase in the size of the area under opium poppy cultivation, the major increase in opium production was primarily the result of an improvement in opium poppy yields in Afghanistan compared with the previous year. At 6,380 tons, however, total global opium production was still some 20 per cent lower than at its peak in 2014, and was close to the average reported in the past five years.

Seizures of both opium and heroin have remained quite stable at the global level in recent years, suggesting
a smooth supply of heroin, irrespective of annual changes in opium production. The quantity of heroin seized in North America increased sharply in 2015. This went in parallel with reports of increasing heroin use and heroin-related deaths in that subregion. […]

The Taliban’s involvement in the drug trade is well documented. It has taxed entities involved in illicit opiate production, manufacture and trafficking in Afghanistan. Further, the Consolidated United Nations Security Council Sanctions List contains a number of Taliban leaders who are accused of direct involvement in drug trafficking.

UNODC estimated that non-State armed groups raised about $150 million in 2016 from the Afghan illicit opiate trade in the form of taxes on the cultivation of opium poppy and trafficking in opiates. The overall drug-related income, however, may be higher still. The Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) estimated the overall annual income of the Taliban at about $400 million, half of which is likely to be derived from the illicit narcotics economy. [more]

World Drug Report 2017

Annual probability of occurrence of a heat waves with apparent temperature peaks greater than 40 °C and 55 °C. (a–c), Probability of occurrence of heat waves with AT peak  ≥ 40 (AT40C) calculated at each grid point for all model years with global mean temperature anomaly relative to 1861–1880 at 1.5, 2, and 4 degrees warming (see Fig. 2), respectively. (d–f), as (a–c) but for occurrence of heat waves with AT peak  ≥ 55 (AT55C). Graphic: Russo, et al., 2017 / Scientific Reports

8 August 2017 (JRC) – Heatwaves amplified by high humidity can reach above 40°C and may occur as often as every two years, leading to serious risks for human health. If global temperatures rise with 4°C, a new super heatwave of 55°C can hit regularly many parts of the world, including Europe.

A recently published study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) – the European Commission's science and knowledge service – analyses the interaction between humidity and heat. The novelty of this study is that it looks not only at temperature but also relative humidity to estimate the magnitude and impact of heat waves.

It finds out that the combinations of the two, and the resulting heatwaves, leave ever more people exposed to significant health risks, especially in East Asia and America's East Coast.

Warm air combined with high humidity can be very dangerous as it prevents the human body from cooling down through sweating, leading to hyperthermia. As a result, if global warming trends continue, many more people are expected to suffer sun strokes, especially in densely populated areas of India, China, and the US.

The study analyses changes in yearly probability for a high humidity heatwaves since 1979 under different global warming scenarios. If global temperatures increase up to 2 C above pre-industrial levels the combined effect of heat and humidity (known as apparent temperature or Heat Index) will likely exceed 40°C every year in many parts of Asia, Australia, Northern Africa, South and North America. Europe will be least affected with up to 30% chance of having such strong heat wave annually.

However, if temperatures rise to 4°C a severe scenario is on the horizon. Scientists predict that a new super-heatwave will appear with apparent temperature peaking at above 55°C– a level critical for human survival.  It will affect densely populated areas such as USA's East coast, coastal China, large parts of India and South America. Under this global warming scenario Europe is likely to suffer annual heatwaves with apparent temperature of above 40°C regularly while some regions of Eastern Europe may be hit by heatwaves of above 55°C.

The authors highlight that although some urban areas such as Chicago and Shanghai are not considered to have high risk for heatwaves based on temperature only, the probability of extreme weather strongly increased when considering relative humidity.

According to the study, the effect of relative humidity on heatwaves' magnitude and peak might be underestimated in current research. The results of the study support the need for urgent mitigation and adaptation action to address the impacts of heatwaves, and indicate regions where new adaptation measures might be necessary to cope with heat stress.

The study draws on the Apparent Heat Wave Index (AHWI), a composite index for humidity and heat developed by JRC's Competence Centre on Composite Indicators and Scoreboards.

The paper is published in Scientific Reports (Nature Springer) and brings valuable data and visualisations for future adaptation and mitigation policies.

Super-heatwaves of 55°C to emerge if global warming continues


Probability of occurrence of extreme humid heat waves at different warming levels relative to 1861–1880. (a), Simulated global mean surface temperature increase as a function of time. Decadal model median over the historical period (1860–2010) are represented by black crosses. Decadal model median over the future period (2011–2100) for the three Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) scenarios are represented by black squares, circle and triangles, respectively. (b–d), Probability of occurrence of heat waves with magnitude greater than the maximum magnitude detected in Russia in 2010 (HWMId > 60) calculated at each grid point for all model years with global mean temperature anomaly relative to 1861–1880 between 1.4° and 1.6° (1.5° warming level, see method), 1.9°–2.1° (2° warming level) and 3.9°–4.1° (4° warming level), respectively. e-g, as b-d but for humid heat waves and the relative Apparent Heat Wave Index (AHWI > 60). Graphic: Russo, et al., 2017 / Scientific Reports

ABSTRACT: The co-occurrence of consecutive hot and humid days during a heat wave can strongly affect human health. Here, we quantify humid heat wave hazard in the recent past and at different levels of global warming. We find that the magnitude and apparent temperature peak of heat waves, such as the ones observed in Chicago in 1995 and China in 2003, have been strongly amplified by humidity. Climate model projections suggest that the percentage of area where heat wave magnitude and peak are amplified by humidity increases with increasing warming levels. Considering the effect of humidity at 1.5° and 2° global warming, highly populated regions, such as the Eastern US and China, could experience heat waves with magnitude greater than the one in Russia in 2010 (the most severe of the present era). The apparent temperature peak during such humid-heat waves can be greater than 55 °C. According to the US Weather Service, at this temperature humans are very likely to suffer from heat strokes. Humid-heat waves with these conditions were never exceeded in the present climate, but are expected to occur every other year at 4° global warming. This calls for respective adaptation measures in some key regions of the world along with international climate change mitigation efforts.

[…] The occurrence of heat waves with AT55C, never recorded in our data records in the recent past, is likely to cause heat strokes by limiting the human thermoregulation. The exceedance of this apparent temperature across these regions is in agreement with other measures accounting for the combined effect of temperature and relative humidity. As an example, the wet-bulb temperature peak during a heat wave is expected to exceed the value of 35 °C (see Supplementary Fig. S9), a threshold likely to induce hyperthermia in humans and other mammals as dissipation of metabolic heat becomes impossible25, 31 While this never happens in the present climate, and it is unlikely at 1.5 °C and 2 °C, it would occur on a regular basis in many highly populated regions with global-mean warming of about 4 °C, questioning the habitability of some of these regions.

Humid heat waves at different warming levels

Logo for NOAA's  Advisory Committee for the sustained National Climate Assessment. On 19 August 2017, The Trump administration announced that it had decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. Graphic: NOAA

By Juliet Eilperin
20 August 2017

(The Washington Post) – The Trump administration has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning.

The charter for the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment — which includes academics as well as local officials and corporate representatives — expires Sunday. On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s acting administrator, Ben Friedman, informed the committee’s chair that the agency would not renew the panel.

The National Climate Assessment is supposed to be issued every four years but has come out only three times since passage of the 1990 law calling for such analysis. The next one, due for release in 2018, already has become a contentious issue for the Trump administration.

Administration officials are currently reviewing a scientific report that is key to the final document. Known as the Climate Science Special Report, it was produced by scientists from 13 different federal agencies and estimates that human activities were responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

The committee was established to help translate findings from the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for both public and private-sector officials. Its members have been writing a report to inform federal officials on the data sets and approaches that would best be included, and chair Richard Moss said in an interview Saturday that ending the group’s work was shortsighted.

“It doesn’t seem to be the best course of action,” said Moss, an adjunct professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences, and he warned of consequences for the decisions that state and local authorities must make on a range of issues from building road projects to maintaining adequate hydropower supplies. “We’re going to be running huge risks here and possibly end up hurting the next generation’s economic prospects.”

But NOAA communications director Julie Roberts said in an email Saturday that “this action does not impact the completion of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which remains a key priority.” [more]

The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change

Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is tasked with dismantling the EPA in secret. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

By David Roberts
14 August 2017

(Vox) – The New York Times had a big story on Friday about EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s propensity to operate in secret. It offers a detailed and damning review of the evidence, but it stops short of drawing the broader conclusion: namely, that the approach of serving industry under cover of secrecy is not idiosyncratic to Pruitt, nor is it distinctively Trumpian. Rather, it is the standard approach of today’s GOP, as reflected in such recent initiatives as the failed health care bill. It is, in fact, the only approach possible to advance an agenda that is unpopular and intellectually indefensible.

Before painting that bigger picture, though, let’s look more closely at Pruitt’s brief but memorable stint at the EPA so far.

Pruitt is radically remaking the EPA, mostly in secret

Things got off to an inauspicious start in February, when a story at E&E revealed that Pruitt was requesting a full-time, around-the-clock security detail — not the first act of a man confident in his agenda.

The Golden Padlock Award: Investigative Reporters and Editors in 2013 launched a new award - dubbed the Golden Padlock - recognizing the most secretive publicly-funded agency or person in the United States. the winner in 2017 was EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: IREIn May, the New Republic’s Emily Atkin, noting Pruitt’s refusal to meet with media or make his schedule public, asked, “What is Scott Pruitt hiding?” Another story in May found that political leadership at the EPA had begun “occasionally inserting new data and other information into public statements without final review from career policy specialists,” data and information officials inside EPA describe as “misleading and incompatible with extensive agency research.” Another covered Pruitt firing several scientists from the agency’s science review board, planning to replace them with people more sympathetic to industry.

An AP story in June uncovered an email record showing that Pruitt coordinated tightly with fossil fuel groups as attorney general in Oklahoma. E&E revealed that Pruitt’s calendar in his early weeks at EPA was filled with meetings with energy executives (though he met with no environmentalists).

A story in July showed that Pruitt is rolling back regulations “without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads.” Instead, the Times’s Coral Davenport writes, “Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general.” Another noted that he had traveled back home to Oklahoma — where he hopes to run for Senate — 10 times in his first three months, huddling with industry allies from his AG days.

Also in July, Rolling Stone ran a long expose by Jeff Goodell that focused on, among other things, Pruitt’s secrecy.

Except for his victory lap after Paris, he mostly avoids mainstream media. (Pruitt's office refused numerous requests to interview him for this story.) And despite his often-professed belief in "the rule of law," he has steadfastly resisted and evaded Freedom of Information Act requests for e-mail records and other public documents. He's so good at operating in the shadows, in fact, that he was recently given the Golden Padlock Award by investigative journalists, which recognizes the most secretive publicly funded person or agency in the United States.

Here’s the Golden Padlock Award, which a group of investigative reporters and editors gave to Pruitt for “steadfastly refusing to provide emails in the public interest and removing information from public websites about key environmental programs.” [more]

Scott Pruitt is dismantling EPA in secret for the same reason the GOP health care bill was secret

 

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