Industry insiders now refer to the inner aisles of the supermarket as “the morgue.” No wonder Big Food is in a panic. […]
California’s Fire Season Is Shaping Up to Be a “Disaster”
Posted by Tim McDonnell on Tuesday, May 5, 2015
It’s already looking bad, and it’s going to get worse.
On Monday, 200 firefighters evacuated an upscale residential neighborhood in Los Angeles as they responded to a wildfire that had just broken out in the nearby hills. Ninety minutes later, the fire was out, with no damage done. But if that battle was a relatively easy win, it belied a much more difficult war ahead for a state devastated by drought.
California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts on record, so bad that earlier this month Gov. Jerry Brown took the unprecedented step of ordering mandatory water restrictions. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is currently the lowest on record for this time of year. And the outlook for the rest of the year is bleak: The latest federal projections suggest the drought could get even worse this summer across the entire state (as well as many of its neighbors):
That’s a very bad sign for California’s wildfire season. After several years of super-dry conditions, the state is literally a tinderbox. “The outlook in California is pretty dire,” said Wally Covington, a leading fire ecologist at Northern Arizona University. “It’s pretty much a recipe for disaster.”
To date this year, the overall national tally of wildfires has actually been below average: 14,213 fires across 309,369 acres, compared to the 10-year average of 20,166 fires across 691,776 acres, according to federal data. After a peak in 2006, early year wildfire activity in the last few years has been somewhat stable:
But in California, the trend looks very different. The tally of fires so far this year is 967—that’s 38 percent higher than the average for this date since 2005. The number of acres burned is up to 4,083, nearly double the count at this time last year and 81 percent above the average since 2005:
And here again, the outlook for the rest of the summer is grim. Just look at the overlap between the map above and the map below, which shows that most of California is at above-average risk for fires this summer:
This is all costing California taxpayers a lot of money. According to Climate Central, California typically spends more money fighting wildfires than the other 10 Western states combined, totaling roughly $4 billion over the last decade. That’s partly due to the state’s size and vulnerability to big wildfires, and also to the close proximity of high-value urban development to easily ignited forests and grasslands. (Wildfires in the Alaskan wilderness, by comparison, can grow much bigger but cost much less, because without homes or towns nearby, they’re often allowed to simply burn out.)
California burned through its $209 million firefighting budget in just a few months of this fiscal year; back in September, Brown had to pull an additional $70 million from a state emergency fund. A spokesperson for the state’s department of finance said the wildfire budget has since been increased to $423 million. (Running way over budget on wildfires isn’t unique to California; the federal government routinely underestimates how much wildfires will cost and ends up having to fight fires with funds that are meant to be spent preventing them.)
Scientists have long predicted that an increase in both the frequency and severity of wildfires is a likely outcome of global warming. The Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment last year cited wildfires as one of the key threats posed to the United States by climate change. Longer periods of drought mean wildfire “fuels” like grass and trees will be drier and easier to burn; at the same time, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means these same fuels will accumulate more quickly. And there’s a feedback loop at play: Deforestation caused by wildfires contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that the increasing threat of wildfires will make climate change worse.
When it comes to wildfires, Covington said, “with increased climate change, there’s a train wreck coming our way.”
For a more detailed explanation of the link between climate change and wildfires, watch the original Climate Desk video below:
“Pee If You Want to Help Refugees.” Not exactly a zinger of a bumper sticker, and it sounds a bit daffy, but it’s actually a serious and meaningful message that could ease the lives of refugees worldwide who have fled storms, famine and war. The University of the West of England has teamed up with Oxfam, the global social services organization, to develop a urinal based on a novel technology. In the prototype toilet at the school in Bristol, urine is fed to stacks of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that generate electricity. Their goal is to expand the technology on a large scale to ensure well-lit camp toilets in disaster areas. To achieve that, students and staff members of the school are urged to do their part in showing the effectiveness of the device. Read more: Waste To Energy Could Be Long-Term Renewable Solution “We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works,” the toilet’s lead researcher, Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, told The Guardian. Ieropoulos directs the Bristol BioEnergy Center, which in 2013 showed that a more primitive setup of MFC stacks can generate enough electricity to power a phone. “The project with Oxfam could have a huge impact in refugee camps,” he said. It works like this: The MFC stacks in the toilets contain live bacteria which use urine to grow and maintain themselves, and, as a byproduct, generate electricity as well – “what we call urine-tricity or pee power,” Ieropoulos said. The power is then used to light up the toilet cubicles for the convenience of the user. “This technology is about as green as it gets, as we do not need to utilize fossil fuels, and we are effectively using a waste product that will be in plentiful supply,” Ieropoulos said in a statement. Indeed, human beings produce an estimated 6.4 trillion liters of urine per year, making this form of electric power truly sustainable. Read more: New Technology Could Have Us Generate Power As We Walk At the University of West England, the prototype urinal is set up near the Student Union bar. It’s designed to resemble the facilities often used at refugee centers to ensure verisimilitude in the trial. And the equipment holding the MFC stacks is visible through a screen to give users a clearer idea how the device works. Andy Bastable, Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam, welcomed the new pee-power technology. “Oxfam is an expert at providing sanitation in disaster zones,” he said, “and it is always a challenge to light inaccessible areas far from a power supply. This technology is a huge step forward. Read more: The Global Outlook For Biofuels “Living in a refugee camp is hard enough without the added threat of being assaulted in dark places at night,” Bastable said. “The potential of this invention is huge.” And it’s cheap. “One microbial fuel cell costs about £1 to make (about US $1.50),” Ieropoulos said, “and we think that a small unit like the demo we have mocked up for this experiment could cost as little as £600 (about US $900) to set up, which is a significant bonus, as this technology is in theory everlasting.” This article originally appeared on Oilprice.com. More from Oilprice.com: Rethink Biofuel Sources, Not Biofuels Subsidies Why Biodiesel May Not Be The Miracle Fuel You Think ‘Poo Power:’ Gas From Human Waste Will Heat British Homes […]
In the mid-1970s, the outlook for food supplies around the world was grim. There were talks of “food triage”– food-rich countries would decide which food-poor countries should get food, thereby dooming the rest to death. At that point, famines in Bangladesh and Ethiopia had killed hundreds of thousands of people, and countries such as India and Pakistan were teetering on the brink. Despite widespread agreement on food as a basic human right, there wasn’t enough food–or solutions–to go around. Fast forward to today: Hunger and malnutrition still exist, but not nearly on the same scale. Bangladesh and Ethiopia have halved the prevalence of hunger in their countries in the past 15 years. Indeed, the drastic progress humanity has made in ensuring food security and nutrition makes the thought of a food triage something out of a dystopian movie […]
How Screwed Are Your State’s Oysters?
Posted by Tim McDonnell on Wednesday, February 25, 2015
A new map pinpoints when ocean acidification will become a big problem near you.
When carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and cars rise into the atmosphere, they don’t always stay there. While the majority of these emissions hang around to create the greenhouse effect that causes global warming, up to 35 percent of man-made carbon falls into the ocean. When that happens, the pH level of the ocean drops, causing a phenomenon known as ocean acidification. Some scientists call this the “evil twin” of climate change.
Over the last century, the oceans have become about 30 percent more acidic, a faster rate of change than at anytime in the last 300 million years. That’s really bad news for any sea creatures that live in hard shells (shellfish) or have bony exoskeletons (i.e., crabs and lobsters), and for coral. Fish larvae and plankton can also be affected. And since many of these organisms are food for bigger fish and mammals, ocean acidification puts the whole marine ecosystem at risk.
Of course, humans depend on these critters as well, especially in coastal communities whose economies are deeply tied to the fishing industry. In the last few years, the threat to oyster harvests in the Pacific Northwest has been well documented. But every bit of the US coastline bears some level of risk, according to a new report in Nature. The study offers the first comprehensive projection of which parts of the US coast will be worst off, and when ocean acidification could reach dangerous levels there.
Julia Ekstrom, a climate adaptation researcher at the University of California-Davis, combed through existing scientific literature for three key types of data: How ocean acidification is projected to change in different regions over the next century; how dependent individual local economies are on the shellfish harvest (the study focused only on bivalves like oysters—other critters could be the subject of future research); and social factors that could help communities adapt, like pollution controls (runoff from rivers can also affect local pH) or the availability of other jobs. That data, combined, led to the map below.
Purple indicates the time at which ocean acidification is expected to become serious enough to significantly affect shellfish (darker is sooner); red indicates how vulnerable a region would be to a drop-off in shellfish productivity. So Washington, for example, could see the impacts soon but is relatively well-prepared to handle them. Impacts to the Gulf Coast are expected much further in the future but could be more economically severe.
Ekstrom et al, courtesy Nature
The good news is that many of what could be the hardest-hit communities still have time to prepare. Then again, the outlook could be worse in some places (Maine, for example) if you conducted similar research on lobsters and other vital fisheries. Ekstrom said localized predictions like this are key to enabling communities to prepare and can also help scientists decide where to focus efforts to monitor and track acidification as it progresses.
As I write this, the quarterfinals of the “greenest” World Cup ever are about to get underway, with two of the games to be played in stadia that produces enough solar energy to power several thousand homes a day. When Rio’s magnificent Maracana hosts the game between France and Germany, 500KW of solar energy will be produced from the 2,500 square meters of photovoltaic panels covering the stadium terraces. Meanwhile, a day later, Argentina and Belgium will take the pitch at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, where a whopping 2.5MW of solar energy will be produced. […]
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