APTOPIX_California_Wildfires_15416

Flames from a backfire consume a hillside Nov. 1 as firefighters battle the Maria Fire in Santa Paula, Calif. According to Ventura County Fire Department, the blaze has scorched more than 8,000 acres and destroyed at least two structures. AP photo

As predicted decades ago, the Earth’s climate is changing radically. It’s been gathering force for decades, propelled mainly by human-made carbon emissions. In reality, there is no doubt about this, at this point. Especially since the effects have for the past few years become visible pretty much every day.

Southern California is burning because drought and rainfall patterns, disrupted by warming atmosphere and oceans, are drying dry places out. Alaska and other areas near the Arctic had record-high temperatures this summer and unprecedented wildfires — nearly 10 times as much area burned this summer in Alaska as in California. Atlantic storms have increased markedly in frequency and force. Shoreline is disappearing measurably up and down the East Coast.

Also as predicted, President Trump’s environmental “policy” isn’t really a policy at all. It’s more like a political slash and burn operation. While you’ve been wondering about impeachment hearings and the betrayal of our allies and whether the Senate or the Supreme Court will throw out our entire system of government in favor of an autocracy, the slashing and burning has continued almost out of control, like the California fires. Even here in Maine you can virtually smell the smoke.

You may not have noticed:

• This month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally notified the United Nations that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. We are the only nation in the world not taking part, meaning that we alone acknowledge neither the reality of climate change nor responsibility for it. You might want to remember this when the withdrawal takes effect next fall, around election time.

• In September, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to remove California’s longstanding right to set its own auto emissions standards. California’s right to set car pollution limits began with Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1967.

• The same month, the EPA said California has not demonstrated any steps to improve its air quality. The Trump administration, therefore, threatened to withhold California’s federal highway funding.

• Also at that time, Trump’s Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation into four auto companies after they agreed in principle with California to abide by its stricter emissions standards instead of Trump’s.

• Also in September, the Trump administration announced plans to scrap revised rules expanding what waters are covered under the Clean Water Act of 1972. Meaning many rivers, streams and other small bodies of water will not be protected from pollution.

• Trump continued this summer to purvey the lie that California’s fires are caused by mismanagement of forestland. Most of California’s fires do not start in forests. They’re in chaparral and grassland areas. They are enhanced by dry, hot, windy conditions triggered by climate change.

• In October, the Trump administration announced plans to allow logging in more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rain forest in North America. Fewer trees means more atmospheric CO2.

• This month the Trump administration reversed a 25-year-old policy restricting the removal of sand from protected ecosystems. The policy shift makes it easier and cheaper for wealthy communities to take sand out of imperiled wetlands and replenish their own beachfronts. Meanwhile sea levels rise.

• Also this month, the EPA announced plans to loosen rules governing the storage of coal ash and wastewater containing toxic metals produced at coal-burning power plants. The new rules will replace rules adopted in 2015 and allow unlined coal ash waste ponds to remain open for up to eight more years.

• The acting EPA inspector general this month informed Congress that a “flagrant problem” has arisen in an investigation into whether acting EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson improperly influenced an environmental chemist prior to her testimony to Congress. Linda Swackhamer was removed by then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in 2017, along with several other advisers, from the EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors. The inspector general says Ryan’s office has refused to cooperate with the investigation. Pruitt left the EPA in 2018 amid corruption scandals.

• In September, the U.S. House passed the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, to prohibit the Interior Department from leasing any area for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf planning area (including the North and Mid-Atlantic) or the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf planning area. The bill is now with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where it will likely stay for a long time because Senate Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell is at present allowing few bills that come from the House to be voted on. You might want to remember this around the time of the next election.

Meanwhile, reality continues to set in:

• Wildfires caused unprecedented destruction in California and Alaska this summer.

• Nearly a million acres of bushfires in Australia are burning out of control; many more are burning “under control.” In Bolivia more than 10 million acres of forest and grassland have burned since August; more than 2 million animals are believed to have died in those fires. In Brazil, wildfires in the Amazon rain forest spiked this summer; during one 48-hour period in August, 2,127 fires were burning. In Siberia, roughly 30 million acres burned this summer. In Indonesia, more than 2 million acres have burned this year, throwing smog over much of Southeast Asia. In Africa, more than 250,000 fires were burning simultaneously during one week in June; during two days in August, Angola had 6,902 active fires and Congo had 3,395, according to NASA.

• The 2019 Northern Hemisphere meteorological summer (June through August) was the hottest on record, tied with 2016, according to NOAA.

• The Southern Hemisphere’s meteorological winter (June through August) was tied with 2015 as second-warmest, after 2016.

• The last five June-August periods are the five hottest on record.

• July 2019 was the all-time hottest month on record for Boston and Portland.

• Ice breaks up in New England lakes nine to 16 days earlier than in the 19th century, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

• A study published in October states: “Even with sharp, immediate cuts to carbon emissions, (sea level) could rise another 0.5 meter this century. Under higher emissions scenarios, twenty-first century rise may approach or in the extremes exceed 2 meters.” This indicates that by the year 2100, 190 million people’s homes will be below the high-tide mark.

• The Magdalen Islands, east of Prince Edward Island, are losing shoreline at rates of up to 14 feet a year in some places. Sea ice that used to shield the islands from winter storms is shrinking by 555 square miles a year, allowing pounding waves ashore to erode cliffs and lead to the contamination of aquifers.

• This month 11,258 scientists from 153 countries issued a report stating that the Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency.” Human-generated greenhouse gases are a critical component of the problem, the report states.

• The United Nations Emissions Gap Report of 2017 says that by immediately implementing technology that already exists, CO2 “emissions could be reduced by up to 30 to 40 (billion tons) per annum, with costs below US$100” per ton of CO2.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is slashing environmental regulations and ready to let California burn. One way or another, it’s coming to our backyards here in Maine too. You can just about smell the smoke.

 

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His recent book is “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods,” available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears the second and fourth Thursdays each month.

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