Let’s Not Braise the Planet
By MARK BITTMAN
Our ability to turn around the rate of carbon emissions and slow the engine that can conflagrate the world is certain. But do we have the will?
Mark Bittman – July 1, 2013 – The New York Times.
Let’s Not Braise the Planet
By MARK BITTMAN
According to a report released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last month, we are not running out of fossil fuels anytime soon. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution we’ve used around 1.2 trillion barrels of oil; the report estimates that with current technology we can produce roughly five times that much. With future technologies, it may well be that the suffering sky is the limit.
This reduces the issue of conversion to clean energy to one of ethics and intent. Our ability to turn around the rate of carbon emissions and slow the engine that can conflagrate the world is certain. But do we have the will?
The chief economist at the International Energy Agency recommends leaving two-thirds of all fossil fuels in the ground. Makes sense to me, but if you’re an oil executive scarcely being charged for the global damage your industry causes (an effective annual subsidy, says the International Monetary Fund, of nearly $2 trillion, money that would be better spent subsidizing nonpolluting energy sources), responsible to your shareholders and making a fortune, would you start erecting windmills?
Here’s the answer: According to Rolling Stone, just this spring, BP put its $3.1 billion United States wind farm operation up for sale. Last year, ConocoPhillips divested itself of its alternative-energy activities. Shell, with its “Let’s Go” campaign to “broaden the world’s energy mix,” spends less than 2 percent of its expenditures on “alternatives.”Mining oil, gas and coal is making some people rich while braising the planet for all of us. It’s difficult to think ahead, especially with climate change deniers sowing doubt and unfounded fears of unemployment, but we owe quick and decisive action on greenhouse gas reduction not only to ourselves but to billions of people not yet born. “People give less weight to the future, but that’s a brain bug,” the philosopher Peter Singer told me. “We should have equal concern for everyone wherever and whenever they live.”
There’s reason for optimism thanks to renewable energy standards in most states, California’s groundbreaking cap-and-trade law and President Obama’s directive to the Environmental Protection Agency last week. But this isn’t nearly enough, and you have to hope that the president is now fully engaged in progressive energy policy and isn’t merely preparing us for disappointment should he approve of Keystone XL.
Three things worth noting: Most politicians prefer adaptation to mitigation — that is, they’d rather build houses on stilts than reduce emissions; energy independence is in no way synonymous with “clean” energy; and the oft-stated notion that “since gas burns cleaner than coal and oil, we should be moving toward gas” puts us on the highway to hell.
Make no mistake: when it comes to climate change gas isn’t “clean,” because undetermined amounts of methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — leak into the atmosphere from natural gas production.
The answer is zero emission energy. Even moderate changes can help, but cuts in the use of fossil fuels must be much deeper than the president is directing, and this may not happen unless we rid Congress of friends of Big Energy. (By one count the House’s 125 climate-change deniers have taken $30 million in contributions from energy companies.)
Investments in zero-carbon energy are relatively inexpensive and good for the economy, and the cost of business as usual is higher than the cost of even expensive carbon pricing. But it’s tough — pointless? — to make these arguments to the energy companies and their Congressional lackeys, who will fight as they have been effectively paid to do.
Unless we quickly put a steep and real price on all carbon emissions, our inaction will doom our not-too-distant descendants. “Really,” says Dan Lashof, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean air program, “we need a comprehensive approach to reduce carbon pollution from all sources. What form that takes — caps, taxes, or standards — is far less important than how soon we get it in place.”
Americans and Western Europeans have been the primary beneficiaries of the lifestyle that accelerated climate change, and, of course are among the primary emitters of greenhouse gases. For the first 200-plus years of the fossil fuel age, we could claim ignorance of its lasting harm; we cannot do that now.
With knowledge comes responsibility, and with that responsibility must come action. As the earth’s stewards, our individual changes are important, but this is a bigger deal than replacing light bulbs or riding a bike. Let’s make working to turn emissions around a litmus test for every politician who asks for our vote.
Imagine a democracy across space, time and class, where legislative bodies represented not only those living in the world’s low-lying areas but their great-grandchildren — and ours. Or imagine that our elected representatives were proxies for those people. Imagine those representatives determining our current energy policy. Is there any doubt that things would change more rapidly?
Arizona Forestry spokesman says 19 firefighters die battling fast-moving wildfire.
View Photo Gallery — 19 firefighters killed in central Ariz. wildfire:?The firefighters were battling the fast-moving Yarnell Hill fire – the photos are front page on New York Times and Washington Post of July 1 and 2 – and all over TV – all over the globe.
By Associated Press, Published: June 30 | Updated: Monday, July 1, 12:57 AM Posted by Washington Post.
YARNELL, Ariz. — Gusty, hot winds blew an Arizona blaze out of control Sunday in a forest northwest of Phoenix, overtaking and killing 19 members of an elite fire crew in the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. for at least 30 years.
The “hotshot” firefighters were forced to deploy their fire shelters — tent-like structures meant to shield firefighters from flames and heat — when they were caught near the central Arizona town of Yarnell, state forestry spokesman Art Morrison told The Associated Press.
Heat wave hits western U.S.:?A heat wave gripping the western United States is one of the worst in years, with desert locations in the Southwest seeing temperatures approach 120 degrees. It is expected to continue through Tuesday.
The flames lit up the night sky in the forest above the town, and smoke from the blaze could be smelled for miles.
The fire started Friday and spread to 2,000 acres on Sunday amid triple-digit temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions. Officials ordered the evacuations of 50 homes in several communities, and later Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office expanded the order to include more residents in Yarnell, a town of about 700 residents about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city’s fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.
“By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly,” he said.
He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when “something drastic” occurred.
“One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective — kinda looks like a foil type— fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it,” Fraijo said.
“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 percent chance that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the absolute worst conditions.”
The National Fire Protection Association had previously listed the deadliest wildland fire involving firefighters as the 1994 Storm King Fire near Glenwood Springs, Colo., which killed 14 firefighters who were overtaken by a sudden explosion of flames.
Morrison said several homes in the community of Glenisle burned on Sunday. He said no other injuries or deaths have been reported from that area.
About 200 firefighters are fighting the wildfire, which has also forced the closure of parts of state Route 89. An additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.
Federal help was also being called into to fight the fire, Arizona State Forestry Division spokesman Mike Reichling said.
Prescott, which is more than 30 miles northeast of Yarnell, is one of the only cities in the United States that has a hot shot fire crew, Fraijo said. The unit was established in 2002, and the city also has 75 suppression team members.
The Red Cross has opened a shelter at Yavapai College in Prescott, the sheriff’s office said.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, whose district includes Yarnell, shot off a series of tweets Sunday night sending his condolences to those affected. He said his office will remain in contact with emergency responders and would offer help to those who needed it.
Other high profile Arizonans expressed their shock on Twitter, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who called it “absolutely devastating news.” U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted that he was “sick with the news.”
Western United States swelters amid deadly heat
Author: Tim Gaynor
A dangerous, record-breaking heat wave in the western United States contributed to the death of a Nevada resident and sent scores of people to hospitals with heat-related illnesses.
Photo: Jonathan Alcorn
‘Blast furnace’ heat engulfs U.S. West into weekend
‘Blast furnace’ heat engulfs U.S. West into weekend
Author: Tim Gaynor
An “atmospheric blast furnace” engulfed the sunbaked U.S. West in dangerous triple-digit temperatures on Friday, forecasters said, raising concerns for homeless people and others unable to escape near record temperatures expected over the weekend.
Photo: Joshua Lott
Experts See New Normal as a Hotter, Drier West Faces More Huge Fires.
David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press
The Yarnell Hill fire, which on Monday expanded tenfold, covering more than 8,000 acres.
By FELICITY BARRINGER and KENNETH CHANG
One of the deadliest wildfires in a generation vastly expanded Monday to cover more than 8,000 acres, sweeping up sharp slopes through dry scrub and gnarled piñon pines a day after fickle winds and flames killed 19 firefighters.
Multimedia -Interactive Feature – Arizona Blaze Traps Firefighters
Video: Raw Footage: Arizona Wildfire Aftermath
Related: Lost in Arizona Wildfire, 19 in an Elite Crew That Rushed In Close (July 2, 2013)
The Lede: Fallen Firefighters Had Prepared for Worst-Case Scenario (July 1, 2013)
Related in Opinion: Op-Ed Contributor: Living With Fire (July 2, 2013)
Dot Earth Blog: 19 Firefighters Fall on the ‘Wildland-Urban Interface’ (July 1, 2013)
The charred remains of an area near Yarnell, Ariz., abutted a strip of fire retardant that kept some houses safe from the wildfire there.
The gusty monsoon winds where the Colorado Plateau begins to drop off into the Sonoran Desert continued to bedevil about 400 firefighters who were defending 500 homes and 200 businesses in the old gold mining villages of Yarnell and Peeples Valley.
Scientists said those blazes and 15 others that remained uncontained from New Mexico to California and Idaho were part of the new normal — an increasingly hot and dry West, resulting in more catastrophic fires.
Since 1970, Arizona has warmed at a rate 0.72 degrees per decade, the fastest among the 50 states, based on an analysis of temperature data by Climate Central, an independent organization that researches and reports on climate. Even as the temperatures have leveled off in many places around the world in the past decade, the Southwest has continued to get hotter.
“The decade of 2001 to 2010 in Arizona was the hottest in both spring and the summer,” said Gregg Garfin, a professor of climate, natural resources and policy at the University of Arizona and the executive editor of a study examining the impact of climate change on the Southwest.
Warmer winters mean less snowfall. More of the winter precipitation falls as rain, which quickly flows away in streams instead of seeping deep underground.
The soils then dry out earlier and more quickly in May and June. “It’s the most arid time of year,” Dr. Garfin said. “It’s windy as well.”
The growing season also starts earlier, so there is more to burn.
“The fire season has lengthened substantially, by two months, over the last 30 years,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist at the United States Geological Survey station at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.
The fire potential is exacerbated by the past policy, beginning around 1900, of putting out all fires. Fires are a natural way of clearing out the underbrush. With that natural rhythm disrupted, the flammable material piled up, so when it did catch fire, it ignited a giant fire that burned hotter and wider.
This total-suppression policy began to ease as early as the 1950s, when scientists began to see fire’s role in ecosystems. It was completely abandoned nearly two decades ago.
But in the 1970s, the Southwest entered a wet period, part of a climate cycle that repeats every 20 to 30 years. “That wet period helped keep a lid on fires,” Dr. Allen said. “And it also allowed the forests to fluff up.”
Since 1996, the climate pattern, known as the Pacific decadal oscillation, has swung to the dry end of the spectrum, and the region is caught in a long-term drought.
Stephen J. Pyne, one of the nation’s leading fire historians and a professor at Arizona State University, said, “How we live on the land, what we decide we put on public and private lands, how we do things and don’t do things on the land, changes its combustibility.”
In many landscapes, he added, “you’ve enhanced the natural combustibility” by building hundreds of thousands of homes in fire-prone areas, and for years suppressing natural fires, allowing a buildup of combustible materials like the “slash” debris left behind by logging.
“The natural conditions, particularly climate, the land-use changes that interact with it and how we add or subtract fire, those are the three parts of the fire triangle. Almost all of those are pointing in the same direction — bigger, more damaging fires,” he said.
While Yarnell is not a new community, and its population remained basically stable between 2000 and 2010, it is representative of the risk involved in the trend around the West for people to move into fire-prone areas in what social scientists call the “wild land-urban interface.”
Those expanding communities, with rural views but more urban economies, have been the focus of concern among federal and state officials for a decade or more. While such regions are more plentiful in the East, it is in the areas west of the 100th longitude, reaching from West Texas and the Dakotas to the Pacific Ocean, where the natural aridity, increasingly exacerbated by climate change, makes fires a common threat.
In the West in the 1990s, more than 2.2 million housing units were added in these fire-prone areas, according to testimony by Roger B. Hammer, a demographer at Oregon State University and a leading authority on the issue. Speaking to a House subcommittee in 2008, he called this a “wicked problem,” and predicted an additional 12.3 million homes would be built in such areas in Western states — more than double the current numbers.
Government and scientific data show that destructive sweep of wildfires covered an annual average of seven million acres in the 2000s, twice the totals of the 1990s. Michael Kodas, who is writing a book on modern firefighting, wrote in On Earth magazine last year that scientists believe that number will rise 50 percent or more by 2020.
Yet in fiscal 2013, more than $1.7 billion, or 38 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, was to be devoted to firefighting in general, with $537.8 million — a slight reduction from the previous year — specifically allocated for wildland fires. The Interior Department’s appropriation for wildland firefighting was $276.5 million, a slight increase over the previous year.
But the federal budget sequester eliminated $28 million from the Forest Service budget, although Interior’s remained nearly level. This occurred even though both agencies overspent 2012 budgets of similar size, and though federal firefighters are often first responders, working alongside their state colleagues during blazes like the Yarnell Hill fire.
“The Forest Service is being treated as a firefighter of last resort,” Dr. Pyne said. This, he added, “is not what the agency was set up for, and it’s not financed for it.”
Dr. Allen said that what was different in the recent fires — hotter, more enveloping — is that they are killing far more trees. “We’re seeing the size of postfire treeless patches merging into thousands of acres,” he said, “sometimes many thousands of acres.”
That could permanently transform much of the Arizona landscape as grasslands and shrubs fill in the empty space.
Fernanda Santos and John Dougherty contributed reporting from Prescott, Ariz., and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.
The New York Times Editors’ Picks of July 2, 2013:
Interactive Feature: Arizona Blaze Traps Firefighters.
Nineteen members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting crew, died fighting a wildfire in Yarnell, Ariz.
. Related Article – OPINION | Op-Ed Contributor
Living With Fire
By ALAN DEAN FOSTER
It may be a disaster zone, but it’s our disaster zone.
header at the time States are literally burning and the US is being asked to lead on Climate Change:
Snooping on Americans’ Phone Records, Benghazi, IRS Scandal… Time to Impeach Obama?
The White House recently confirmed the NSA has been collecting the phone records and web search data of all Americans… and Obama was in on it! Allegations have surfaced that the talking points about the Benghazi terrorist attack were altered by the White House to mislead the general public. And it was found that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative “Tea Party” groups filing for tax exempt status.
These three events have thrown the Obama Administration and the White House into “damage control.”
And the mailing asks for your opnion.
1) Given the circumstances surrounding NSA snooping, Benghazi and the IRS scandal do you think the Obama administration is lying to the American public?
Yes, they are clearly lying about the events.
No, they are telling the truth.
2) Do you still trust President Barack Obama?
I still trust Obama.
I trust Obama less than I used to.
I no longer trust Obama.
I never trusted Obama.
3) Based on your understanding of all three events, do you think Obama should be impeached?
Yes, he should be impeached.
No, he should not be impeached.
4) Which political party do you most closely align with philosophically?
Conclusion – THE NUTS IN THE US WANT TO START AN IMPEACH OBAMA CAMPAIGN NOW in order to avoid facing real world realities.
List of Crew Members Killed in Arizona Fire
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: July 1, 2013 at 6:17 PM ET
* Lost in Arizona Wildfire, 19 in an Elite Crew That Rushed In Close (July 2, 2013)
* Experts See a New Normal: A Tinderbox West, With More Huge Fires (July 2, 2013)
PRESCOTT, Ariz. — The city of Prescott has released the names of the 19 firefighters who were killed in a wildfire. Fourteen of the victims were in their 20s.
— Andrew Ashcraft, 29
— Kevin Woyjeck, 21
— Anthony Rose, 23
— Eric Marsh, 43
— Christopher MacKenzie, 30
— Robert Caldwell, 23
— Clayton Whitted , 28
— Scott Norris, 28
— Dustin Deford, 24
— Sean Misner, 26
— Garret Zuppiger, 27
— Travis Carter, 31
— Grant McKee, 21
— Travis Turbyfill, 27
— Jesse Steed, 36
— Wade Parker, 22
— Joe Thurston, 32
— William Warneke, 25
— John Percin, 24