Category Archives: Wild Fires

The World on Fire  

Massive uncontrolled unprecedented wild fires are consuming portions of the Amazon rainforest and several regions of the Arctic. Somebody somewhere must be asking why all of a sudden in unison, all over creation, two of the planets largest ecosystems are going up in smoke. It’s eerily spine chilling.

Major fires have hit the Amazon and the Arctic for the second year in a row.1

Where’s the world’s largest fire alarm when so desperately needed?

Sure, all of mainstream press covers the fires and people hear about the fires and read about the fires. But that’s the end of any sort of impact because the sensationalism of reading about and hearing about massive fires thousands of miles away in vast wilderness areas doesn’t move the needle enough for people to express serious concern or even go so far as to panic. Maybe they should.

These are not regular ole run of the mill fires. Rather, these are firestorms so powerful that they create their own wind systems and self-perpetuate. More to the point, the world is on a biblical fire alert that posits the Book of Revelations 16:8 smack dab into contemporary society, to wit: Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the Sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat.

For example, recent bushfires in Australia (2019) were not just unprecedented. They were “deadly catastrophic,” thus leaving some ecosystems “forever changed.” The conflagrations obliterated landscapes, not just patches of landscape but entire landscapes.

Why obliteration? Climate change is the villain. It supercharged the wildfires by turning landscapes into tinder. As such, and contrary to political opinions by right-wing whacko nutcases, climate change does not constitute surreal events in thin air, rather, it’s power-packed hard-hitting damage to our “one and only” planet. It’s authentic.

Australia’s wildfires convulsed above and beyond any known scale of normal fires, from which animals are usually able to escape. They didn’t. They couldn’t run fast enough! The fires took out entire landscapes, not patches of landscape that leave behind pockets of safety untouched for scampering animals. Nothing was left untouched by the hot lapping flames.

The wildfires permanently crippled iconic habitats that make Australia an ecological wonder for all to behold. From loss of crucial plant life to decimation of species that serve as a meal for a higher species, the ripple effects remain unaccountable, extensively beyond human calculation.

Now, two of the world’s largest, and most significant, ecosystems are on fire like never before, similar to Australia’s biblical fires of a year ago, as more, and more, precious natural resources suffer waves of obliteration. Of course, normal fires in the wild are healthy; however, these fires are anything but normal. They’re truly biblical in scale.

Six months of record-breaking temperatures have sparked massive fires in the Siberian Arctic this year. Great plumes of smoke were visible on satellite… temperatures more than 5°C above average over much of Siberia… A Met Office-led international study has concluded this period of exceptional weather would have been impossible had the world not been warmed by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. 2

What we’re seeing really is unprecedented… we’ve never seen the probability of a change of an event of more than 600 times. We’ve never seen a result like that. 3

Looking at the geologic record, we don’t think we’ve ever seen CO2 levels this high in about 5 million years… We are in uncharted territory. ”4 .

Meanwhile, bad vibes with strong undertones of contempt upend civilized society, as follows: America’s president Don Trump has tweeted 120 posts that variously poke fun at, and ridicule, climate change. Moreover, he has issued dozens of tweets claiming that “cold weather” disproves climate change. It should be noted that 62 million people voted for Trump in 2016 and many “live by his words.”

At the same time, in the real world of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported 6,803 fires in the Amazon in July 2020 alone, nearly 30% more than July 2019 when the Western world went bananas over the loss of rainforest due to human-set fires, when, in fact, fires are not a regular feature of rainforests.

Now, environmentalists are going batty because August is traditionally the start of the human-generated fire season, but it already has a roaring head of steam. Not only that, but according to INPE data, the first six months of 2020 are already the worst on record for deforestation. Yes, “the worst on record.”

Sure enough, the Amazon rainforest, similar to landscapes in Australia in 2019, is subjected to obliteration forces, and it’s not just deforestation as the root cause. Climate change has kicked into high gear all across the magnificent rainforest with devastating drought conditions galore!

Excessive drought conditions, in part, originate early in the morning in garages around the world as fossil-fueled gasoline engines crank up, spewing out CO2, and the whir of a jet engine igniting, the blast of a diesel train engine cranking up, the murmur of a jet ski, ignition of hot coals for an electricity-generating plant, a furnace blast molding steel, all are the basis, the origin, of greenhouse gases that blanket the atmosphere, in turn, enhancing devastating severe droughts.

According to a landmark Amazonian rainforest in-depth analysis:

Several studies indicate that the region has been suffering severe drought since the end of the last century, as in 1997/1998, 2005, 2010 and 2015. The intensity and frequency of these extreme drought episodes in the AB during the last years, approximately one episode every five years with a significant increase in the coverage area, is remarkable.5

Back-to-back-to-back-to-back 100/year drought events, every 5 years, are not normal, meaning something somewhere is horribly wrong. After all, major ecosystems that profoundly influence all aspects of the planet’s health and well-being are burning, collapsing, melting like there’s no tomorrow. The message is clear.

Along the way, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro feigns attempts to limit rainforest damage, but experts say the government’s response has been largely ineffective, more symbolic than real. In truth, he’s the primary driving force behind record-setting deforestation. Similar to Trump, on the world stage he’s a laughing stock and archenemy of the planet.

According to NASA, this year’s dry season will be more prone to fires than last year’s record-setting affair. Moreover, according to NASA, warmer ocean surface temps in the North Atlantic (global heating at work) create conditions for more extreme drought in the Amazon, as excessive ocean heat brings on far-flung damage. Everything in nature is somehow connected.

“The world on fire” is merely a prelude to a climate “gone berserk” disaster scenario that’s almost certain to eventually take civilization down to its knees, by all appearances sooner than mainstream science suggests, but frankly scientists don’t make such predictions.

Yet, isn’t a climate gone berserk scenario already playing out in real time; e.g., in Siberia, in the Amazon, in Australia?

Meanwhile, climate-related crises on a grand scale never before recorded throughout human history continue building to a crescendo, in earnest, right before society’s “eyes wide shut.”

Postscript: Reports out of the London School of Economics claim one-half of the Arctic fires are peat soil, normally too wet and too cold to burn, but now burning because of powerful intense heat… peat soil is carbon-rich and can burn for months/years, emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4).6

Speechless, once again!

  1. NewScientist, June 26, 2020.
  2. “New Warning Over Climate Change From Siberian Arctic”, BBC News, July 15, 2020.
  3. Professor Peter Stott, Met Office, Ibid.
  4. Dr. Katharine Hendry, Ibid.
  5. Beatriz Nunes Garcia, et al, “Extreme Drought Events Over the Amazon Basin: The Perspective from the Reconstruction of South American Hydroclimate”, Departamento de Meteorologia, Instituto de Geociências, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, November  7, 2018.
  6. Arctic Fires Released More Carbon in Two Months Than Scandinavia Will All Year, Grist, Aug. 4, 2020.

Drilling for Oil:  A Global Problem on Our Doorstep

These days, local is global.  Dorset is a small rural county on England’s south coast.  That doesn’t mean that its inhabitants aren’t worried about climate change.  They are.  Very.  Unfortunately, Dorset Councillors are more concerned about following government policies, policies that back using public money to invest in climate-damaging projects.  ‘Global’ doesn’t do ‘local’.  Global makes money for corporations and their investors, not the people who have to live with the result.

Sometimes it takes a threat to our own neighbourhood, our own county or country, before we wake up to what is happening across the world.  It will take food shortages before we accept that industrial farming is gradually killing the soil that all life, bar marine life, depends on.  It will take repeated storms and flooding to get the message that weather patterns really are changing; that places are becoming too wet, too dry, too hot – but not too cold.  It will take the flooding of coastal cities before everyone acknowledges that the Arctic, Antarctic, the permafrost and glaciers have melted and the sea-level risen because humans have heated up the earth.

By then it will be too late.  The damage will have been done.  To be honest, we won’t experience the effects of the carbon emissions we are, right now, pumping up into the atmosphere for another 20 years.  Climate change is happening now and it will be bad.  We can’t go backwards.  All we can do is to make it not as bad as it could be (i.e. killing most of the life we know).  The floods, the melting of the ice, the wildfires – that all comes from what we did some years ago.

The conversation has gone on for far too long.  In 1972 the Stockholm Declaration first laid the foundations of contemporary environmental policy.  The first World Climate Conference was held in 1979.  Thirteen years later, the 1992 Earth Summit (dealing with the environment and sustainable development) was held in Rio de Janeiro.  Since then there has been a constant succession of conferences on development, climate and the environment, including the yearly Conferences of Parties (COP), the UN conferences on climate change.  The first COP conference was held in 1995.   1997 gave us the Kyoto Protocol, but it was another eight years before it came into force.

In 2015 Paris hosted COP21, ending with an agreement that the UK ratified in 2016.  In April 2018 it was announced that the UK would be the first major economy to examine how it would meet its commitments and review its long-term target to cut carbon emissions.

Later this year, Glasgow will host COP26.  Note the number: 26.  That’s how many times the ‘world’ (aka politicians and business leaders as well as environmentalists) have met to discuss the problem, and we are still nowhere near seriously addressing climate change.  The ideas are there. The proposals are there.  The ‘in-place-by’ dates are there.  Real actions are not so visible.

On May 1st 2019 the UK Parliament declared a climate change emergency.  Big deal?  No.  It simply demonstrated the will of the Commons on the issue, but it does not legally compel the government to act.  Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate “emergency” but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one.  In other words, we’ll make the right sounds but not implement the very necessary actions.

What about all the local authorities?  It seems they take things more seriously – or perhaps they are closer to the people.  According to a list dating from early February, 67 percent of District, County, Unitary and Metropolitan Councils have declared a Climate Emergency, plus 8 Combined Authorities/City Regions.  Many of those authorities have committed to target dates for net-zero emissions, ranging from 2030 to 2050.  This only applies to the authorities’ emissions, not the general public’s, but it does encourage us to follow their lead.

Among the declarations is Dorset Unitary Council.  However – and there is always an ‘however’, no target date for actions or results is given.  Seeing that the motion was backed by 69 councillors, with only two against and six abstentions, you would think they’d give a target date.  Again, right noises but little action.

Surely, politicians and global business should be taking note of what is already happening to the climate – while the UK was hit by weeks of storms and floods, Australia burned.  Yet Australia’s Prime Minister refused to accept those horrendous wildfires had anything to do with climate change.  For too many people, their lives were destroyed.  For the ‘climate deniers’ it is business as usual.  In the UK it means building more houses on flood plains and installing more of the same flood defences, despite the fact that they’re really not working any more.  And in case you didn’t know, in 2010 the Labour government’s plan for flood defences got cancelled by David Cameron’s austerity policy.  In Australia business as usual means carry on mining and exporting coal.

The Paris Agreement aimed at keeping the global warming to 1.5 degrees.  We can no longer achieve that.  Even keeping the warming to 2 degrees would require us to pretty well stop everything now.  The global refusal to actually act is putting us on course for 3-4 degrees warming; with sea levels rising and extreme weather events getting worse, we face chaos and disaster.  So – the target dates themselves are questionable.  For one thing, aiming to be ‘net-zero emissions’ by 2050 makes us think ‘we’ve got 30 years, no need to hurry.’  At least the EU is calling for a target date of 2030.

There’s every need to hurry.  Report after report is coming out from worried, despairing scientists, observing and recording how much more rapidly climate change is happening.  Everything is speeding up.  The latest news is that polar icecaps are melting 6 times faster than in the 1990s.  What climate action might have been expected to happen by 2040 could now happen by 2030 or 2025.   New models on climate sensitivity are showing big increases in global temperature.

Here and there authorities and courts are taking the right decisions, based on the rule that every decision, every development, must now take climate change into account.  Bristol Airport’s expansion plans were refused on ‘environmental grounds’ by local councillors.  A third runway for London Heathrow was ruled as illegal by the court of appeal, because ‘ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis’.

Which puts Dorset Council in an awkward position.

They are being asked to approve a planning application  by South Western Energy Ltd. (SWEL) to ‘allow for the drilling of a single vertical well for the appraisal and production of oil, together with the establishment and construction of the site compound’  in the village of Puddletown.  If enough oil is found, they could be extracting it for the next 20-25 years.  That’s hardly going to help the UK’s ‘net zero emissions’ target of 2050.

With the climate emergency now being one of the main concerns of the public, it goes without saying that first in the queue of objectors were the parish council and residents of Puddletown.  It’s bad enough worrying about global climate change, but when one of the causes turns up on your doorstep that’s another matter entirely.  (It’s worth noting that fracking at various English sites, though given permission by the government, has so far failed to actually produce any gas, largely due to determined residents and their supporters getting in the way, plus some good science.)

SWEL’s justification is:

Oil is critical to transport requirements and will likely remain so in the near term as cars may be adapted to electrification and alternative fuels but aircraft, shipping, military vehicles and large goods vehicles are currently, due to their engine capacities, less adaptable to conversion.

Wrong.  Many manufacturers are already following that path.  DAF and Tesla are selling them, and as the Irish Baku transport team says:

The most exciting thing about the arrival of electric HGVs has to be the environmental benefit. Any truck that can produce zero carbon emissions over the course of its lifetime is a world-changing investment worth making.

It doesn’t mean electric HGVs will be here tomorrow, but they will be here and probably quicker than SWE would like to think.  As new cars are scheduled to be ‘all-electric’ by 2030 (and depending on climate events, that date might be sooner), then this well could prove to be ‘surplus to requirements’.

At a Council meeting on February 18th Kira Robinson, a member of XR, put a question to the councillors.  ‘This proposal,’ she said, ‘is obviously inconsistent with the Council’s efforts to move towards a more sustainable future for Dorset…. The Government’s own wildlife adviser, Natural England, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency have all criticised the application’s flawed ecological assessments, especially regarding the threat of pollution to potable water supplies.

Apparently the drilling could go through one of the local aquifers, prompting people’s real concerns about potable water pollution.  SWEL promises to return the proposed site (currently part of an arable field) to its former state after drilling is finished – in two weeks, no less.  How will they repair the compacted soil that will have been contaminated and made inert by the surfacing materials?

Kira Robinson pointed out in her question to the Council that the Dorset Council’s draft 4-year plan had said “It is clear that the climate and ecological emergency must inform the council’s decisions and actions for the foreseeable future“.  Well, that didn’t last long.  The approved 4-year plan has watered that down to something meaningless.

In reply to her plea for the Council to show leadership in saying no to this proposal, the response from Cllr David Walsh leant heavily on ‘government policy’ on minerals and energy that, of course, the Council has to follow.  Not to do so would cost them money.  He said that ‘Dorset hosts nationally important energy minerals which society is still dependent upon until such times as human energy needs can be entirely decarbonised.’  The thing is, you encourage businesses to invest in renewables by not supporting new fossil fuel projects.  You can’t carry on as usual until energy is entirely decarbonised.  It doesn’t work that way.  But, claims Councillor Walsh:

Dorset Council is not in a position to refuse planning permission for oil and gas development on climate grounds. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Dorset Council would be able to change its local policies to resist hydrocarbon development on climate change grounds unless and until there is a change in national policy.

Poor powerless Council.  Not brave enough to do what the earth needs, not as brave as many authorities that are aiming to be net-zero by 2030, and certainly not as brave as Cheshire East Unitary authority that has a target date of 2025.

That all sounds terribly reasonable until one considers the facts that David (‘greenest government ever’ to ‘get rid of all the green crap’) Cameron’s government:

  • Cut down the feed-in tariffs for small solar panel installations in 2015, a real blow to people who wanted to go green but couldn’t afford the total cost.  Under Theresa May, tariffs were scrapped altogether in April 2019.
  • Also in 2015, the government introduced strict regulations which effectively banned onshore wind farms in England.  This year Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead for wind farms because the lower prices of wind farm energy makes it significantly cheaper than other forms of low-carbon electricity.  However, Scotland’s wind farms are way ahead, and are on track to supply 100 per cent of its needed electricity in 2020.

And, regardless of climate change, the Conservatives love fossil fuel (and, through their lobbyists, fossil fuel companies have a huge influence on their politics and policies) they:

  • Have consistently backed fracking and although that is confined to England and on hold, they would be quite happy to allow it in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty such as West Dorset.
  • Continue to subsidise fossil fuel companies at a bigger level than renewable energy, and spend more on fossil fuel than the rest of the EU.  Germany, for instance, provided the biggest energy subsidies, with €27bn for renewable energy, almost three times the €9.5bn given to fossil fuels.  And the UK’s nuclear energy has historically got more funding than renewables.
  • Give tax breaks to major oil companies.  According to DeSmog: ‘Since 2015, the Treasury has given the industry tax breaks worth £2.3 billion’.  DeSmog also reports that UK ‘is the worst of G7 countries for ‘hiding’ fossil fuel subsidies.
  • In 2018 a Platform report showed that, via the government’s Prosperity Fund, money earmarked to support overseas development had been spent on supporting China’s fracking industry, to the tune of £2 million.
  • The Prosperity Fund also financed oil and gas projects in India, Brazil and Mexico.  Twelve of the 16 fossil fuel projects funded by the Prosperity Fund reference the creation of “opportunities for international, including UK businesses”, or an “improved business environment” as an expected outcome.

And as Mike Small, editor of Bella Caledonia, wrote: In this week’s much celebrated budget we were told to expect a “Budget that put climate and environment first” but we got a fuel duty freeze and £27 billion more spent on roads”.  Roads mean vehicles, means petrol, means oil. 

Clearly, oil is there to be invested in, made money from by a chosen few.  The corporate world is not environment-friendly, nor apparently worried about the effects of climate change.  The environment-friendly Triodos Bank’s 2018 annual report. said that: ‘The world’s top banks have poured US$1.9 trillion into fossil fuels since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.’

And surely, if government bodies Natural England and the Environment Agency are strongly critical of the Puddletown proposal, one could and should claim they are also part of ‘government policy’.  They should be listened to.

Damien Carrington, writing in the Guardian, said that:

There is no deadline to save the world.  Everything we do now has to pass the climate test… Taken together, the justice and economic arguments make it imperative that every decision taken every day by governments, businesses and communities must pass the climate test: will it cut emissions? From power plants to buildings, transport to farming, projects commissioned today will be running well beyond 2030. (My emphasis)

But, while West Dorset people fight against the Puddletown oil well, others in Longburton in the northern part of West Dorset are fighting against a plan for a solar park. Puddletown wants to fight climate change, and protect its ecology and water.  Dorset is a good place for solar energy as it is, despite the endless rain over the winter, rated as the sunniest county in England, but Longburton doesn’t want its pretty rural views spoilt.  Climate change doesn’t come into it.  Hence Dorset Council’s dilemma.  If they back the solar park project and reject the oil well, they are recognising the climate emergency.  If they back the Puddletown oil well and reject the solar park, they are saying the climate emergency is unimportant.

And if they back both projects and reject both projects, the Council is suffering from a bad schizophrenic episode based solely on party ideology.

Incendiary Extinctions: Australian Fires and the Species Effect

Cocooned as it is from the world of science scepticism, the handling of the bush fire catastrophe unfolding in Australia is going to one of the more notable (non)achievements of the Morrison government.  They were warned; they were chided; they were prodded.  But the measures lagged and the flames came.

To a certain extent, this remains unfair.  Australian governments, across colours and persuasions, have found managing the environment a problematic, and inconvenient affair.  Being a country rich in resources readymade for digging and export, environment ministers have become the executing tribunes of mining rights and interests before the preservation of flora and fauna species.  Miners, rights, not Earth rights, are what counts.  Talk of climate change responses is heavily weighted in favour of pro-emission and polluting measures; greening projects look like acts of ecological pantomime.  Australia remains a country transfixed and terrified by Nature, even as it mangles or ignores it.

With that in mind, the flames that continue to consume Australia have not merely destroyed agriculture, property and human life; they have had an impact on animal species that remains hard to measure.  As a general rule, these events now have the makings of the unprecedented, at least in terms of human records.  There are fire fronts that stretch like scars of battle across terrain.  Smoke plumes half the size of Europe have been noted.

Updates on the progress of the flames resemble a relentless disaster narrative.  Over 25.5 million acres of land, or territory the size of South Korea, is a figure that has caught the eye of news outlets.  Images from NASA’s Earth Observatory, its Suomi-NPP satellite and the Himawari 8 Japanese satellite of the Japanese Meteorological Agency, have shown the international print being left by the fires.

Little wonder that the more terrestrial assessments of impacts have turned their focus on species extinction, a point that was bound to happen given Australia’s already unflattering honour of having the highest rate of mammal extinction on the planet.  They are far more than the shrieks and howls of pain coming from koalas as they are incinerated to death, or the charred remains of kangaroos left in a funereal silver-ash landscape.   It is the post-apocalyptic aftermath, when species find themselves in a world of ash and remains, with food and shelter miserably scarce.

The extinction literature, speculative and more solidly grounded, is burgeoning.  Six Australian professors have stuck to the safe, if dark premise by claiming in The Conversation that “most of the range and population of between 20 and 100 threatened species will have been burnt.  Such species include the long-footed potoroo, Kangaroo Island’s glossy black cockatoo and the Spring midge orchid.”

Another unnerving estimate from January 3, and applicable to the state of New South Wales alone, put the toll of birds, mammals and reptiles affected by the conflagrations at 480 million.  (The number did not include insects, bats or frogs.)  “Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes.”

Within five days, an updated assessment from Professor Chris Dickman almost doubled the initial NSW figures.  Across the continent, a billion animals are said to have perished.  In an interview with National Public Radio in the US, Dickman suggested that the figures were exceptionally staggering.  “I think there’s nothing quite to compare with the devastation that’s going on over such a large area so quickly.  It’s a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected.”

The disaster for such species is one of ongoing affects; the fire leaves the initial destructive mark, with these being particular savage.  According to wildlife rescue volunteer Sarah Price, “We are not seeing the amount of animals coming into care or needing rescuing that we would normally anticipate.”  The implication is hard to avoid: “We think a lot perished in the fires.”

Some animals might well survive the scorching, but insatiable and uninterrupted land clearing coupled with the busyness of introduced fauna varieties does the rest.  The impacts of fire events also remove habitat sanctuaries for wildlife, be they layers of fallen leaves, specific shrubs important as food sources, or log and tree hollows.

Should there ever be an ecological tribunal vested in powers to assess government actions over the years on the subject, the failure to put in measures to protect species from calamity may well have to top the list.  A reckless, occasionally malicious stupidity might count as motivation, but by then, not much will be left to protect.  Any punishment will be left without a purpose.

The management of biodiversity and ecosystems, involving measures taken to bolster and buffer against the next catastrophe – for there will be more – matter far more.  The discussion, as it stands, remains asphyxiated by the smoke and rage, with an overwhelming focus on human suffering, the calls for donations to human survivors, the search for compensation.  The earth and its non-human inhabitants remain the statistics of silent suffering and, after this event, some will go the way of their doomed ancestors. As ever, Australia remains, as Dickman claims, the canary in the coal mine in terms of climate effects and human response.  And the canary is not looking too good.