550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis
Two small communities near Anderson, Alaska were ordered to evacuate late Thursday due to a wildfire, as the state's summer of heat and smoke continues.
The Kobe Fire was reported at 6:45 p.m. Thursday and by 10:50 p.m. had grown to 600 acres, The Alaska Division of Forestry reported. There are no reports that anyone was burned, but multiple buildings were threatened, prompting the evacuation of the Kobe and Anderson subdivisions. The residents of the City of Anderson, around 10 miles northeast of the blaze, were told to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.
The fire is the latest to ignite in Alaska, where 1.2 million acres have burned so far this year, making 2019 one of the state's three biggest wildfire years, according to InsideClimate News. Increasing Arctic wildfires have long been predicted in models of potential impacts of the climate crisis.
"When it comes to the Arctic heat wave, the wildfires, am I surprised? No — this was long predicted. Am I worried? Yes," Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann told InsideClimate News.
Alaska's fires show the footprints of climate change in multiple ways. Higher temperatures are drying out the tundra and northern boreal forests. Alaska has experienced a record-breaking heat wave this spring and summer. The temperatures for the entire state for July 2018 to June 2019 averaged above freezing for the first time in 95 years, according to NOAA data.
For the first time in 95 years of record, @NOAANCEIclimate analysis puts the July-to-June average temperature for A… https://t.co/JqSg0PJE4o— Rick Thoman (@Rick Thoman)1562731261.0
Climate change is also making lightning storms more likely, which were responsible for many of Alaska's fires this year, International Arctic Research Center scientist Brian Brettschneider told InsideClimate News. Lightning sparked 12 new fires in the state on Wednesday alone, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.
Lightning strikes spark dozen new wildfires in Southwest Alaska on Wednesday https://t.co/J90KSWhEVC https://t.co/Kvq4HdbBZC— AK Forestry (@AK Forestry)1562892173.0
On July 8, Alaska's Hess Creek Fire was reported as the largest burning in the U.S. at 145,321 acres, according to Alaska Wildland Fire Information. The fire has been burning since June 21 in a part of central Alaska 80 miles north of Fairbanks, CNN reported.
"We're all socked in with smoke," firefighter spokesperson Sarah Wheeler told CNN. "It's a smoky mess."
#Alaska's #HessCreekFire is now the nation's largest #wildfire in 2019 - CNN https://t.co/Wr0JMNOkOG— Janice Dash (@Janice Dash)1562702294.0
Currently, more than 550,000 of the 782,681 acres on fire in the U.S. are in Alaska, according to the National Interagency Coordination Center situation report. To put that in perspective, 505,900 acres burned in California in the state's record wildfire year in 2017. However, fires in Alaska tend not to threaten human communities as often. Livengood, where the Hess Creek Fire is burning, only has a population of 13. Wheeler said some cabins were threatened by the flames, but most were not permanent homes.
"Alaskans are used to living with fire," Wheeler told CNN.
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By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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