Man-Made Global Warming Root Cause of Relentless Forest Fires
By Paul Brown
Climate change has already doubled the number of forest fires in the western U.S. since the 1980s—and it is a trend that will continue to increase, according to new research.
The study says the rise in temperatures and aridity sucks the moisture out of the plants, trees, dead vegetation on the ground and the soil, and is part of a worldwide trend of ever-increasing wildfires.
A wildfire in Bitterroot National Forest, Montana.John McColgan / Wikipedia
Scientists from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory pin the blame firmly on human-induced climate change—a significant statement in a country where many Republican supporters still refuse to accept that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming.
There has been a lively debate about the issue and the scientists make clear in research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that they wanted the settle the argument.
Bigger Fire Years
"No matter how hard we try, the fires are going to keep getting bigger and the reason is really clear," said the study's co-author Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the NASA Earth Observatory. "Climate is really running the show in terms of what burns. We should be getting ready for bigger fire years than those familiar to previous generations."
Forest fires in the U.S. west began increasing in the 1980s—as measured by area burned, the number of large fires and length of the fire season. The increases have continued and, while there are a number of contributing factors, the study concludes that at least 55 percent of the increase is due to man-made climate change.
"A lot of people are throwing around the words climate change and fire—specifically, fire chiefs and the governor of California last year started calling this the 'new normal'," said the study's lead author, John Abatzoglou, associate professor of geography at the University of Idaho. "We wanted to put some numbers on it."
All is not quiet on the Western wildfire front https://t.co/3wszgrjnxV via @EcoWatch https://t.co/ULQYmrcNAQ— Climate Nexus (@Climate Nexus)1472054521.0
Since 1984, temperatures in the forests of the western U.S. have increased 1.5 C (2.7 F) and resulting aridity has caused forest fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have—an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.
Williams and Abatzoglou said their research does not take into account some factors that could be offshoots of climate warming and thus they may be understating the effect.
These include millions of trees killed in recent years by beetles that prefer warmer weather and declines in spring soil moisture brought on by earlier snowmelt. There is also evidence that lightning—the usual initial spark of forest fires—may increase with global warming.
The overall increase in forest fires since the 1980s is considerably more than the researchers attribute solely to climate change; the rest is due to other factors.
One factor has been a long-term natural climate oscillation over the Pacific Ocean that has steered storms away from the western U.S.
Another is firefighting itself. By constantly putting out fires, authorities have allowed areas they "saved" to build up more dry fuel, which later ignites and causes ever more catastrophic blazes.
Fighting Forest Fires
The costs of fighting forest fires have risen sharply in step and the federal government alone spent more than $2.1 billion last year. "We're seeing the consequence of very successful fire suppression, except now it's not that successful anymore," Abatzoglou said.
Wildfires of all kinds have been increasing worldwide, often with a suspected climate connection. Many see a huge fire that leveled part of the northern city of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, last May as the result of a warming trend that is drying out northern forests.
Fires have even been spreading beyond, into the tundra regions, in places where blazes have not been seen for thousands of years.
The effects go beyond loss of trees and other vegetation. A 2012 study estimates that smoke from forest fires worldwide causes long-term health effects that kill some 340,000 people each year, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia.
Carbon released to the air adds to the burden of greenhouse gases already there, thus producing even more warming. And soot settling on snow and ice causes them to absorb more heat and melt faster.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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