Spain Battles Largest Wildfire in 20 Years as Europe Sizzles in Deadly Heat Wave
The fire has burned 12,355 acres in the Catalan province of Tarragona, killed hundreds of sheep and forced 53 people to evacuate their homes.
"We're facing a serious fire on a scale not seen for 20 years," Catalan interior minister Miquel Buch said in a tweet reported by The Guardian. "It could burn through 20,000 hectares. Let's be very aware that any carelessness could lead to a catastrophe."
Ens trobem davant un incendi greu que feia 20 anys que no patíem. Han cremat 3.500 hac. en 6 hores i es podria arri… https://t.co/AXrWiWxfgs— Miquel Buch (@Miquel Buch)1561579758.0
The fire ignited Wednesday, and authorities believe it started when chicken manure poorly stored on a farm spontaneously combusted in response to the high heat, USA Today reported. The paper explained the phenomenon:
Spontaneous combustion can occur when materials self-heat, reaching a high enough temperature for ignition to occur, according to the National Park Service. In the case of manure, microbes inside the dung can release heat until "it erupts into fire," according to Wired magazine.
A massive, 2,000-ton pile of manure in Nebraska burned for three months in 2005, per the magazine, and a Southern California manure fire in burned 6,000 acres in 2009.
Catalan Fire Department Chief David Borrell said the region's hilly geography made fighting the blaze more difficult.
"The problem is not so much the resources available but rather the difficulty of the terrain and the weather conditions," he said in an interview reported by USA Today.
Temperatures are expected to top 44 degrees Celsius in northern Spain and southern France, The Guardian reported.
In the southern French départements of Hérault, Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône officials have raised the heat alert to red, the first time since the system was put in place following a 2003 heat wave that killed 15,000.
"All members of the public should be concerned, even those who are in good health," the French interior ministry cautioned, according to The Guardian.
University meteorologist Ruben Hallali tweeted Thursday's heat map for France next to a picture of Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream to emphasize the temperature extremes, The Guardian further reported.
A gauche carte des températures à 1500m prévues par GFS. A droite le cri de Munch. Jamais vu ça en 15 que je regar… https://t.co/jKHUdMQmRe— Ruben H (@Ruben H)1561029087.0
So far, the extreme heat has claimed at least three victims. Three elderly French people died after suffering heart attacks while swimming, Grist reported. A 72-year-old homeless Romanian man who was found dead near a train station in Milan Thursday may also have succumbed to the heat, BBC News reported.
Meanwhile, June temperature records were broken in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic on Wednesday, according to BBC News.
Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said the current heat wave was consistent with scientific predictions for the impact of the climate crisis.
The hottest summers since 1500 AD in Europe were: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002. Each summer gets one vertical line,… https://t.co/pzTbIR4B5s— Stefan Rahmstorf (@Stefan Rahmstorf)1561374388.0
"Weather data show that heatwaves and other weather extremes are on the rise in recent decades," he said, as The Guardian reported. "The hottest summers in Europe since the year AD1500 all occurred since the turn of the last century: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002."
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.