'The Beast Continues to Burn Out of Control'
The fire that the locals call “the beast" is back with a vengeance. Last week, the wildfire that ravaged parts of the tar sands town of Fort McMurray in Alberta seemed to have done its worst. But in recent days it has returned and headed to the tar sands camps north of the town, traveling at around 30-40 meters per second.
Thousands of tar sands workers are now under mandatory evacuation orders after a 665-bed camp belonging to Horizon Lodge Logistics, which was providing temporary housing, was completely destroyed by the fire.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire had reached the edge of another camp: the Noralta Lodge camp, just a few kilometers east of Blacksand.
“It's so scary and intimidating," said one tar sands worker, B.J. Spears, in an interview Tuesday. “You just get on those buses and pray that you're headed away from the danger."
“It continues to burn out of control," Rachel Notley, the Alberta Premier admitted Tuesday, as the fire reached an area of 355,000 hectares, fueled by bone dry conditions and strong winds. “We expect fire growth in the area of many of these camps today," she added.
Tuesday the strong winds shifted the fire towards the vast Syncrude and Suncor Energy tar sands facilities, which are seen as more resilient to fire, in part due to the large deforested areas of the camps.
Suncor said it had begun shuttering its base plant operations as a precaution, saying in a statement it had “started a staged and orderly shutdown of our base plant operations" and its staff was being transported to camps further north.
Meanwhile, residents hoping to return to the main city of Fort McMurray are being hampered by the continuing threat of wildfires and chronic air pollution blanketing the city.
Earlier this week, the air quality index stood at 38—it is normally measured on a scale of 1 to 10. Remarkably, though, some 90 percent of the town remains largely intact although some neighborhoods have been completely destroyed. According to Premier Notley, there is still no timeline on when residents can return.
Meanwhile the leading eastern edge of the fire is now expected to cross the state border into Saskatchewan.
As the fire rages on so does the debate on whether the fires are the result of climate change. On a blog post earlier this month I quoted Mike Flannigan, a wildfire expert at the University of Alberta who attributes the increase in the number of fires to climate change, fueled this year by the El Nino.
There are others who agree:
“Based on what we know and in which direction the climate is going, yes, we can expect more frequent super fires," argues Marko Princevac, a fire expert at the University of California at Riverside. “There is scientific consensus that climate change will lead to much more intense fires, more dry areas."
We know that fire records in Canada and the U.S. continue to be broken. We also know we are seeing unprecedented warm temperatures over the last few months. We also know that the six worst fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred since 2000.
There is definitely reason to be worried.
Others are arguing that now is not the time to apportion blame regarding climate. We should wait until the emergency is over. Some do not take this view, though.
One of the most powerful responses I have seen has been written by the independent journalist, Martin Lukacs, who lives in Montréal.
Writing in The Guardian last week he wrote: “These arsonists have a name and they're hiding in plain view—because their actions, at the moment, are still considered legal. They're the companies that helped turn the boreal forest into a flammable tinder-box."
He continued: “The same companies that have undermined attempts to rein in carbon emissions. The same companies that, by their very design, chase profits with no mind for the ecological and human consequences. Yet in the fire's aftermath, it has seemed impossible to name them: fossil fuel corporations."
He contended that the fossil fuel companies should “be footing the bill for the devastation." He also asked people to imagine the “resiliency, courage and generosity" that the people of Alberta have shown in response to the fires “being harnessed to lead the transition to a healthier, more just post-carbon society—helping prevent even more extreme weather to come. Imagine the rebuilding of Fort McMurray being not just a page turned on an unprecedented disaster, but the beginning of a new direction."
Maybe, in time, we can imagine a new direction. A place to start would be Alberta's climate plan, which is meant to be published at the end of the month.
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A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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