‘Unprecedented’ Wildfires Scorch Oregon and Washington, Force Thousands to Flee
Wildfires raged through Oregon and Washington Monday and Tuesday, prompting evacuations, blanketing Seattle in unhealthy levels of smoke and destroying nearly all of a small Washington farming town.
The town of Malden in eastern Washington lost 80 percent of its structures including its fire station, post office, City Hall and library after a fast-moving blaze roared through on Monday, NPR reported.
"The scale of this disaster really can't be expressed in words," Whitman County Sheriff Brett Myers said in a statement reported by NPR. "The fire will be extinguished, but a community has been changed for a lifetime. I just hope we don't find the fire took more than homes and buildings. I pray everyone got out in time."
Per @PalouseNews these photos show the near total destruction of Malden, Wa. hit by an unbelievably fast wildfire j… https://t.co/1hQQAVp6ML— Zanders (@Zanders)1599523505.0
As of early Tuesday, there were no reports of injuries from the fire.
In the rest of Washington state, fires consumed more than 330,000 acres in a 24-hour period, fueled by strong winds and dry vegetation, NBC News reported.
"More acres burned yesterday than in 12 of the last entire fire seasons in the state of Washington," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Tuesday press conference, as NBC News reported.
Yesterday, 330,000 acres burned in WA. That’s more than 12 of the last 18 entire fire seasons. In a single day. https://t.co/Op7UEfhTNA— Governor Jay Inslee (@Governor Jay Inslee)1599603875.0
The two largest fires burning in the state are the 174,000-acre Pearl Hill Fire, in Douglas County, and the 163,000-acre Cold Springs Fire near Omak. Neither was contained at all as of Tuesday's press conference. The Babbs-Malden Fire, the blaze that destroyed Malden, had spread to 8,943 acres and was also not contained.
West of the cascades, a fire burned through Graham, Washington Monday, destroying six homes and forcing around 100 people to evacuate, The Seattle Times reported.
"You didn't have time to pack clothes, it was like, get out, now," 55-year-old construction worker Tim VanBrocklin told The Seattle Times. "It was pretty nasty here, embers flying around our faces."
A drone shot capturing the destruction and devastation after a brush fire exploded overnight in #Graham. Firefighte… https://t.co/h043ssF4HM— Graham Fire & Rescue (@Graham Fire & Rescue)1599573628.0
The wind that drove the fires also carried their smoke into the Seattle area Monday night and Tuesday morning.
"It was so smoky you couldn't see across the water, you couldn't see the ferry boats coming across until the last few moments," Andy Lipscomb, who works in Seattle, told KOMO News Tuesday.
Puget Sound Clean Air Agency scientists predict that air quality in the area will remain at "unhealthy" or "unhealthy for sensitive groups" levels through Wednesday and possibly into Thursday as easterly winds continue to blow.
Smoke arrives. #wawx A short animation of satellite images late this afternoon (as downloaded from the excellent C… https://t.co/znJnvM1pdE— NWS Seattle (@NWS Seattle)1599528618.0
In neighboring Oregon, wildfires have prompted thousands to flee their homes, ABC News reported.
One of those people was Jody Evans of Detroit, Oregon.
"Fire on both sides, winds blowing, ash flying — it was like driving through hell," Evans told NewsChannel 21. "Did you lose everything, or is the only thing you saved yourself?"
There were 35 active fires burning more than 367,279 acres in the state, ABC News reported early Wednesday morning. The fires prompted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to issue an emergency conflagration declaration. This frees up state resources to battle blazes too big for local crews to handle on their own, USA TODAY explained.
"This is proving to be an unprecedented and significant fire event for our state, and frankly for the entire West Coast," Brown said, as USA TODAY reported.
Listen up: We're in an unprecedented fire event. Several significant, growing fires across the state continue to sp… https://t.co/TVaCf3n7lQ— Governor Kate Brown (@Governor Kate Brown)1599605189.0
The climate crisis has increased fire risk in the Pacific Northwest.
"We can't attribute single fire events to climate change. But the trends in large fire events that have been occurring in the region are consistent with expected trends in a warming climate," University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences assistant professor Brian Harvey said in April.
Fires are encouraged by wetter winters that swell vegetation growth and drier summers that dry it out, creating more fuel, Washington state climatologist Nick Bond told The Seattle Times. This weather pattern is expected to increase as the climate warms.
Inslee, who ran for president with a campaign centered on climate action, acknowledged these changes.
"This is an unprecedented and heartbreaking event … We're living in a new world. This is not the old Washington," Inslee said Tuesday, as The Seattle Times reported. "A fire that you might've seen that was going to be OK over time isn't OK anymore because the conditions are so dry, they're so hot, they're so windy — because the climate has changed."
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.