‘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 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.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
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