By Beth Pratt
Last night from my neighbor’s deck, I watched the eerie glow of flames from one of the largest wildfires in California history. At my own house the top of the giant pyrocumulus—a cloud created by the intense heat of the fire—looms over the trees today. The airspace above my home has become a regular flyway, with DC10s soaring overhead carrying flame retardant, and helicopters buzzing by with their water filled “bambi buckets.”
Known as the Rim Fire, to date it has burned almost 160,000 acres (roughly the size of Chicago) with about 22,000 of those acres in Yosemite. Not surprisingly, given its immense size and threats to a cherished national park, the fire has prompted a media blitz, headlining everywhere from CNN to the BBC to Al Jazeera.
Yet almost universally missing from the media coverage, as usual? That climate change is making wildfires more frequent and more intense. As they have in past years, reporters won’t connect the dots in their main stories, treating the science that’s staring us in the face as a side story.
My neighbors and I lamented over this glaring omission last night as we viewed the smoke and flames that had become an all too familiar sight on our local landscape. We are living on the front lines of a new reality partially shaped by climate change. This is the fourth large fire in the Southern Yosemite area that we have faced this summer. In July, the Carsten’s Fire burned a mere mile from my house and we breathed smoke from the Aspen Fire daily for three weeks (although at least we could enjoy the amazing sunsets the fire produced while coughing). My home has been regularly filled with fire refugees this past week and many close friends are currently displaced, waiting to see if their houses have been destroyed.
And it’s only August, far from the end of fire season in California.
Scientists have long predicted that both the intensity and duration of fires would be increased by climate change. And in California and the West, this certainly is playing out. So why the media silence?
I spoke to Jan van Wagtendonk, research forester, emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey and area resident. He has done landmark research on fire ecology in his more than forty years of working in Yosemite and is the co-editor of the book Fire in California’s Ecosystems.
“There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is contributing to the intensity of these fires with the drought and the dryness," he said. "Even though we have cyclical droughts and climate changes naturally, we are out of balance.”
Doug Inkley, senior scientist with National Wildlife Federation (NWF), puts it simply: “The smoking gun here is climate change.”
Just to be clear, fire isn’t inherently bad and serves as a vital part of a forest ecosystem. But as van Wagtendonk observes, climate change disturbs the equilibrium of fire ecology.
“Once a fire has burned, the ecosystem doesn’t set back to a normal cycle like in the past," Wagtendonk explains. "Instead a whole new ecology or different habitat than what the animals are used to gets created. The system is seeking a new equilibrium, and that means everything we have become accustomed to changes.”
Across the American West, there’s growing evidence these increasingly intense wildfires are permanently changing landscapes already being altered by global warming. And wildlife is certainly impacted by these changes.
“Generally for a more intense fire, animals cannot adjust to the habitat changes, which affects everything from mosquitoes to bighorn sheep,” said van Wagtendonk.
Steve Thompson, Yosemite’s chief of wildlife management, noted that fire can be both beneficial and detrimental to wildlife, depending on the intensity of the fire. “What we see here in Yosemite is fire returning to the ecosystem, but if it uniformly burns too hot or too intensely it can destroy suitable habitat.”
Other factors, like historic fire suppression practices exacerbate the problem and can combine with climate change influences to create a perfect “firestorm” scenario. Challenges to wildlife are not just limited to California as National Wildlife Magazine’s current issue features the article, Wildlife Feels the Heat, about how fires and other climate change related phenomena threaten animals nationwide.
According to Thompson, some wildlife that might be impacted in Yosemite includes the already threatened mountain yellow-legged frog, and the rare and endangered Yosemite great gray owl. The fire could alter water quality from sedimentation and run-off for the frog, and also destroy nesting areas for the owl. For other wildlife, mobility is a key defense strategy and unless the fire is moving too fast, the animals may be able to outrun it.
One of Yosemite’s iconic tree species, however, cannot outrun the blaze. Two giant sequoias groves, the Tuolumne and the Merced, are in the fire’s proximity. Giant sequoias are adapted to fire, but park officials are concerned enough to set sprinklers around them. Tom Medema, Yosemite’s chief of interpretation told USA Today, “It’s really unthinkable to lose sequoias that have survived fire for 2,000 to 3,000 years.”
These magnificent and hardy trees actually need fire to reproduce and have an unusually thick bark that provides a protective insulation. But parts of the Rim Fire are burning hotter and higher than usual, and if this type of “crown fire” reaches the groves, it could be more than the trees could withstand.
The human impact of fire in my area has also been devastating. Twenty-three structures have already burned, and thousands more are threatened. The Berkeley Family Camp, which has been in operation since 1922, burned almost to the ground. The gateway town of Groveland will lose significant tourist revenues over one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, and the fire forced the cancellation of the popular Strawberry Music Festival. The fire also threatens water and power sources for San Francisco. Yosemite Valley—the crown jewel of the crown jewel park—does not face imminent danger and remains open and accessible except through the Highway 120 west entrance.
The most significant human impact, however, is the almost 4,000 firefighters that are risking their lives to try to contain the blaze. Dick Fleishman of the U.S. Forest Service calls the Rim Fire the “highest priority in the nation” and has allocated significant resources to protecting Yosemite and the surrounding communities.
Yet we are running out of these resources. The national fire preparedness level has been raised to a level five—its highest point—meaning we might not have enough firefighters to protect us. Additionally, funding is an issue. Along with the challenge of sequester cuts, the U.S. Forest Service had to recently place a freeze on other funds in order to cover the increasing fire-related expenses, even though it already allocates half of its budget for firefighting.
Given all these factors, why are we not using this fire that has captured the nation’s attention as an example of the devastating results of climate change?
“We have a problem and we are out of time—failing to connect the dots is irresponsible for it downplays the urgency of the tragedies, such as extreme wildfires, that we are witnessing in Yosemite and other regions in the west,” said Felice Stadler of NWF.
I know wildfire is a crucial part of forest ecology and the threat of fire a normal part of life when you live in the mountains. But these extreme fires are not part of Mother Nature’s deal, and a superfire burning in my beloved Yosemite National Park seems to up the ante beyond the natural balance.
Yosemite is my favorite place on earth. I live on its southern border, worked in the park for almost a decade and spend most of my free time wandering in its sublime backcountry. It bothers me (actually, it infuriates me) knowing that an extreme fire—partially fueled by human caused climate change—may have a great impact on my home and a place I cherish.
I don’t want firefighters to risk their lives, or constant smoke and flames to become the new summer tradition in California, or a 2,000 year-old stand of ancient trees to burn because we couldn’t end our dependence on fossil fuels.
Do any of us want that on our conscience? We didn’t start the fire, but we have certainly added fuel to it through our refusal to address climate change. How much of Yosemite will we let burn before we act?
This article was originally published on National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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A powerful series of thunderstorms roared across the Midwest on Monday, downing trees, damaging structures and knocking out power to more than a million people.
By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
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By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
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By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson
On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
Deaths From COVID-19 Per Million Population<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU0ODIyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjkzMDc1OX0.7Yp1h1hokihlMJUurDukGmq-Y8NJB0V-07O1ukEjGt0/img.png?width=980" id="0fe6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bce85a610aee18e2f4f1c1caca7b8a0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<div id="77fff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce7b34f8986d3d36bee5d4d83ac0822c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1292270210238447616" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">COVID-19 Update There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today. It has been 100 days since t… https://t.co/Cz55ixGZUz</div> — Unite against COVID-19 (@Unite against COVID-19)<a href="https://twitter.com/covid19nz/statuses/1292270210238447616">1596936201.0</a></blockquote></div>
Getting Through the Pandemic<p>We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v4" target="_blank">slightly below 1%</a>.</p><p>This infection also causes serious <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2815" target="_blank">long-term consequences</a> for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5" target="_blank">immunity to this virus</a>, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.</p><p>This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310086/" target="_blank">impact on Māori and Pasifika populations</a> could be catastrophic.</p><p>We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.</p><p>Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:</p><ul><li>resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system</li><li>ensuring all New Zealanders own a <a href="https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/mass-masking-an-alternative-to-a-second-lockdown-in-aotearoa" target="_blank">re-useable fabric face mask</a> with their <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354409" target="_blank">use built into the alert level system</a></li><li>conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including "mass masking days" to engage the public in the response</li><li>carefully exploring processes to allow <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/16/preventing-outbreaks-of-covid-19-in-nz-associated-with-air-travel-from-australia-new-modelling-study-of-alternatives-to-quarantine/" target="_blank">quarantine-free travel</a> between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)</li><li>planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.</li></ul>
Building Back Better<p>New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.</p><p>We should conduct an <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/11/five-key-reasons-why-nz-should-have-an-official-inquiry-into-the-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">official inquiry into the COVID-19 response</a> so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.</p><p>We also need to establish a specialized national public health agency to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2017/12/20/the-havelock-north-drinking-water-inquiry-a-wake-up-call-to-rebuild-public-health-in-new-zealand/" target="_blank">manage serious threats to public health</a> and provide critical mass to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/02/05/a-preventable-measles-epidemic-lessons-for-reforming-public-health-in-nz/" target="_blank">advance public health generally</a>. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.</p><p>Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12353555" target="_blank">Massey University survey</a> suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.</p><p>New Zealand's elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203" target="_blank">published</a> in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.</p>
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