As smoke from hundreds of wildfires in Canada spread across eastern U.S. cities the past few days, Americans are getting a preview of what the runaway Greenhouse will look like. It isn't pretty, and neither are the health threats from the notorious, small scale PM 2, 5 particles, e.g.
The hundreds of fires burning since May, from the western provinces to Nova Scotia and Quebec, are now affecting tens of millions of people in the U.S. The effects, barely visible in NYC early Wednesday became most pronounced by 2:00 p.m. converting regular scenes into apocalyptic vistas.
But despite such comments, the critics were reminded by numerous others that - even if the fires weren't direcly triggered by climate change- they were surely magnified and accelerated by it. For example, nearly all the Canadian forest trees being turned into smoldering ash now had already been turned into tinder for any spark to set off.
We were first alerted to this in the acclaimed book, 'The Dying of the Trees',
While Charles Little's book examined many aspects of the 'pandemic' affecting trees, forests from New England to the mountain West - including acid rain, clear cutting and UV radiation, one element stood out for me: pests rendering trees, forests tinder wood. A June 2013 Washington Post article entitled: Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates, went even further noting:
"Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the
The beetle referenced above is the mountain pine beetle, a variant of the bark beetle species. Its modus operandi is basically to convert living plant tissue - say in trees - into highly flammable dead bark for which the slightest spark can set off a conflagration. Thus, sure a lightning strike can set it off - as well as a carelessly tossed cigarette- but the accelerant effect resides in the nature of the tinder itself. The beetle then, is a major catalyst for all the presently raging and uncontained Colorado wildfires as well as those in Alberta, and other areas of Canada including Nova Scotia.
This also belies the WSJ editorial claims yesterday (p. A16) that:
“The bigger culprit - more than climate change- is poor forest management that has let fuel accumulate over decades.”
The point missed by these nattering nabobs is that minus the ravages of the mountain pine beetle - forest management - to the extent covering over 9 million acres, would not be needed. (As if such management is even practical.) And it was climate change that drove the explosion of the beetles. (Warmer than average winters allowing them to multiply.) So the WSJ claim is somewhat like blaming the escape of cattle from a barn on poor feeding techniques - when the barn door was left open.
In addition the WSJ's own news piece contradicts its editors (on the op -ed page) where we see on p. A5 (Wildfires Jump Globally As Climate Heats Up):
"The Arctic region has warmed nearly four times as fast as the rest of the world according to Carly Phillips, a Boston-based research scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Also noting:
“In the boreal areas—mostly conifer forests with long winters and short summers—of Canada and Alaska, she said the annual area burned has nearly doubled in the past 60 years, along with an increase in the frequency of large fires. Russia’s vast Siberian forests have been consumed by giant fires, too. Phillips said this year’s outbreak, while unprecedented in size, is just following the trend.”
Further, a study published last year found that wildfires in boreal North America could release up to 12 gigatons (Gt) of carbon dioxide from now to 2050, releasing the carbon that they store into the atmosphere when they burn. This is more than ample to push us into the cusp of the runaway greenhouse effect, e.g.
Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry reached a new record of 36.8Gt in 2022, the International Energy Agency calculated.
While boreal forest fires are not unusual in spring, climate scientists have observed the increasing intensity of fires over the past decade as average temperatures in the north of the planet have risen faster than closer to the equator as a result of global warming. This also has occurred as the reflective snow and ice of the Arctic has melted away. Earlier this year, researchers found that summertime fires in boreal forests had expanded since 2000, and contributed close to a quarter of total carbon emissions from wildfires in 2021, releasing a record 1.76bn tons of CO₂. As the graphic below indicates, climate change has certainly increased potential for wildfires and will in the near and distant future:
This as fossil fuel consuming humans continue to ignore all the warning signs and go on their merry way consuming oil, coal and gas. Even publishing book reviews such as the following from the latest Intertel journal:
The reviewer (Carolyn Simon) is correct, of course, that fossil fuel consumption has led to human "flourishing" - but perhaps too much - as we now approach a possible world of ten billion by 2050, which will be totally unsustainable. Also, one must interject at what cost has this been to our very survival? Ms. Simon claims that "without more fossil power the world will face growing famine and starvation".. I submit that will happen faster with fossil fuel use as the ravaged climate system imposes massive human costs across the globe - including millions more climate refugees.
The only way to avert that end - if we are not prepared to radically cut the use of fossil fuels - is to cut human numbers so we do not reach 10 billion by 2050. That means severe birth restriction, including limiting families to one or none, and also draconian measures if the restrictions are flouted. Ms. Simon, like the book's author, is living in a fantasyland.
Simon's blather notwithstanding, tens of millions of Americans face smoke-filled skies for the forseeable future as the planet's thermostat ramps up and more forests are ravaged. It may reach a point where we need to incorporate "smoke waves" (with highest alarms for air quality > 400) signaling longer lasting, more intense assaults on our lungs. In particular, the nature of PM 2, 5 particles, able to lodge deep in the lungs triggering the worst asthma as well as strokes, heart attacks. With my prostate cancer metastasis, I may be one of the "lucky" ones not to be around to see the worst - when alveoli in lungs begin to rupture from the stress and O2 machines run out.
I’m writing this from my smoky apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Looking out my window, the sky is orange. It smells like an ashtray. Even though I’ve been staying indoors, my eyes are red, I have a headache, and my lungs are sore. The air quality index hit a staggering 484 on Wednesday afternoon—nearly 200 points higher than what is considered hazardous for all living beings. News outlets have reported this week that New York had the worst air pollution of any city in the world.
The immediate cause of this crisis is wildfires in Canada, the real cause is the climate crisis. Colonial land management and global climate change is making the conditions that lead to these wildfires becoming more and more common.