Tag Archives: wildfires

We Can’t Go Back Once Climate Change Hits A Tipping Point, Warns Climate Reality Activist Bill DeVincenzi

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

What happens when ice caps melt, forests die, the permafrost thaws and microbes multiply?

Climate Reality Activists Bill DeVincenzi and Erin Zimmerman join DesiCollective to clear up some misconceptions  about the pace of climate change. Scientists warn that we are in 6th extinction and that some of these changes are irreversible. Humans only have a ten year window to reverse the chain reaction of ‘feedback loops’ that are escalating the climate change crisis. The world is at a tipping point which can put us over the top to runaway climate change.

 

A Short Primer on Feedback Loops with Bill DeVincenzi & Erin Zimmerman

Climate Reality Leader Bill DeVincenzi

What’s A Feedback Loop?

A feedback loop is defined as a certain set of circumstances that can become self-perpetuating. They are present in everything from machines, and economics, to biological processes. They can be both positive and negative; however, in the case of climate change the consequences would be bad. Very bad.

Why Feedback Loops are Bad

Feedback loops are important to consider when trying to halt the climate crisis. And while entire books can, and have, been written about them, here’s a short primer on why climate action is essential now, and not at some point in the future.

When Earth Loses Its Best Reflector, that’s The Albedo Effect

You wouldn’t think the earth’s reflectively matters but it does. The Albedo effect, or loss of earth’s reflectivity is probably one of the most dangerous, and little known feedback loops. While much of the sunlight that hits the Earth is absorbed, some is reflected into space. You’ve probably experienced the Albedo effect if you have gone skiing or visited the high mountains in the winter. Snow and ice reflect around 85% of the sunlight that hits it and keeps the planet from getting too warm. But the volume of ice around the world has decreased by 75% in the last 40 years. According to scientists, we could lose Arctic sea ice completely by the end of this century. The ocean absorbs about 90% of the sunlight that hits it. So, we are replacing the best reflector, sea ice, with the worst absorber, open ocean. If you add in the loss of snow and ice on land as well, this adds up to approximately 40% loss of reflectivity. More heat absorbed means a warmer planet and results in even more ice melt and the cycle repeats itself.

Climate Reality Leader Erin Zimmerman

Permafrost Melt Releases Methane – It’s Wrapping Earth in a Warm, Toxic Blanket

Thousands of years ago, an icy cover in the North froze billions of tons of biological material to create Permafrost.  When permafrost melts, the biological materials thaw and then decompose, releasing the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2) and Methane. GHG’s are like a blanket that covers the Earth, keeping it warm. As the blanket gets thicker (more GHG’s), the planet gets warmer. Today, permafrost keeps twice as much CO2 in the ground as there is CO2 in the atmosphere right now. If this CO2 is released, the consequences could be devastating. It’s vicious cycle. As global temperatures rise, the permafrost thaws, which increases greenhouse gasses and more warming. The cycle then repeats itself. The carbon dioxide is bad enough, but the Methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The Jet Stream’s Deadly Loop De Loop

The Jet Stream ironically, is an actual loop of air current. It circles high above the earth around the Northern hemisphere between the colder north and the warmer south. The temperature differential between the two keeps the jet stream in place; however, the temperature in the North is increasing 2 to 3 times as fast as the temperature in the South. This is pushing the jet stream South; the further South it wanders, the more it picks heat from the South to carry North. This reinforces the cycle and causes wild and unpredictable changes in weather, from extreme cold spells in the South (ice storms inTexas!) to hotter days in the Arctic (or 100.4F in Siberia!). Dry areas become drier, and wet places get wetter.

Stand Up to The Folly of Fossil Fuels

As you have probably noticed, all the feedback loops start with fossil fuel emissions. If we reduce fossil fuel emissions, stop deforestation, and re-green the Earth, we can prevent or start to reverse these feedback loops.

Advocate for Climate Action or Elect Leaders Who Will

The single most important thing we can do is elect leaders who will move us in the right direction. We must vote in political leadership that will take on this problem and collaborate with other countries around the world. It is up to us to continue to put pressure on our local legislators to support the administration in the effort.

Regardless, the planet will continue to exist just fine, albeit a lot warmer, like in the time of the dinosaurs. We humans may not exist, nor would many of the species that now exist with us. So, we can sit back and let global warming wipe us out. Or we can act now to save ourselves and our fellow species. We have total control over this.

Let’s make it happen!


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Students Kaushik Tota, Radhika Agarwal, & Peri Plantenberg Make ‘Clean Energy’ Waves In The Bay Area.

Our Climate is Changing. Why Aren’t We?

Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action advocates Kaushik Tota, Radhika Agarwal and Peri Plantenberg are still in high school, but their climate change activism is making ‘clean energy’ waves across the Bay Area! Their team is spearheading climate change reform and has successfully influenced environmental policy in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino, for starters.

Reach Codes mean anything to you? Listen to why these committed young climate change advocates are driving reform to safeguard the environment, and standing up for their future before it’s too late.

Kaushik Tota
Radhika Agarwal
Peri Plantenberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kaushik Tota suggests “If you are interested in joining a youth-led environmental initiative, options run the gamut from community engagement to policy advocacy. The Climate Youth Ambassador Program is a youth-led environmental education organization that aims to equip individuals (especially children) with resources and knowledge to lead sustainable lifestyles. Organizations such as Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and the Youth Public Policy Institute (both of which I’m a member of) are working on all sorts of climate policies with varying scopes—you can join an existing city team or advocacy team, or start a new team if one doesn’t exist yet.”


Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.

The Financial Folly of Fossil Fuels

At the Front Door  –  a column on climate change in our lives

Natural disasters are as old as our planet.  From asteroid impacts that caused major species loss, to floods and plagues of biblical proportions, to modern day hurricanes and wildfires, they have affected both plant and animal life.  Past events were viewed as “acts of God” – random occurrences, with no known cause.

Today we know better.  Astronomers with increasingly accurate telescopes can track and predict the paths of asteroids.  Plate tectonics tells us where and approximately how frequently, but not when earthquakes will occur.  Weather forecasting is increasingly precise, allowing accurate estimates of storm tracks and precipitation amounts.  Major storms and seasonal droughts are no longer totally random events; they can be predicted weeks and even months ahead.

There is one important prediction that was made over 100 years ago, based on the observation that carbon-dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas:  the earth will get warmer if we continue to burn coal.  It was not taken very seriously at the time, the amount of warming, due to 19th century coal production, seemed insignificant and far into the future.  But coal consumption increased, automobiles replaced horse drawn carriages adding oil as a generator of CO2.  Coal was also used to generate gas for heating and cooking, but as coal reserves became depleted, natural gas took its place and CO° emissions grew even more.

The world is now paying the price for the emission of all that CO2 – literally thousands of millions of tons (gigatons) per year.  This has raised the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by over 60% since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  As predicted, the earth has warmed; currently the global average temperature is 1.2 °C more than it was 150 years ago and is rising at a rate of 0.18 °C per decade.  This may not seem much, but it has huge consequences.  Glaciers all over the world are melting, as are the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.  The Arctic Ocean is now virtually free of ice every summer.  Thermal expansion as the oceans warm, combined with the added volume of melted ice is raising sea levels.  Warmer oceans also result in more frequent and more severe tropical storms.  Higher evaporation rates and warmer air carry more moisture inland where temperate zones suffer also from abnormally severe floods.  Conversely, away from the normal storm tracks, warmer, drier air is causing longer and more severe droughts, deserts are expanding towards the poles, plants are stressed and dying.  As a result, wildfires, too, are more frequent and severe.

These changes in climate directly affect our food and water supplies.  Crops failures due to both floods and droughts are increasing.  Farmland is being lost to rising oceans and saltwater encroachment.  Coral reefs are dying because of warmer water, as well as acidification caused by dissolved CO2.  This in turn causes collapse of fisheries.  Himalayan glaciers that once were reservoirs, replenished by winter snows, of fresh water for much of South East Asia are no longer reliable; likewise, the snow-packs feeding the watersheds of the Caucasus, Alps, Atlas, Rockies, Sierra Nevada and Andes mountain ranges.

All this damage costs money to combat, repair and ameliorate.  In the US alone, billions of dollars are spent building seawalls, creating more reservoirs, preparing for and fighting wildfires, building levees and other infrastructure strengthening.  Adapting to the loss of crop yield, for example by planting more acreage, costs a similar amount.  The price tag for hurricane and wildfire damage, in excess of natural historical averages, is many tens of billions of dollars annually.  Overall, the cost of extracting, refining, transporting and burning fossil fuels in business-as-usual is projected to be tens of trillion dollars by mid-century.

We can continue to pay more and more every year, or we can invest now and reap the future rewards.  There are readily available solutions at hand.  Electric power generated by solar cells and wind turbines do not emit CO2, and the “fuel” is free.  Power can be distributed largely over the existing grids.  The cost is solely in installation and maintenance.  Overall, the cost of clean energy is already less than that generated from fossil fuels.  It makes no economic sense to invest further in, and even subsidize, coal, oil and gas.  There will, of course, be job losses in these legacy industries with potential disruption of workers lives, but there will be ample new opportunities for safer, healthier jobs in clean energy, retrofitting buildings for its efficient use, electric vehicle manufacture and many other areas.  The funds for retraining and relocation, if necessary, can be supplied from redirected subsidies, the enormous savings in the cost of energy and reduction of damages.

So, pay now, or pay much more later.  The choice is clear.


J. Campbell Scott, PhD. recently retired after a 45-year career as an educator and research scientist. He is currently a volunteer with The Climate Reality Project and a member of the speakers’ bureau in its Santa Clara County chapter.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Forest Fires Aren’t the Problem, Climate Change Is

At the Front Door: Climate Change & Forest Fires –  a column on climate change in our lives

On a Wednesday morning just a few weeks ago, Bay Area residents woke up to a scene out of a dystopian movie. The sun hung low and red in a sky that looked like it too was on fire. Ash fell from the sky as evidence of the unimaginable destruction which spanned all the way from Los Angeles across the border north to Oregon. Air quality was so bad that authorities called for people to stay indoors. News headlines and radio hosts discussed the damage caused by forest fires, but what they really should have been discussing was climate change. 

For decades we have heard about the negative impacts of climate change on our planet. And in 2018, the total devastation of Paradise, California drove home that forest fires were no longer confined  to places where people just went on vacation. This was different. This was right outside our windows. For the first time ever, I knew people who had been evacuated to shelters and could do nothing but wait to learn if they had homes to go back to. For many of us, the last few weeks have been an unwelcome and long-overdue wakeup call. Climate change isn’t something that is happening elsewhere. It is happening here, right now, threatening our homes and filling our lungs with smoke.  

The link between Climate change and worsening forest fires in California and across the West is incontrovertible. While forest management is important it cannot  be blamed for the recent catastrophic nature of these fires. It is climate change that causes summers to grow hotter with less precipitation and an increased risk of drought. Not only is climate change making most of California drier, it is causing it to be drier for longer periods of time. This year’s hot and dry spring was no exception, which is why there was plenty of dry vegetation scorched by record-hot temperatures, just waiting to ignite. And ignite it did. In late August a thunderstorm passed over northern California. The dry air caused the rain to evaporate leaving only lightning to reach the ground. These lightning strikes started hundreds of fires, many in hard-to-reach places. 

Scientists note that the impacts of human-caused climate change means that we are looking at “a longer fire season with conditions friendlier to fire” resulting in larger, more frequent, more intense, and more destructive fires. This forecast has certainly held true over the last two decades, as the worst ten fires in the State’s history have all occurred since 2000. The last decade has been even worse, continuously smashing previous records for destruction. An analysis conducted by the LA Times found that “wildfires and their compounding effects have intensified in recent years  — and there’s little sign things will improve.” And 2020 is certainly living up to this prediction. 

California is once again struggling through its worst fire season ever, and the August Complex Fire officially became the state’s largest fire since records have been kept (1932). And the fire season has just barely started.

This is, of course, made even worse by the fact that people are often choosing to live near the forests, meaning it is increasingly likely for humans to intentionally and unintentionally start forest fires. The most consequential example this year being the El Dorado Fire outside of Los Angeles, which was started by a pyrotechnic device used as part of a gender reveal. So  far the fire has burned 22,000 acres and ten structures, caused the evacuation of over 20,000 people, and resulted in the death of one fire fighter.  

The real question is, “When will we stop acting like each progressively-worse fire season is an abnormality and acknowledge that worse is the new normal?” 

The climate we were accustomed to is not coming back, and the worst is yet to come.  It is inevitable. We can continue to applaud firefighters and first responders, but a more profound show of gratitude would be to acknowledge and address the root of the problem: climate change, largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

California Governor Newsom succinctly summed up the situation during a press conference: “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States of America unless we get our act together on climate change.” It makes  one wonder if the recent fires will alter the Governor’s previously permissive stance on permitting new oil and gas wells.

Combatting the causes of climate change is no longer a luxury. It is a priority, not just for our politicians and legislators but for us too. The most recent report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, noted that effectively tackling climate change would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes to all aspects of society.” 

If we want to adapt, and to do so equitably, we need to act now. We have to start making fundamental and uncomfortable changes in how we live – and demand that others arounds us do the same. 


Erin Zimmerman is trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2019 by the Climate Reality Project, but has been active in the environmental movement for over a decade. Erin holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Adelaide, where she focused on environmental degradation and its impacts on country and regional stability in Asia. She is currently the Chair of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Santa Clara Chapter of the Climate Reality Project  and an active member of the Legislative and Policy team.

Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Image credits: markus spiske, Unsplash

Bibliography

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Cal Fire, (Updated 22 Sept 2020) “El Dorado Fire,” Incidents, https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/9/5/el-dorado-fire/
DeMarche, Edmund, (21 Sept 2020), “Firefighter Who Died in El Dorado Fire is ID’d as Crew Boss,” Fox News,
https://www.foxnews.com/us/firefighter-who-died-in-el-dorado-fire-is-idd-as-crew-boss
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (2018), “Summary for Policymakers of IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C approved by governments,” https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/
Krishnakumar, Priya and Kannan Swetha, (15 Sept 2020) “The Worst Fires Season Ever. Again.” The Los Angeles Times,
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Shepherd, Katie (8 Sept 2020), “A Gender-Reveal Stunt Sparked a California wildfire that has forced 21,000 People to Evacuate”, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/08/california-gender-reveal-fire/
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SJ Teen Pioneers Globally Lauded Biodiversity Project

Young people are integral towards the fight for a sustainable future. From social media to student platforms, teenagers have used their collective voice to pioneer a new wave of eco-friendly advocacy and innovation. To learn more about Gen Z’s unique position within the environmental movement, I had a chat with Almaden valley teen, Adarsh Ambati. A junior at Archbishop Mitty High School, Adarsh was the only U.S. finalist for the global Gothenburg Sustainability Youth Award and the International Action For Nature Organization’s Eco-Hero. After the devastating California wildfires, Adarsh learned more about the disaster’s impact on endangered species — most notably, California’s amphibian biodiversity.

IC: What prompted you to work in the sphere of environmental sustainability?

AA: The Californian drought was instrumental in developing my awareness of climate change. I found that changes in migratory patterns, habitat shifts, disruptions in food-web, the prevalence of pathogens, parasites and diseases, wildfires, and floods, are directly or indirectly a result of climate change. This interdependence of the climate on even niche areas of ecosystems developed in me an interest in understanding ecology and biodiversity, which propelled me into the world of environmental sustainability.

IC: Why amphibians? How do you learn about the pathogens impacting endangered species in the first place?

AA: Because of the California Drought, I grew up not only verbally hearing about the importance of water but practically witnessing the devastating effects of water shortage – lush green lawns turning brown, the creek in front of my home drying up silencing the croaking of the frogs, deers moving on, and ravaging wildfires.  As a 6th grader, I used to accompany my brother to BioCurious, our community lab. Seminars and workshops regarding climate change at the lab provided me with a lens for understanding the environmental effect of climate change on organisms and their ecosystems, which spurred my interest in environmental sustainability. After further research in the field, I discovered the Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis fungus that is endangering hundreds of frog species around the world. After reading more about this crisis in the novel, The Sixth Extinction, I promised to do my part in helping maintain the Earth’s biodiversity. With the help of mentors from my local community lab, BioCurious, I embarked on this Amphibian Biodiversity Protection Project.

IC: Why do you think it’s important for young people to use their platform to advocate for sustainability and the protection of biodiversity?

AA: The environment encompasses all that we need to sustain life on the planet. Today, massive problems ranging from water shortage to raging wildfires, which are triggered by climate change, threaten the environment and, indirectly, all life as we know it. While legislation and grassroots activism are 100% necessary to curbing and reversing man-made problems, innovative solutions are also crucial to solving such issues. So, I would implore all young innovators today to pursue environmental projects as the destruction of the environment will affect our generation the most. If we as youth choose to ignore the problem, it will only magnify until it can no longer be solved. By setting our minds to developing innovative solutions that help the environment without drastically changing one’s life, we can little by little overcome such worldwide issues. As these issues pertaining to the environment affect youth the most, it is imperative that we start to create projects aimed to help, protect, or sustain our planet immediately.

IC: What’s the future of this project? Do you plan on further developing or refining your in-field technique?

AA: After further testing with the fungal protein, I hope to expand into the next phase of the project – manufacturing the physical lateral flow strips using Ribosome Display. These test strips would allow researchers the unique ability to test in-field and be able to better protect the amphibians. So far, I have proved that a protein can be biologically engineered to build an in-field diagnostic for this fungal pathogen. My next goal will be to manufacture and continue to test this project.

IC: Do you have any advice for other teenagers trying to initiate sustainability projects of their own?

AA: For any youth trying to initiate sustainability projects of their own, my advice would be to be aware of the environment, think critically for innovative problem solving, and most importantly be open to taking criticism. In our world, there exist many problems ranging from massive losses of biodiversity to the seemingly insurmountable problem of climate change. We have to be aware of these problems so that we can solve them. Next, we need to think critically across various scientific disciplines to create the best solution for the problem at hand. For example, for my amphibian project, I had to combine my passions for environmental sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics to develop the most optimal solution. The next step is arguably the most important. Being able to accept criticism is one of the hardest to develop yet the most valuable quality an innovator can have for their projects. Through these three steps of identifying a solution, critical problem solving, and accepting constructive criticism, your sustainability projects will be increasingly successful.


Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. Follow Kanchan on Instagram at @kanchan_naik_