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Why climate skeptics are less likely to wear coronavirus masks

There are many ways in which the coronavirus pandemic intersects with climate change — so many that Grist launched a whole newsletter about them. This week, the pollsters at Morning Consult unveiled another link between the two issues: Concern about climate change correlates with the way people are responding to the virus.

The poll, conducted online between April 14 and 16 on a national sample of 2,200 adults, found that people who said that they are not concerned about rising temperatures are less likely than the general public to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (The poll was weighted for age, educational attainment, gender, race, and region and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.)

Forty-four percent of all the adults surveyed said they “always” wear a mask to grocery stores, public parks, and other public places. Fifty-four percent of folks who said they’re concerned about climate change said they always wear masks, but just 30 percent of people who are unconcerned about climate change said they always wear masks in public places. That’s a 24-point difference.

The survey defined climate-concerned adults as people who said they’re worried about climate change and agree that it’s driven by human activity. Climate-unconcerned respondents were those who said they were “not too concerned” or “not concerned at all” about climate change. (Must be nice!)

The disparity between climate hawks and climate skeptics was also evident in responses to other survey questions about disinfecting and social distancing, albeit on a smaller scale. The researchers said that the relatively small gap between climate concerned and unconcerned adults on the question of social distancing — a modest 8 percent — could be due to the fact that local, state, and federal officials started getting out the message about distancing earlier and were clearer about it than they were about disinfecting surfaces and wearing masks. (The CDC only advised Americans to start wearing masks in public in early April.)

Morning Consult cites experts who say there could be two reasons why people who aren’t concerned about climate are less likely to take steps to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. A general skepticism of science and scientists is one of them. Previous polling has shown a partisan disparity in the way people regard scientists, primarily environmental scientists. In a 2019 poll, 43 percent of Democrats had “a great deal” of confidence in scientists, compared to 27 percent of Republicans. Much of conservatives’ mistrust of science is the result of a long, deliberate disinformation campaign from fossil fuel companies. Now, many of the same conservative pundits and leaders (including the president) who have sown doubt about climate change are also spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

Concerns about personal autonomy can also help explain the divide in the poll, Emma Frances Bloomfield, an assistant professor in communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told Morning Consult. “Everything that science asks us to do is really sacrificing personal convenience for community convenience and well-being,” Bloomfield said. “And for a lot of people, the coronavirus is invisible, just like climate change is invisible.”

The pandemic has asked a lot of Americans. The climate crisis will surely ask more of us. The question, as we get deeper into the pandemic and more Americans are affected or know someone who has been touched by COVID-19, is whether authority-averse and science-skeptical adults will start drawing connections between their personal choices and scientist’s warnings, or if the pandemic will force everyone deeper into their ideological foxholes.


Why climate skeptics are less likely to wear coronavirus masks

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Should Biden and Sanders steal Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans?

Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Thursday morning, 390 days after officially announcing her run. Several months ago, the senator from Massachusetts was widely regarded as a frontrunner with momentum to spare. But her support started to waver in the lead-up to the first contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Ultimately, she never placed higher than third in any of the state caucuses and primaries she competed in.

Warren’s slogan, “I have a plan for that,” is an apt description of her biggest contribution to the presidential race — especially when it comes to climate policy. Over the course of her campaign, she released more than a dozen proposals to address climate change — more plans than any other candidate. Warren left no stone unturned in her quest to come up with an answer to what is arguably the biggest threat facing the nation.

Her plans offered solutions to problems as big as warming oceans and as small as inaccessible national parks. She had a plan to green the military (think zero-emissions vehicles and combat bases that run on clean energy) and a plan to base trade agreements with other countries on their emissions goals. The strength of Warren’s climate game lay not just in the quantity of her plans but also in their quality.

Warren’s candidacy may be dead, but her 14 plans could live on. And there’s reason to believe they might. After Washington governor Jay Inslee dropped out of the race in August, he encouraged the remaining candidates to crib from his climate plans, which he called “open-source.” Warren adopted planks of his sweeping climate platform and even hired one of his climate advisers. There’s nothing stopping the remaining candidates from similarly picking over Warren’s plans now that she’s out of the race.

“Any candidate who wants to win Warren voters should think seriously about embracing Elizabeth’s climate platform,” a Warren aide told Grist.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the two remaining candidates with a viable path to the nomination, both have comprehensive climate plans. Sanders’ plan earned him an A+ from Greenpeace, which ranks candidates based on their dedication to phasing out fossil fuels and passing a Green New Deal. Biden’s plans got him a B+. But both stand to benefit from adopting some of Warren’s plans, which got more and more ambitious in the lead-up to her decision to drop out. Here are three plans that deserve to outlive Warren’s campaign.

“Stop Wall Street From Financing the Climate Crisis.” This plan is aimed directly at making sure Wall Street doesn’t leave Americans high and dry by continuing to invest in oil and gas infrastructure that could lose all their value in the transition to clean energy. Climate change, Warren says, destabilizes the American financial system by jeopardizing Wall Street’s investments and inflicting physical property damage (think the wreckage of coastal cities in the wake of catastrophic hurricanes or Western towns post-wildfires). She proposed using the regulatory tools in the Dodd-Frank Act — enacted in the wake of the 2008 crash — to regulate Wall Street and address those risks.

Warren’s plan for public lands. In April 2019, Warren became the first front-runner to release a sweeping public lands plan aimed at reducing emissions from public lands. She set the bar for similar plans from other candidates by advocating for an executive order banning new fossil fuel leases on federally owned lands on her first day in office. Most interestingly, she introduced the framework for a conservation workforce that would put a smile on FDR’s face: the “21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps,” which would “create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources and public lands.”

“Fighting for justice as we combat the climate crisis.” This plan has a lot in common with environmental justice plans from other candidates. It would direct at least $1 trillion to low-income communities on the frontlines of climate change. But it differs in one important respect: It uses wildfire wisdom from tribes to help the U.S. prevent deadly wildfires like the one that razed Paradise, California in 2018. In addition to investing in wildfire prevention programs and improved mapping of active wildfires, she aimed to incorporate “traditional ecological practices” and explore “co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible.”

Will Biden and Sanders poach Warren’s climate plans? Time will tell. Her campaign certainly hopes they will. “The urgency of the moment calls for it,” the Warren aide said.

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Should Biden and Sanders steal Elizabeth Warren’s climate plans?

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Ahead of the caucuses, Nevadans say climate change is on their minds

After the disastrous Iowa caucuses and far smoother New Hampshire primary, all eyes now turn to Nevada, which will hold its Democratic primary caucuses on Saturday. On Wednesday night, presidential hopefuls took to the debate stage in Las Vegas to compete for Nevadans’ affections. In between viral verbal smackdowns, the candidates took a full 16 minutes to talk about climate policy.

It was a canny choice by the moderators, which included the very first climate journalist to helm a presidential debate, to spotlight climate. That’s because Democratic caucus-goers in Nevada — and Latino caucus-goers in particular — care deeply about climate policy, according to a recent poll.

The poll, released by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the Nevada Conservation League, reveals that 86 percent of Nevada Democrats likely to attend the caucuses on Saturday believe that the climate crisis is either “a very important issue” or “the most important issue.” And climate change is the second most important issue to likely Democratic caucus-goers, after universal healthcare, when deciding which candidate to support.

For likely Latino caucus-goers in the state, climate change is a more important issue than health care or immigration. This makes sense because climate change is not a single issue, but one that affects every other issue — and its impacts are felt differently depending on race, income, gender, immigration status, and other factors.

“Latinx communities are hit first and hardest by climate,” Rudy Zamora, program director of Chispa Nevada — an organizing program under LCV — said in a statement. “So it’s not surprising to see that climate change is the most important issue for Nevada Latinx voters in deciding who to support for president.”

A majority of those who participated in the survey said they are much more likely to vote for a candidate with a climate plan that prioritizes communities most affected by pollution, including low-income communities of color. And 43 percent say they “strongly support” a Green New Deal.

These results line up with recent national polls showing that Democratic voters believe climate change is an important issue for presidential candidates to address this election.

But the issue has particularly hit home in Nevada, which has experienced dangerous heat waves in the last few years. Since 1970, Nevada has warmed 2.8 degrees F on average. Last August, the state broke a record for the most consecutive days with temperatures over 105 degrees F. Las Vegas is the fastest-warming city in the country. And the Colorado River has been dwindling due to an increasing loss of snow in the Nevada mountains, forcing Nevadans to cut down their water use.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that climate change will be on Nevadans’ minds when they head to the caucuses this weekend.

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Ahead of the caucuses, Nevadans say climate change is on their minds

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Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

It’s officially fire season in California. Dry winds rush in from the desert to the east, smoke turns midday to twilight, people hurry from place to place in facemasks, and the electricity goes out.

That’s been the story for the last three years. The risk of wildfires has always been high in the fall when the wind that usually carries cooling fog from the ocean into the interior reverses course. But it has never been so consistently bad. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but behind it all is a warming climate that’s killing trees, drying out brush, and turning bad behaviour into disasters.

Meteorologists predicted the dangerously dry weather a few days in advance, and Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, let customers know that it would be turning off power to guard against windblown branches crashing into power lines. I was visiting my parents in Nevada City, a 3-hour drive east of my home in the Bay Area, when the lights went out on Saturday. The kids delighted at the novelty of it We set jugs of water by the sinks and made our way to bed by lamplight. In the morning, despite protests from the children, my father fired up the noisy generator he had hooked up to his propane tank, so we could do the dishes, cool the refrigerator, and check the news.

In Southern California, people grabbed their “apocalypse bags” of pre-packed necessities and made their way through jammed roads out of harm’s way. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and basketball star LeBron James were among the evacuees. James had to try four hotels before he found one with room for his family.

The search for housing was tougher in Northern California wine country, where evacuations from the Kincade fire have forced some 200,000 people out of their homes. People have been sleeping in churches and fairgrounds. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations from an area stretching from the active fire east of Highway 101 all the way to the Pacific Ocean as 70 mile-per-hour winds whipped the flames to the west. Some of the houses rebuilt since the 2017 fires may burn again. The smoke was dangerously thick in many parts of wine country, but farmworkers were still out picking grapes.

Many of the schools in the Bay Area closed, and those closest to the fire will be shut all week. More than 100,000 students stayed home Monday around Los Angeles. Firefighters worked to contain the Getty Fire in west Los Angeles, in anticipation of the most severe winds so far this year. PG&E expects to cut power to more than half a million customers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, when I surveyed routes for driving home, I found my options were limited. To the west, the Kinkade Fire was swallowing more of wine country. To the east, a handful of small fires were blazing. And in the middle, a wall of fire had engulfed the Carquinez Bridge, closing Interstate 80, our usual path home. We waited for hours. Fortunately, firefighters quickly put out most of the new fires, I-80 reopened, and we slipped home Sunday evening, gawping at smoking black patches on either side of the road.

The winds have calmed here in the Bay Area, but it’s only temporary. The weather is supposed to turn incendiary again by Wednesday. It’s just what Californians have come to expect. After all, it’s fire season.

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Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

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A bipartisan group of senators just agreed we need to break our addiction to carbon

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Leaving our fossil fuel-entrenched economy behind is looking more and more like a bipartisan goal. Case in point: A bipartisan Senate committee just apparently agreed that we need to decarbonize our energy system.

On Thursday, the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on how to innovate the energy sector, and it took a climate-friendly turn. While the group didn’t reach a consensus on how to achieve “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” as promised in the brand new Green New Deal resolution, the conversation was nevertheless encouraging.

Near the end of the hearing, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat of Nevada, asked the committee if anyone disagreed with looking into an energy portfolio with the “outcome of decarbonization.” The room was silent. A few seconds later, Cortez Masto concluded, “I think that’s why we’re here. That is where we could set our long-term mission and goal.”

Leading up to that, the committee found plenty to agree (and in a few instances, disagree) on.

“It is time to push hard to bring down the cost of clean energy technologies like renewables, advanced nuclear, next-generation energy storage, and carbon capture,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, the chair of the committee, in her opening remarks.

Even Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia — a Democrat who just earlier this week applauded President Trump’s line about the U.S. being the world’s No. 1 oil producer during the State of the Union address — appeared to get behind the eventual goal of decarbonization. “Breakthrough technologies will help us reliably meet our energy needs in the future while decarbonizing our energy system,” he said.

Tellingly though, he called for a focus on new technologies to suck carbon out of the air. The coal-state senator from  made it clear that he wasn’t ready to kick dirty energy to the curb just yet: “We must acknowledge that fossil fuels will continue to play an integral role in our electric generation.”

He also expressed concern over the economic effects of a transition to renewables on West Virginia: “We don’t want to drink dirty water. We don’t want to breathe dirty air. We want our kids to have a future. We really do. But they also realize they have to have a job to sustain themselves.”

In response, Cortez pointed to her state of Nevada. “Ten years ago, Nevada was known for gambling, entertainment, and mining,” she said. “Now we are an innovation state.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, also highlighted the promise of renewables. “There are 8,000 parts in a big wind turbine, and we’re prepared to make every single one of those [pieces] in Michigan,” she said. “You can do some in West Virginia, too,” she told Manchin.

But as Ernest Moniz, former Energy Secretary under Obama, said in his testimony to the committee, “Accelerating this transition will not be easy.”

Moniz urged the committee to make sure they’re not putting all their low-carbon eggs in one technology basket. “There is no single low-carbon, one-size-fits-all solution,” Moniz said. “What we need to do is have the full quiver of arrows for which low-carbon solutions can be fit to purpose in different regions of our country and in different countries.”

Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, emphasized the necessity of reaching zero emissions by mid-century while acknowledging the work that lies ahead. “With some reasonable success and failure,” Grumet said, “ I think we can actually provide a better future for our children, which has been the human tradition for 10,000 generations.”

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A bipartisan group of senators just agreed we need to break our addiction to carbon

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Protecting public lands was a winning platform in elections out West

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This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Democrats notched wins in a number of key midterm races out West after running on platforms of protecting public lands and maintaining them under federal control — victories that conservation groups are celebrating as a repudiation of the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda.

The administration’s “deeply unpopular” rollbacks of protected national monuments and its sweeping proposal to open up nearly all U.S. waters to offshore oil and gas development “fueled pro-conservation wins” in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and even South Carolina, Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.

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“We are seeing an unmistakable pattern of pro-conservation election outcomes in states and districts that are bearing the brunt of the Trump Administration’s attacks on parks, wildlife, and oceans,” he said.

Public lands were front and center in the contentious Montana Senate race between incumbent Jon Tester, a Democrat, and state auditor Matt Rosendale, a Republican. Though President Donald Trump traveled to Montana four times to campaign for Rosendale, Tester — a frequent critic of the president — defeated the self-proclaimed “Trump conservative.” And he did it in a state that Trump carried by 20 percentage points in the 2016 election.

In campaign advertisements featuring sportsmen and women with shotguns and fly-fishing rods, Tester’s team touted his record of voting to protect public lands, and pegged Rosendale as an East Coast developer who threatened the state’s wild spaces and way of life.

Rosendale, on the other hand, supported transferring federal lands to states during his 2014 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. That year he told The Billings Gazette that “public lands were never intended to remain in control of the feds.” It’s clear Rosendale recognized that was not a winning stance in Big Sky Country, and promptly reversed course during the campaign to say the exact opposite.

Tracy Stone-Manning, the associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation and former chief of staff of Montana Governor Steve Bullock, said Tester won in part because “voters didn’t buy Rosendale’s late and politically convenient conversion.”

While Tester has an 86 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, the nonprofit advocacy group named Rosendale to its 2018 Senate “Dirty Dozen” list of candidates it calls anti-environment. And LCV spent just shy of $1 million on an ad campaign highlighting Rosendale’s support for rolling back federal land protections and his ties to fossil fuel billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.

In New Mexico, Democratic incumbent Senator Martin Heinrich, a fierce critic of Trump’s national monument rollbacks who championed the creation of monuments and wilderness areas in the state, walloped Republican opponent Mick Rich, a commercial contractor who described Heinrich as the “foremost proponent of turning New Mexico into an environmentalists’ Disneyland.” In Nevada, Republican Senator Dean Heller, who called the Obama administration’s 2016 designation of Gold Butte National Monument an “extreme overreach” and urged the Trump administration to modify the boundary, lost his re-election bid to Democratic Representative Jacky Rosen. Rosen, who has a 97 percent lifetime score from LCV, campaigned on protecting public lands, including Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, and pushing forward on renewable energy.

Strong support for public lands and environmental protection also appears to have helped boost several candidates in U.S. House races. In Arizona’s 1st Congressional District, incumbent Representative Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat, defeated Republican Wendy Rogers, who praised Trump’s decision to open offshore waters and the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. In Nevada, Democrat Steven Horsford defeated Republican Cresent Hardy, and Democrat Susie Lee beat Republican Danny Tarkanian in the state’s 4th and 3rd Congressional Districts. Both Hardy and Tarkanian support transferring control of federal lands to the state. And in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, Democrat Joe Cunningham, an ocean engineer, upset Republican Katie Arrington by standing firmly against Trump’s offshore drilling plans.

Conservation groups, including CAP and Colorado-based Center for Western Priorities, also celebrated wins in a number of state races. Those included the victory by Colorado’s Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the U.S., who during the campaign connected his opponent, Republican Walker Stapleton, to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the administration’s efforts to roll back public lands protections.

“Voters across the West voted with their values and their wallets when they elected representatives that support public lands, access to them and the wise management of them,” Stone-Manning said.

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Protecting public lands was a winning platform in elections out West

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The election cleared the way for bold climate policy in these 6 states

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Most of the climate-related coverage of this week’s midterm elections was pretty pessimistic. But if you dig down to the state level — the true hotbed of climate policy in the Trump era — the results were much brighter, even hopeful.

Climate-friendly Democrats won governorships and state legislatures across the country. In several key states, they managed to do both at once, achieving a “trifecta”: Unified control of the governor’s mansion and both branches of the statehouse. In most cases, that means there’s a wide-open lane for an expansion of renewable energy mandates and other climate-friendly policy from coast to coast — at a critical moment in planetary history.

Before the election, Democrats had trifectas in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This week, they added Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, and Maine. Combined, those 14 states are home to more than a third of the U.S. population.

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Here’s a quick look at some of states that are gearing up to finally put climate change on the front burner:

New Mexico

Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to transform New Mexico — the third largest oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas and North Dakota — into an environmental leader. She wants the state to be able to produce so much renewable energy that they can export it to California.


Incoming Governor Jared Polis campaigned on a promise of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, which would be the boldest state-level policy in the country. That goal is so ambitious that even Polis admits it will be a heavy lift, but he’s got the backing of the legislature to help make it a reality.


Voters in Nevada managed to pass a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 on Tuesday, one of the most aggressive in the country — and one of the few big direct democracy victories this week. Incoming Governor Steve Sisolak campaigned in support of the ballot measure, and will have the full support of his state legislature to roll out policies to make it happen.


Newly elected Governor JB Pritzker has vowed to turn the most populous state in the Midwest into a renewables powerhouse, boosting its relatively weak 15 percent by 2025 mandate to 25 percent, and ally his state with others vowing to uphold commitments under Paris agreement.

New York

It was the state senate that flipped, not the governorship, in New York. That will free up Andrew Cuomo to answer his critics and pass legislation to put the state on a path to 50 percent renewables by 2030, something he’s been trying to do for a while now. This comes a year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for the city to purchase 100 percent renewable energy “as soon as sufficient supply can be brought online.”


Janet Mills, the first woman elected governor in Maine, is aiming to reduce the state’s emissions 80 percent by 2030 and supports the development of offshore wind farms — widely seen as more efficient and reliable than onshore wind. Maine’s potential offshore wind resources are 75 times greater than its current statewide electricity use, meaning it could soon sell energy to other parts of New England and the East Coast.

In these state plans, it’s easy to get a glimpse of a future United States that’s actually on a path to holding global warming to less-than-catastrophic levels. Today’s bold state policies could quickly grow into regional hubs entirely reliant on renewable energy, leapfrogging the broken incrementalist approach of the past few decades at the national level and stealthily achieving the kind of world we need.

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The election cleared the way for bold climate policy in these 6 states

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California’s fire tornado is what climate change looks like

For weeks now, the world has been in the grips of a global heat wave — one of the most destructive and unusually hot summers in human history. And we know that a summer like this couldn’t have happened without climate change.

In California and in wildfire zones around the world, survivors are sharing the images and videos they captured while fleeing some of the most destructive fires in history.

From an on-the-ground, human perspective, July looked and felt like hell.

The video above is of the massive Carr Fire, still burning mostly uncontained near Redding, California. At last count, 1,555 homes have burned — one of the most destructive fires in California history. Six of the state’s 20 most destructive fires on record have occurred in the past 10 months.

If it looks to you like a giant fire tornado, you’d be right. And living through it was just as terrifying as you’d expect.

Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown said simply, “We are in uncharted territories.”

Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why he’s right. July was the hottest month ever measured in Redding. Burnable vegetation in the area is at the 99th percentile. These are ideal conditions for a megafire. The Carr Fire alone is more than four times larger than the city of San Francisco; its smoke is setting records for the worst air quality in history as far away as 200 miles away in Reno, Nevada.

But perhaps the most unusual thing about the Carr Fire is the incredibly strong winds it created:

The heat from the fire was so intense that it created a towering, rotating cloud six miles high — meteorologists call them pyrocumulus, but this one effectively was a giant tornado. The wind damage from the Carr Fire is consistent with speeds in excess of 143 mph.*

Winds this strong over such a widespread area are exceedingly rare in wildfires, though they have been documented before. Fires need oxygen to burn, and the Carr Fire created its own weather to ensure a constant oxygen supply — to devastating effect.

Big fires, like the Carr Fire, are getting more common as more people live closer to forests and temperatures rise. But it’s that latter factor that’s most important in making fire size skyrocket in recent years. The heat we’re experiencing right now is unlike any previous generation has ever experienced. And it’s not just happening in California.

In northern Finland, sunbathers lounged with reindeer near the Arctic Circle while a wildfire burned in the distance.

In Greece, there is terrifying footage of people escaping July’s horrific fires.

With more than a dozen large fires burning throughout California, this year’s fire season is already starting to outstrip the state’s resources. Thousands of firefighters have flown in from across the country to help fight the blazes, and wildfire season is just getting started. August is the peak month for wildfires across the western U.S. According to the latest fire outlook released on Wednesday, nearly the entire region will remain at above normal risk until at least October.

In Europe, ideal wildfire conditions are set to return this weekend, with temperatures in Spain and Portugal forecast to challenge all-time European records.

If there’s one thing we should take away from this nightmarish weather, it’s this: As bad as these fires are, climate change isn’t going to let up until we work together to address its root causes. Warming-fueled megafires isn’t a new normal, it’s a new exceptional; a new extraordinary.

*This post has been updated with new information.


California’s fire tornado is what climate change looks like

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California Got Soaked—But Don’t Start Your Endless Showers Just Yet

Mother Jones

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It’s been pouring in rain-starved California for the past few weeks, so is the Golden State’s drought finally over?

The downer answer: Asking if California’s water woes are behind us because it rained is a bit like asking if climate change is over because it’s cold outside—short-term gains don’t mean the long-term problem has gone away.

The slightly more optimistic answer: While we’re not in the clear, the rain has made a huge dent in the short-term.

After years in the red, California’s reservoirs now have 14 percent more water than their historical averages. That’s key, as they transport water from the Sierra Nevada to California farms and cities, from San Francisco to San Diego. Snowpack in the Sierras is also above average, which—in addition to making the mountains into a veritable winter wonderland—will help feed reservoirs and recharge groundwater supply as it melts throughout the year.

As this Los Angeles Times graphic shows, nearly half of the state is no longer in a state of drought, as defined by the US Drought Monitor.

But that’s not to say that the drought is over—or will be any time soon. Groundwater, the supply of water in underground aquifers that serves as a savings account of sorts during dry years, is still low and getting lower due to overpumping, says Peter Gleick, water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute. Because the rain has been concentrated in the northern half of the state, much of the Central Valley, the farmland that dominates the geographical center of California, is still in the midst of extreme drought. About 1500 wells are still dry in the Valley’s Tulare County, home to produce pickers and packers. And because of the warm weather, snow is melting more quickly than usual, leading it to run off into storm drains rather than seep, slowly and steadily, into the groundwater tables.

Perhaps most concerning, though, is that water system improvements that were gaining momentum during the drought will slow down, Gleick says.

During the drought of the past five years, state lawmakers began to put groundwater management policy in place. Cities encouraged homeowners to get rid of their lawns, which often use more water than the homes themselves. Residents started replacing inefficient toilets and shower fixtures. Farmers implemented more efficient irrigation systems. The state’s Water Resources Control Board recently released report on the feasibility of recycling water, which many environmental groups champion as a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars and energy sources than building desalinization plants, which distil seawater to produce more freshwater.

“Those were all steps in the right direction, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done. There just isn’t enough water for everyone anymore, even in a wet year,” says Gleick. “A couple wet years and the pressure disappears for a while.”

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California Got Soaked—But Don’t Start Your Endless Showers Just Yet

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Here’s How Obama Is Trump-Proofing His Legacy

Mother Jones

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So what has President Obama done over the past month to get a few last-minute liberal priorities in place before Donald Trump takes over? Obama has moved forward on eight substantial executive actions so far:

Enacted a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard.
Refused to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
Designated two new national monuments totalling more than 1.6 million acres: Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.
Instructed the Department of Homeland Security to formally end the long-disused NSEERs database, which Trump could have revived as the backbone of a new Muslim registry.
Instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to deny final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
Issued a final rule that bans the practice among some red states of withholding federal family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that provide abortions.
Finalized rules to determine whether schools were succeeding or failing under the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Began an investigation into charges of Russian hacking during the presidential campaign.

This last-minute flurry of activity is actually fairly normal, but Trump is annoyed anyway, saying he’s doing his best to “disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks.” Too bad, Donald: there’s more to come. According to Politico, “As many as 98 final regulations under review at the White House as of Nov. 15 could be implemented before Trump takes office. Seventeen regulations awaiting final approval are considered “economically significant,” with an estimated economic impact of at least $100 million a year.” Here are fifteen of the most important ones:

A new policy making it easier to hire and retain highly skilled immigrants.
A new rule forcing state regulators to tighten oversight of for-profit colleges that operate online courses in their state.
New energy efficiency standards.
Regulations designed to discourage speculation on commodities trading.
A new rule that would regulate air pollution from the oil industry.
A change in the way Medicare drug payments are administered.
Reform of Medicare payments to doctors, moving toward a system that better evaluates the quality of care they provide.
Finishing up an investment treaty with China (though it would require Senate approval in 2017).
Speeding through a backlog of debt relief claims from students at ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges, two for-profit colleges that went out of business under pressure from the Obama administration.
A ban on cellphone calls on commercial flights.
A rule requiring that most freight trains have at least two crew members on duty.
Rules for the 2018 version of the Obamacare state insurance marketplaces.
Regulation of methane releases from oil and natural gas wells.
A major rule on leases for wind and solar projects on federal land.
A rule that aims to ensure poor and minority students get their fair share of state and local education funding.

Some of these actions could be overturned either by Trump or by Congress, but not all of them. Congress is restrained by the fact that it has limited floor time to review new rules. Trump is restrained because agency rules go through a lengthy rulemaking process before they’re finalized, and he would have to start up this entire process all over again to repeal them.

Of course, all of these actions are also susceptible to court fights, just as they always are. There’s no telling how that might turn out.

Original post: 

Here’s How Obama Is Trump-Proofing His Legacy

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