Tag Archives: wildfires
From California to British Columbia, the West is burning up. While fire experts are clear that climate change is a major factor in making wildfires more frequent and more intense, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke can’t seem to make up his mind about its role. Instead, he has blamed an unusual boogeyman for the fires: environmental terrorists.
“We have been held hostage by these environmental terrorist groups that have not allowed public access — that refuse to allow [the] harvest of timber,” he told Breitbart earlier this month. The underlying cause of catastrophic blazes, he said, is the “fuel load” of dead and dying timber in our forests. Whoa there, Zinke!
Fire experts do say that there’s more fuel in Western forests than there used to be, thanks to decades of aggressive fire suppression — and, well, because the warmer weather has been drying everything up.
Understanding Zinke’s bizarre claim about environmental terrorists requires a short history lesson. The concept came from one of the environmental movement’s biggest foes: libertarian activist Ron Arnold, who once told the New York Times that he wanted to “destroy environmentalists.”
Arnold coined the term “ecoterrorism” in 1983 article and later published the book Eco-terror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature, which attempted to link the environmental movement with the Unabomber. Arnold used “ecoterrorism” to refer to groups like Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, and Earth First! that sometimes engaged in property crimes, like vandalism and tree spiking, to combat environmental degradation and animal rights abuses.
Experts who have studied the phenomenon say “ecoterrorism” is not an appropriate term.
“In my research, I found that 90 to 95 percent of all direct actions, or crimes if you will, perpetrated by these groups do not fall anywhere close to the term ‘terrorism,’” says Donald Liddick, author of Eco-Terrorism: Radical Environmental and Animal Liberation Movements.
A 2013 study that surveyed the acceptance of “ecoterrorism” found that “there is no documented evidence of harm coming to humans as a result of actions by radical environmentalists.” The authors suggest that terms like “obstruction,” “vandalism,” and “sabotage” more accurately described actions labeled as “ecoterrorism.”
Tree spiking, the widely feared practice of boobytrapping trees with metal rods, resulted in only one serious injury. Tree-spiking groups gave ample warning of their actions — they didn’t want the trees to be cut down, after all.
Liddick points out that Arnold had political motivations when he coined the phrase. Arnold is a policy advisor to the climate-denying think tank The Heartland Institute and the executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from ExxonMobil and the ultra-conservative Mercer Family Foundation.
The term “ecoterrorism” picked up steam through the ’80s and ’90s, and began to appear in the prosecution of environmental and animal activists. Things took a turn for the weird in 2004: The FBI’s top official in charge of domestic terrorism, John Lewis, named ecoterrorism and the animal rights movement “the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat,” over far-right extremism, the KKK, and anti-abortion groups. (Arnold, it turns out, had asked the FBI to take a closer look at “ecoterrorists” in 2002.) At the time of the FBI’s declaration, no one had been killed in any attacks by these groups, according to CNN.
“To call something terrorism when it doesn’t actually entail a loss of human life is problematic, to say the least,” says Nicole Seymour, assistant professor of English at California State University, Fullerton.
While accusations of “ecoterrorism” have fallen in recent years, the label has been used against activists at Standing Rock, the valve turners, and other pipeline opponents. Zinke’s use of the term didn’t surprise Seymour.
“It’s kind of those boogeymen that the Trump administration and similar folks have been trying to implant in our imagination — these concepts made up to create public panic,” Seymour says.
Seymour sees Zinke’s use of “environmental terrorism” as a sound bite that casts blame off of climate change and onto environmentalists.
Liddick has a different perspective. “Knowing politics as I know politics, I think it’s about lumbering the Sierra,” he says. “Some of the corporate interests want to get the Sierra Nevada softwood and hardwood.”
On Thursday, the day after I spoke with Liddick, the Trump administration announced plans to fight wildfires with more logging and controlled burns on federal land. The timber industry has long used fire prevention as an excuse to clear forests.
So Zinke’s comments didn’t come out of nowhere. But how is all this connected to ecoterrorists? It all goes back to our old libertarian pal Ron Arnold. In addition to coining “ecoterrorism,” he was also the leading force behind the “Wise Use” movement — an anti-environmentalist approach to managing federal lands that emphasizes extraction. Its agenda, spelled out by Arnold in 1988, includes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening all public lands to mining and oil exploration, and clear-cutting old growth in national forests — partly for wildfire prevention, of course. In other words, this tenuous link between ecoterrorism and logging is 20 years old.
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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the PennEast Pipeline its certificate of public convenience and necessity on Friday, which also allows the company to acquire land through eminent domain.
The proposed $1 billion pipeline would run nearly 120 miles from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Its opponents say it would threaten the health and safety of nearby communities and endanger natural and historic resources. Proponents maintain that the pipeline is an economic boon that will lower energy costs for residents.
After getting the OK from FERC, the company moved up its estimated in-service date to 2019, with construction to begin this year. But it won’t necessarily be an easy road ahead. The pipeline still needs permits from the State of New Jersey, Army Corps of Engineers, and the Delaware River Basin Commission. And while Chris Christie was a big fan of the pipeline, newly elected Governor Phil Murphy ran a campaign promising a green agenda and has already voiced opposition.
Pipeline opponents are demonstrating this afternoon and taking the developers to court. “It’s just the beginning. New Jersey doesn’t need or want this damaging pipeline, and has the power to stop it when it faces a more stringent state review,” Tom Gilbert, campaign director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, said in a statement.
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An AP reporter visited seven sites on Thursday, and found that all were underwater.
One site, the Highlands Acid Pit, Jason Dearen writes, was barely visible above the churning San Jacinto River, and “the air smelled bitter.” Nearby, “a pair of tall white tanks had tipped over into a heap of twisted steel.” At the San Jacinto River Waste Pits — which are full of dioxins and other hazardous substances — “the flow from the raging river washing over the toxic site was so intense it damaged an adjacent section of the Interstate 10 bridge.”
The EPA later confirmed that, using satellite imagery to check a total of 41 Superfund sites, 13 had flooded. Employees had begun inspections on Monday for damage and possible contamination, but have yet to release any findings. The agency also, bizarrely, put out a statement calling the AP’s story “incredibly misleading” and “inaccurate” — without contradicting any of its facts.
An Obama-era EPA report found Superfund sites are threatened by stronger storms, flooding, and sea-level rise. New EPA director Scott Pruitt has said he wants to double down on Superfund cleanup efforts — and that’s despite Trump’s “skinny budget” proposing significant cuts to the remediation program.
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On Thursday, explosions and black plumes of smoke were seen coming from a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, 15 miles east of Houston’s city center.
Arkema, the company that owns the plant, said there was nothing they could do to prevent further explosions. The volatile chemicals stored onsite need to be refrigerated at all times to prevent breakdown, but flooding from Harvey cut the plant’s power. The “only plausible solution” now is to let the eight containers, containing 500,000 pounds of organic peroxides, explode and burn out, Arkema CEO Rich Rowe said at a press conference on Friday.
That’s bad news for Arkema’s neighbors. On Thursday, 15 public safety officers were taken to the hospital after breathing in acrid smoke from the plant. After local officials took a peek at Arkema’s chemical inventories, they ordered everyone within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant to evacuate. We don’t know precisely what’s in the noxious fumes, as Arkema has refused to release details of the facility’s chemical inventories.
In the worst-case scenario documented in the company’s 2014 risk-management plan, the air pollution coming from the plant could put the 1 million people living within 20 miles radius in danger. That seems unlikely — but then again, Harvey has outdone plenty of worst-case scenario predictions so far.
Sixty-two million trees perished in the state in the last year alone, mostly in the Sierra Nevada, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s a lot of kindling.
Trees killed by rising temperatures, pests, and sustained drought “elevate the risk of wildfire,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Oh goody: just what California needs!
The state this year saw its most expensive wildfire in history: Monterey County’s Soberanes Fire took out more than 132,000 acres, and cost more than $260 million. South of Monterey, San Bernardino’s Blue Cut Fire burned more than 36,000 acres, and destroyed nearly 100 homes.
Even if foresters had unlimited funds, it would be unwise to remove all the dead trees. Charred, decomposing trees are a natural element of the landscape and can support other life, making forests healthier in the long run.
Western fires in general are now bigger, and fire seasons last longer than they did a few decades ago, due to extended drought and elevated temperatures.
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The world’s biggest rainforest might be on fire soon
But in steamier parts of the world, scientists are warily eyeing a sleeping giant: the Amazon.
Reduced rainfall in the region earlier this year (seriously, good riddance, El Niño) has dried out the rainforest, setting it up for epic burning this summer, researchers from NASA and UC Irvine report.
“It’s the driest we’ve seen it at the onset of a fire season,” said Jim Randerson, one of UC Irvine’s researchers. The rainforest is much more parched today than in 2005 and 2010, when previous droughts led to raging fires.
The Amazon is a huge carbon sink — it stores 120 billion tons of the stuff — and is crucial in regulating much of South America’s rainfall cycle. Apart from potentially releasing untold amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and smothering the region in noxious fumes, a massive Amazonian wildfire could potentially tip the region into a new state — one where the forest can never recover its carbon-sucking, rain-producing superpowers. (The official term for this, bandied about for a few years now by scientists, is the “Amazon dieback.”)
As the Washington Post reports, we have something to do with it, as usual. Human activity such as chopping trees leads to weakened, fragmented forests that are more likely to dry out and burn. Other research shows that post-drought forest regrowth is less dense and more flammable, leading to a potentially dangerous feedback cycle.
But it’s always important to note that these are projections. The apocalypse hasn’t descended (yet). Hopefully, the study will light a fire under authorities’ derrieres in the Amazon region to prevent foolhardy fire-causing behaviors. El Smokey Bear, anyone?
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As meteorologists and climate scientists work to clarify the role of global warming in making summers in the Southwest insufferable, citizens would do well to stay hydrated. Original article: A Meteorologist Explores Survival Skills and Climate Change as a ‘Heat Dome’ Sears the Southwest ; ; ;
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An air tanker fighting a wildfire near Yosemite National Park in Northern California crashed Tuesday, but there was no immediate word on the state of the plane or the pilot. Link to article – National Briefing | West: California: Plane That Was Fighting Wildfire Crashes