GOP Starts to See the Light of the Wildfires

Even desert plants in the Sonoran Desert of California are showing the strain and other climate change briefs

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Fire in Santa Clarita, April 28, 2021
Wildfire in Santa Clarita, April 28Credit: Emily Alvarenga/AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Even the Republicans are starting to lay down their earmuffs

What clearer sign of climate change coming at us like a freight train on fire do you need, than the GOP forming an all-GOP Conservative Climate Caucus? That group even reportedly has some Trump supporters, maybe ones living in...

...Oregon and Washington, where temperatures soared past norms and broke records this weekend. Portland hit a record 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday. Seattle recorded 37.8 Celsius on Saturday, a record for June and only the fourth time in its history that the city got that hot – which explains why so many people there don’t have air conditioning. And the summer hasn’t even really begun.

Chalk sidewalk art in Portland, which hit record heat last weekCredit: Sara Cline/AP

Yet it’s already so unusually hot that in Eugene, Oregon, an ice-cream truck worker decided not to sell over the weekend because the ice cream “melts as we hand it to customers.”

Meanwhile, fear not: The Middle East is not getting a break. “Five countries joined the 50-degree Celsius club,” The Washington Post put it earlier this month. Temperatures were soaring early this year in the Gulf, which was experiencing the worst heat wave in history for that time of year. As did parts of Canada. Who would associate British Colombia or Saskatchewan with emergency cooling centers? “It’s warmer in parts of western Canada than in Dubai,” Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said in bemusement to the local channel CTV News, according to Al Jazeera.

As the American Southwest bakes, the fear of rampant wildfires is mounting. U.S. fire and climate scientists and engineers have found that forest fires are “now reaching higher, normally wetter elevations.” Who reported this? None other than the World Economic Forum.

Meanwhile, over in Texas, a University of Houston survey found distrust in the legislature following deaths in February thanks to Storm Uri and the resulting power loss. “The impact of the February storm is abundantly clear, but Texans’ confidence in the ability of their state government to prevent another incident like this from repeating itself is less clear,” the university stated. Both local Republicans and Democrats believe that renewable energy will “make a substantial contribution to reliable and secure electricity supply in Texas in the future.” Indeed as the state froze and now roasts, it seems denial is waning.

So as heat breaks records in the American Southwest, the price of air conditioners is spiking too. But look: Air conditioning 1) consumes a lot of energy 2) which is bad for the planet 3) and for your wallet 4) and may not be reliable when you need it most because during heat waves (and extreme cold, etcetera) power companies may not have the capacity to cover demand, resulting in power outs – 5) and even if they do have the capacity, some power companies may need to shut down because the water cooling their turbines is becoming too warm to do the job 6) which has already happened and will likely happen more and more.

February in TexasCredit: TAMIR KALIFA / NYT

So just as the world gets hotter and hotter we may find our air conditioners – those of us who have them – not entirely helpful. Last September a review by researchers at MIT addressed the conundrum of the mounting need for air conditioning, which will help destroy life as we know it. The answer seems to lie, yet again, in public policy (need for profound societal change) and startups (technology that doesn’t exist yet but its harbingers may be on the horizon).

Feel helped? Not yet? Stop traveling if you don’t need to. Now you have been helped.

Meanwhile, ZME Science reports that Scotland wants to build “a massive plant capable of removing one million tons of CO2 from the air every year”. It is slated to become operational in 2026 and to store the captured CO2 in the seabed. To keep our hope in proportion, it’s still all on paper, no site has been chosen yet, storage in the seabed is a theoretical, enormously complicated and risky endeavor, and there’s no bottom-line calculation published of how much CO2 will be generated in its removal.

In other words, the Scottish planned plant is nice but we’re not off the hook. A University of California, Irvine study found that climate change is desiccating and baking Arizona’s Sonoran Desert too and causing a huge decrease in plant life. “Between 1984 and 2017, vegetation cover in desert ecosystems decreased overall by about 35 percent, with mountains seeing a 13 percent vegetation decline,” the researchers report. The plants are dying and being replaced with – nothing. Sand. Why? Because of less rain and higher temperatures. But these were desert plants! They were expected to be hardier, no? Apparently, they are not; they were already living on the brink.

People cool off in the water at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in Denver, on June 16Credit: Brittany Peterson/AP

Know that there are deserts and there are deserts. The annual precipitation in Chile’s Atacama averages about 0.04 inches a year; the Gobi averages about 7 to 8 inches (partly thanks to wind-driven snow from Siberia’s steppes), and Israel’s Negev annually gets a relatively hefty four to 10 inches, depending on location and year. At levels like this, every storm matters. The Sonoran Desert’s annual rainfall has been ranging from 3 to 15 inches , also depending on year and location, but it’s trending down.

Last year Haaretz and others warned of the megadrought emerging in the United States. Apparently, it has emerged.

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