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Burning: A summer of fire, smoke, ash and change

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Posted September 3, 2015 by Ray Grigg in Climate Change
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Burning: A summer of fire, smoke, ash and change

Photo: Province of British Columbia/Flickr CC licence

Wildfires are ripping across California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska during this summer of 2015, the result of unprecedented droughts and record temperatures. Millions of hectares are being burned along with hundreds of homes. Fire-fighting costs are multiplying, the economic damage is soaring and the environmental consequences are foreboding.

The old ecologies of the Pacific Northwest are being reshaped as climate change begins the long and disruptive process of altering the weather and remaking the biological structure of the region.

Washington fires claim lives, threaten BC

Countless statistics tumble out of news reports as uncontrolled fires scorch California and dozens of active fires burn in Oregon and Washington. Bushfires explode because of unprecedented heat and wind, igniting whole neighbourhoods and even parts of downtowns, as was the case at the end of June in Wenatchee. Sometimes firefighters are the casualties.

Grass becomes tinder in the Pacific Northwest, waiting for any spark to set off a conflagration. Washington stopped counting and even fighting some its fires during parts of August, letting them burn to exhaustion, whenever that may occur. At least one has spread northward toward British Columbia.

BC’s firefighting costs exceed budget by 4 times

BC’s fire situation is similar to that in the American states to the south. Over 1,734 have been counted in the province since April and firefighting costs of more than $224 million have dwarfed a budget of $63 million. The focus of media attention shifts quickly from place to place depending on the size of the fire, the loss of property and the extent of human tragedy. Some people have barely escaped with their lives as walls of flames have roared toward them. The charred bodies of dead wildlife are commonly found in the ashen remains of the blackened landscapes. The danger in BC is exacerbated by the 18 million hectares of interior forest attacked by the mountain pine beetle.

Baked Alaska

Alaska, like BC, has undergone an average temperature increase of about 1.4°C, mostly during the last 50 years, and is at least as vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures, droughts and wildfires. Record areas of the state have burned in 2015, 183 more than the 216 fires that burned during the scorching season of 2004.

From a climate perspective, Alaska’s fires are particularly serious because they burn off the deep layers of organic insulation that are protecting the permafrost from further melting and the subsequent release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. “Everything is connected,” notes Bob Bolton, a University of Alaska hydrologist.

The climate, the permafrost, the water, the fires. You can’t look at one without looking at the other. Changes in one changes everything. It’s a really, really sensitive system.

A scary forecast

Complex ecologies such as the Pacific Northwest are similarly sensitive. Increased levels of atmospheric of carbon dioxide from human sources are raising temperatures, changing weather and forcing the region into a protracted and traumatic transition. Altered precipitation patterns are lowering crucially important snowpacks, degrading the vitality of watersheds and transforming the character of West Coast forests as California’s climate shifts northward.

The summer fires are just part of a difficult and disruptive climate revolution we have set in motion. This change may be welcomed by those who like California’s climate, but the process is going to leave many others badly burned.

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About the Author

Ray Grigg

Ray Grigg is in his ninth year as a weekly environmental columnist for the Campbell River Courier-Islander on BC's Vancouver Island. Before this column, titled Shades of Green - now appearing on commonsensecanadian.ca as well - Ray wrote a bi-weekly environmental column for five years. He is the author of seven internationally published books on Oriental philosophy, specifically Zen and Taoism. His academic background is in English literature, psychology, cultural history, and philosophy. He has travelled to some 45 countries around the globe.

4 Comments


  1.  

    Excellent article Ray, thankyou…gruesome and frightening though it all is! I was looking for info on the number of fires burning this summer in the province and was pleased to see this piece pop up…very timely as I was just about to submit my short monthly contribution to the Island Word published in Courtenay. I have quoted you in my column and linked back here to this piece. Best wishes, Fireweed (Denman Island)




  2.  
    John's Aghast

    Thanks for the link Tom. I knew the budget was exceeded every year – just didn’t know where to find the info.
    Why bother with a budget?




  3.  
    Mooney

    All the more reason to investigate the roles of corporations and global military agencies like the U.S. and NATO on the effects of their geoengeering projects like aerosol spraying, atmospheric heating, HAARP,/ magnetic/microwave weapons, weaponized radar/ lasers etc.

    Any alleged science that doesn’t factor in these long term, large scale globalist operations isn’t science.

    It’s just another bunch of special interests, padding their pockets with “garbage in garbage out” computer models, liberally interpreted stats and a large scale media/propaganda operation. All aimed at increasing our cost of living and another big win for “disaster capitalism”.

    Nice photo.




  4.  
    Tom

    BC has spent 4 times the budget, you say? Let’s check the government’s budget setting math: https://questioningthedata.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/blowing-budgets/





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