Alberta Wildfires Out of Control. Blame Climate Change, with a little help from Hillary Clinton
Perhaps I'm beating a dead horse in the eyes of some here, but when I see a headline like this - Fort McMurray: Fire could double in size, Canadian official says - from CNN, I find it more than a little disturbing.
Dry, windy conditions are fueling the blaze, which has already raged over 1,010 square kilometers (389 square miles). By Saturday, it might be twice as big.
"It's extremely dry out there. Wind continues to push from the southwest, to push the fire to the northeast into the forested areas," Alberta Wildfire official Chad Morrison said Friday afternoon. "There is a high potential that this fire could double in size by the end of the day tomorrow."
This is just one of forty (40) wildfires ravaging Alberta. And it's only May. As for those who see this as just another strange weather event that we should not tie to anthropogenic climate change, well, again, that's not what the experts at Climate Central, a popular and respected climate science website, are saying in their article: "Here’s the Climate Context For the Fort McMurray Wildfire."
The wildfire is the latest in a lengthening lineage of early wildfires in the northern reaches of the globe that are indicative of a changing climate. As the planet continues to warm, these types of fires will likely only become more common and intense as spring snowpack disappears and temperatures warm.
If you followed the links from the excerpt of article above, you would see references to a series of massive, disastrous wildfires across the upper Northern hemisphere, including boreal forests in Siberia, Alaska and the Northwest Territories in Canada since 2013, which predates the current extreme El Nino event. This sharp increase in both the extent and intensity of wildfires this far north, and the lengthening of the wildfire season across the globe, as acknowledged by this report in The New York Times, "Wildfires, Once Confined to a Season, Burn Earlier and Longer," is seen by many climate scientists as a clear indication that global warming is the clear culprit.
Here's a list of a few of the sources that support this claim:
A new analysis of 35 years of meteorological data confirms fire seasons have become longer. Fire season, which varies in timing and duration based on location, is defined as the time of year when wildfires are most likely to ignite, spread, and affect resources. [...]
The researchers found that fire weather seasons have lengthened across one quarter of Earth’s vegetated surface. In certain areas, extending the fire season by a bit each year added up to a large change over the full study period. For instance, parts of the western United States and Mexico, Brazil, and East Africa now face wildfire seasons that are more than a month longer than they were 35 years ago.
The National Interagency Fire Center’s numbers vividly illustrate how 2015 was a record setter. U.S. wildfires scorched 10.12 million acres. [...]
That bests the previous mark of 9.87 million acres set in 2006, and it's the first time wildfire acreage burned has crossed the 10-million acre threshold. The impacts of climate change mean that the threshold will likely be crossed more often in the coming century as wildfire season lasts longer and sparks more large fires. [...]
.... In Alaska, scientists have raised concerns that wildfires could send vast reserves of carbon locked in the soil up in smoke. That could raise temperatures further and lead to even more fires and speed up the march of climate change in a dangerous feedback loop.
PNAS Journal article "Recent burning of boreal forests exceeds fire regime limits of the past 10,000 years."
Fire frequency and area burned increased ∼6,000–3,000 y ago, probably as a result of elevated landscape flammability associated with increased Picea mariana in the regional vegetation. During the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA; ∼1,000–500 cal B.P.), the period most similar to recent decades, warm and dry climatic conditions resulted in peak biomass burning, but severe fires favored less-flammable deciduous vegetation, such that fire frequency remained relatively stationary. These results suggest that boreal forests can sustain high-severity fire regimes for centuries under warm and dry conditions, with vegetation feedbacks modulating climate–fire linkages. The apparent limit to [Medieval Climate Anomaly] burning has been surpassed by the regional fire regime of recent decades, which is characterized by exceptionally high fire frequency and biomass burning. This extreme combination suggests a transition to a unique regime of unprecedented fire activity.
Perhaps you don't think this has anything to do with the current election, and in one sense you are correct. The media certainly hasn't made climate change a major topic of discussion, nor have the candidates. The Republicans, including the likely nominee, Donald Trump, almost to a man and woman, reject the science of climate change and deny that what we are seeing with our own eyes is real. It's happening now, not in some distant future when we will all be dead and won't have to worry about it. But they deny, deny, deny because to do otherwise would be to reject the position of their financial backers and all those conservatives who buy into the Fox Noise propaganda.
What's more troubling, however, is that, despite a few rhetorical statements and stated policy positions (which you can easily find on her campaign's website, so I won't bother linking to it here), Hillary Clinton, the leader in the number of delegates in the current Democratic Party's nomination selection process, seems oblivious or indifferent to the effects that climate change is re-shaping our world at an alarming and ever increasing rate. Instead of responding to legitimate complaints regarding her record by environmental critics, she has lashed out in anger at them instead. And no wonder. Her record, from promoting fracking around the world to approving the transport of tar sands pipelines while Secretary if State is not a good one. Let's look at some examples, shall we, beginning with her concerted effortss at State to promote fracking.
When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.
Unfortunately, Hillary continues to claim that fracking is a clean source of energy, despite the recent evidence that methane emissions in the US alone increased 30% after the fracking and shale gas boom began, and studies that show natural gas would do little to stop the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously blocking increased utilization of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power.
We’ve reached the point where Denmark can generate 42 percent of its power from the wind, and where Bangladesh is planning to solarize every village in the country within the next five years. We’ve reached the point, that is, where the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable future is a marketing slogan, not a realistic claim (even if that’s precisely the phrase that Hillary Clinton used to defend fracking in a debate earlier this month).
Joe Romm, a climate analyst at the Center for American Progress, has been tracking the various economic studies more closely than anyone else. Even if you could cut the methane-leakage rates to zero, Romm says, fracked gas (which, remember, still produces 50 percent of the CO2 level emitted by coal when you burn it) would do little to cut the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions because it would displace so much truly clean power. A Stanford forum in 2014 assembled more than a dozen expert teams, and their models showed what a drag on a sustainable future cheap, abundant gas would be. “Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” the principal investigator of the Stanford forum explained. “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.” [...]
Clinton continues to conflate and confuse the chemistry: Natural gas, she said in a recent position paper, has helped US carbon emissions “reach their lowest level in 20 years.” It appears that many in power would like to carry on the fracking revolution, albeit a tad more carefully.
I guess she isn't paying attention to the research or the EPA's own confession that they drastically underestimated methane emissions (though their current estimates of methane emissions are still likely too conservative). But she's against coal, right? Not so fast. Just recently, after criticism from coal miners and the coal mining industry in West Virginia, Hillary Clinton publicly reversed her previous position that coal as an energy source should be phased out as soon as possible.
Mrs. Clinton said earlier this year that more miners would be put out of work if she is elected president and vowed to continue President Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on carbon emissions through federal regulation.
The former secretary of state then tried to retract her comments by saying she was merely opining on the fact that the U.S. coal industry is declining.
“I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context from what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time, and I did put out a plan last summer,” she said. “I didn’t mean that we were going to do it. What I said was that is going to happen unless we take action to try to help and prevent it,” Mrs. Clinton said at a town hall meeting in West Virginia this week.
A profile in political courage, this is not. Then again, in 2008, she avidly supported coal as the fuel of the future. And now she appears to be back on the clean coal bandwagon, supporting pie-in-the-sky carbon sequestration as the solution to keeping coal miners and their employers in business.
Earlier on Monday, Clinton expanded on what sort of "action" she would take during a conversation about "economic barriers and jobs," which was held in Ashland, Kentucky.
"We've got to do a lot more on carbon capture and sequestration," she told voters, "and try to see how we can get coal to be a fuel that can continue to be sold and continue to be mined."
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), or "clean coal," has long been touted as a greener method of burning fossil fuels and is a pillar of Clinton's energy agenda.
Then, of course, there is her dubious record at the State Department, when she green-lighted (pun intended) the Alberta Clipper pipeline to make the transport of tar sand oil production in western Canada economically viable, despite the consensus among the scientific community that it is a dirtier, more harmful source of fossil fuels that should not be pursued.
As [President Obama spoke about America's leadership in the fight against Climate Change], another pipeline known as the Alberta Clipper was already transporting some 800,000 barrels per day (BPD) of tar sands crude—the same type and essentially the same volume of oil as the proposed Keystone—to U.S. refineries.
While Keystone has monopolized public outrage, the State Department has quietly allowed a similar project to move ahead. The Clipper is one link in a broader network of pipelines, operated by Canadian oil giant Enbridge, Inc., that extends from the Alberta tar sands all the way to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Environmental groups warn that this could lead to a dramatic increase in the production of tar-sands oil—one of the dirtiest and most environmentally hazardous types of fuel— with little public scrutiny
Perhaps it should come as no surprise to anyone, that three major US oil companies, Chevron, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, who held significant investments in Canadian tar sands, lobbied the State Department under Secretary Clinton to approve the Alberta Clipper pipeline. All three companies then contributed millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation after this tar sands pipeline was approved.
In 2009, the Clinton-led State Department approved a permit for the 400-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline, which is designed to pump up to 450,000 barrels of oil per day from the Canadian oil sands to Wisconsin (where recent polls show Democratic primary voters are concerned about its impact). According to federal lobbying records reviewed by the IBT, Chevron and ConocoPhillips both lobbied the State Department specifically on the issue of “oil sands” in the immediate months prior to the department's approval, as did a trade association funded by ExxonMobil.
Those three oil companies have delivered between between $2.5 million and $3 million to the Clinton Foundation. That is on top of money their executives and lobbyists delivered to Clinton’s campaign and super PAC in her 2008 presidential bid — the year before she approved the pipeline. [...]
In the year prior to the approval, Chevron’s Laurence Humphries was a top fundraising “bundler” for Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid, raising more than $100,000 for her run, according to the watchdog group Public Citizen. Following the pipeline approval, Chevron hosted an event at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2010, according to CGI’s website. The company also gave the Clinton Foundation $250,000 in 2013, reported the Wall Street Journal. In all, Chevron has given between $500,000 and $1 million to the foundation. Two Chevron lobbyists are listed as fundraising bundlers for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, according to the Huffington Post.
It is both sad and ironic that the people who have been forced to evacuate their homes as a result of these wildfires, which are literally creating its own "weather," live in the very region that is heavily dependent on income from the development of tar sands oil. Tar sands oil that would not have been developed absent the approval of the Alberta pipeline by Hillary Clinton, the beneficiary of millions of dollars of dirty oil money. That Greenpeace protestor who confronted Hillary in New York was telling the truth, and Hillary was lying. Like Bill McKibben, I have no faith that she will do anything significant to halt fossil fuel use and/or ameliorate the horrific consequences of climate change that are occurring now.
Meanwhile, Alberta burns.