A Desperate Bid for Survival as Fire Closed In on an Oregon Mountain Town – The New York Times

“SALEM, Ore. — They were trapped. As walls of fire and smoke encircled their town and blocked the roads, the last people in Detroit, Ore., trickled onto a boat launch beside a half-drained reservoir — residents and vacationers, barefoot children in pajamas, exhausted firefighters. There were two people on bikes. One man rode up on a powerboat.

Seven miles to the west, one path to safety out of the mountains along Highway 22 was blocked by flaming trees and boulders as the largest of 30 wildfires consuming Oregon raced through the canyons. Thirteen miles to the east, the other way out of town was covered with the wreckage of another seething blaze.

So as a black dawn broke one morning last week, the 80 people trapped in the lakeside vacation town on the evergreen slopes of the Cascades huddled together in a blizzard of ash, waiting for a rescue by air.”

 – By Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer – The New York Times

“President Trump has made dismantling federal climate policies a centerpiece of his administration. A new analysis from the Rhodium Group finds those rollbacks add up to a lot more planet-warming emissions.”

Opinion | Human Weakness Is Responsible for This Poisonous Air – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“Among the few remaining advantages that Americans can claim over other countries is the relative cleanliness of our air. Air pollution is a leading risk factor for early death; it is linked to an estimated four million premature fatalities around the world annually. But over the last 50 years, since Congress passed environmental legislation in 1970, air quality in the United States has steadily improved. Today, America’s air is significantly cleaner than in much of the rest of the world, including in many of our wealthy, industrialized peers.

Well, not literally today, considering I needed an N95 mask to walk to the mailbox this morning. Over the last few years, for weeks and sometimes months in late summer and fall, my home state, California, and other parts of the American West erupt in hellish blaze, and plumes of smoke turn the heavens visibly toxic.

In some of the country’s most populous cities in the last few weeks, the concentration of dangerous particulates in the air shot up to levels worse than the averages in the most polluted cities in China, India and Pakistan. Ash generated by some of the largest wildfires in California’s and Oregon’s history fell across the region like snow. The sky burned Martian orange — a hue so alien that smartphones struggled to faithfully photograph it.

I have been searching for some glint of optimism during an otherwise bleak time. While choking through a walk this past weekend (I had to leave the house), I came up with this: Maybe such disasters will finally force us to recognize the steep costs of incompetent, neglectful, uncaring government.”

NYT: The Real Cost of Coal

“This failure by the government to collect fair value for taxpayer coal is made more troubling by the climate-change implications of burning this fossil fuel. Taxpayers are already incurring major costs in responding to the effects of global warming. Coastal infrastructure is being battered by sea rise and storm surges; forests are being devastated by climate-aided pest infestations; and studies are suggesting that temperature rises have increased the likelihood of devastating droughts in California.

Moreover, as the Council of Economic Advisers documented in a report last July because of the long-lived nature of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, these costs will continue to rise.”

The cost of government coal should reflect the climate-change impact of burning it to generate electricity.
nytimes.com|By David J. Hayes and James H. Stock

It’s Not Just California. These Places Are Also on Fire. – By Veronica Penney – The New York Times

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“Wildfires are devastating the American West, but the United States isn’t the only place on Earth that’s burning. This year, other countries have also experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history.

In each case, the contributing factors are different, but an underlying theme runs through the story: Hotter, drier seasons, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, have made the world more prone to erupt in flames.

“We don’t have a fire problem; we have many fire problems,” said Stephen J. Pyne, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies wildfires and their history. “One, obviously, is a deep one. It has to do with fossil fuels and climate.” “

The Arctic Is Shifting to a New Climate Because of Global Warming – By Henry Fountain – The New York Times

 

“The effects of global warming in the Arctic are so severe that the region is shifting to a different climate, one characterized less by ice and snow and more by open water and rain, scientists said Monday.

Already, they said, sea ice in the Arctic has declined so much that even an extremely cold year would not result in as much ice as was typical decades ago. Two other characteristics of the region’s climate, seasonal air temperatures and the number of days of rain instead of snow, are shifting in the same way, the researchers said.

The Arctic is among the parts of the world most influenced by climate change, with sharply rising temperatures, thawing permafrost and other effects in addition to shrinking sea ice. The study, by Lara Landrum and Marika M. Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is an effort to put what is occurring in the region in context.

“Everybody knows the Arctic is changing,” said Dr. Landrum, a climate scientist and the lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “We really wanted to quantify if is this a new climate.”

In other words, she said, “has the Arctic changed so much and so fast that the new climate cannot be predicted from the recent past?”

Using years of observational data from the region and computer models, the researchers found that sea ice is already in a new climate, in effect: The extent of ice in recent years is consistently less than what would be expected in even the worst year for ice in the mid-20th century.

Arctic sea ice has declined by about 12 percent per decade since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the 13 lowest sea-ice years have all occurred since 2007. This year is expected to be a record or near-record low for ice extent, which will be determined by the end of this month as the summer melt period ends.”

In Visiting a Charred California, Trump Confronts a Scientific Reality He Denies – By Michael D. Shear and Coral Davenport – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — When President Trump flies to California on Monday to assess the state’s raging forest fires, he will come face to face with the grim consequences of a reality he has stubbornly refused to accept: the devastating effects of a warming planet.

To the global scientific community, the acres of scorched earth and ash-filled skies across the American West are the tragic, but predictable, result of accelerating climate change. Nearly two years ago, federal government scientists concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels could triple the frequency of severe fires across the Western states.

But the president has used his time in the nation’s highest office to aggressively promote the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly by rolling back or weakening every major federal policy intended to combat dangerous emissions. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his senior environmental officials have regularly mocked, denied or minimized the established science of human-caused climate change.

Now, as he battles for a second term in the White House, Mr. Trump has doubled down on his anti-climate agenda as a way of appealing to his core supporters. At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, he blamed California’s failure to “clean your floors” of leaves, threatening to “make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.

The lethal fires spreading across the West — like the coronavirus that has ravaged the country for months — are a warning for the president that many voters may hold him and his administration accountable for brushing aside scientific experts and failing to effectively mobilize the government to minimize natural disasters that have claimed lives, damaged property and threatened economic prosperity.

“Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real,” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles, a supporter of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.”

Mr. Trump’s climate record is far more aggressive than the laissez-faire environmental policy promoted for years by business interests in his party. Indeed, as he has sought to zealously roll back regulations, even some of the world’s largest oil companies and automakers have opposed the moves, saying that they will lead to years of legal uncertainty that could actually harm their bottom lines.

“As an historic figure, he is one of the most culpable men in America contributing to the suffering and death that is now occurring through climate-related tragedy,” Jerry Brown, the former California governor who made climate change his signature issue, said in an interview on Sunday, though he was careful not to blame Mr. Trump specifically for the fires ravaging his state.

The president’s record is also more consequential, experts say, because the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere has now passed the point at which scientists say it would be possible to avert many of the worst effects of global warming — even if tough emissions policies are later enacted.

Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign is hoping to use Mr. Trump’s climate positions as a cudgel against him with independents and moderate Republicans. Christine Todd Whitman, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, is backing Mr. Biden’s candidacy in large part because of the president’s environmental policies.

“It’s mind-boggling, the ignorance that he displays on this subject,” Ms. Whitman said in an interview on Sunday. “He doesn’t understand climate change. He doesn’t particularly believe in science. It’s all about him and his re-election.”

“He doesn’t govern for all Americans,” she said.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump abruptly added the trip to McClellan Park, Calif., near Sacramento, to be briefed on the fires to an already scheduled West Coast fund-raising and campaign swing. He had come under intense criticism for weeks of silence on the increasingly deadly blazes that are consuming parts of California, Oregon and Washington — three Democratic-led states that he has feuded with for years.

. . .   But the president has often treated climate change and the environment as a deeply partisan issue, not unlike his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent racial upheaval in some cities, in which he has frequently lashed out at Democratic officials while praising the actions of Republicans.

Trump ended a ban on offshore oil drilling supported by the Republican governor in a key election-year state, even though he has refused to do the same for Democratic-led states in the Northeast.

At the event in front of supporters in Jupiter, Fla., Mr. Trump declared himself “a great environmentalist.”

In fact, Mr. Trump has repeatedly mocked the science of climate change since long before he ran for president. In 2012, he tweeted: “In the 1920’s people were worried about global cooling — it never happened. Now it’s global warming. Give me a break!” He also tweeted that the concept of climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The president has continued to take a dim view of climate science throughout his tenure, even as the government he oversees has reinforced the accepted threats to the future of the planet.

. . .   In 2017 and 2018, the federal government published a sweeping, two-volume scientific report, the National Climate Assessment, that represents the most authoritative and comprehensive conclusions to date about the causes and effects of climate change in the United States.

The report is clear about the causes — burning fossil fuels — and the effects: It found that the increased drought, flooding, storms and worsening wildfires caused by the warming planet could shrink the American economy by up to 10 percent by the end of the century.

Two days before the White House published the 2018 volume of that report, Mr. Trump mockingly tweeted, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

In an interview a month before, he said of global warming, “I don’t know that it’s man-made,” and suggested that even as the planet warmed, “it will change back again” — an idea scientists have long debunked.

Federal Report Warns of Financial Havoc From Climate Change – By Coral Davenport and Jeanna Smialek – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — A report commissioned by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets has concluded that climate change threatens U.S. financial markets, as the costs of wildfires, storms, droughts and floods spread through insurance and mortgage markets, pension funds and other financial institutions.

“A world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system,” concluded the report, “Managing Climate Risk in the Financial System,” which was requested last year by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and set for release on Wednesday morning.

Those observations are not entirely new, but they carry new weight coming with the imprimatur of the regulator of complex financial instruments like futures, swaps and other derivatives that help fix the price of commodities like corn, oil and wheat. It is the first wide-ranging federal government study focused on the specific impacts of climate change on Wall Street.

Perhaps most notable is that it is being published at all. The Trump administration has suppressed, altered or watered down government science around climate change as it pushes an aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation that it hopes will spur economic growth.

The new report asserts that doing nothing to avert climate change will do the opposite.

Heat, Smoke and Covid Are Battering the Workers Who Feed America – By Somini Sengupta – The New York Times

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Photographs by 

“STOCKTON, Calif — Work began in the dark. At 4 a.m., Briseida Flores could make out a fire burning in the distance. Floodlights illuminated the fields. And shoulder to shoulder with dozens of others, Ms. Flores pushed into the rows of corn. Swiftly, they plucked. One after the other. First under the lights, then by the first rays of daylight.

By 10:30 a.m., it was unbearably hot. Hundreds of wildfires were burning to the north, and so much smoke was settling into the San Joaquin Valley that the local air pollution agency issued a health alert. Ms. Flores, 19, who had joined her mother in the fields after her father lost his job in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, found it hard to breathe in between the tightly planted rows. Her jeans were soaked with sweat.

“It felt like a hundred degrees in there,” Ms. Flores said. “We said we don’t want to go in anymore.”

She went home, exhausted, and slept for an hour.

All this to harvest dried, ocher-colored ears of corn meant to decorate the autumn table.

Like the gossamer layer of ash and dust that is settling on the trees in Central California, climate change is adding on to the hazards already faced by some of the country’s poorest, most neglected laborers. So far this year, more than 7,000 fires have scorched 1.4 million acres, and there is no reprieve in sight, officials warned.”

“. . . .  The valley is abnormally dry in parts, and in drought in others. Dust swirls up from the fields like a genie. Many creek beds are parched. The rivers have been twisted and bent every which way to bring water from the north for the fields. Since mid-August, for over two weeks, daily high temperatures have ranged from 97 degrees Fahrenheit to 108″

Konrad Steffen, Who Sounded Alarm on Greenland Ice, Dies at 68 – The New York Times

“Konrad Steffen, an Arctic scientist whose work showed that climate change is melting Greenland’s vast ice sheet with increasing speed, died on Saturday in an accident near a research station he created there 30 years ago. He was 68.

Police investigators said he had fallen into a crevasse in the ice and drowned in the deep water below.

A fellow scientist at the station, Jason Box, said the crevasse, or large crack, was a known hazard. But he added that high winds and recent snowfall had made visibility poor and landmarks harder to spot.

The small group at the site — christened Swiss Camp by Dr. Steffen — was installing new equipment when he walked off to perform another task. Over the next few hours, Dr. Box said, they assumed that Dr. Steffen had gone back to his tent for a nap. But when they finished their work he was nowhere to be found.”