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World’s Forests Going Up in Smoke

A forest of Nothofagus antarctica trees burned in a fire that covered 40,000 acres in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in 2012. (Photo by Dave McWethy) Posted for media use

A forest of Nothofagus antarctica trees burned in a fire that covered 40,000 acres in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in 2012. (Photo by Dave McWethy) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

CONCEPCION, Chile, August 23, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Chile has replaced many of its native forests with plantation forests to supply pulp and timber mills that produce paper and wood products. As a result, highly flammable non-native pine and eucalypt forests now cover the region.

Eucalypt trees, which are native to Australia, and pine trees native to the United States contain oils and resins in their leaves that, when dry, can easily ignite.

Researchers have discovered some reasons why massive fires continue to burn through south-central Chile. Their results were published August 22, in “PLOS ONE,” an online scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Lead author Dave McWethy, an assistant professor in Montana State University’s Department of Earth Sciences, received a Fulbright grant that sent him to Chile from 2015-2016 to research the wildfires and teach at the University of Concepcion.

“Chile replaced more heterogenous, less flammable native forests with structurally homogenous, flammable exotic forest plantations at a time when the climate is becoming warmer and drier,” said McWethy. “This situation will likely facilitate future fires to spread more easily and promote more large fires into the future.”

Besides low humidity, high winds and extreme temperatures – some of the same factors contributing to fires raging elsewhere in the world – central Chile is experiencing a mega-drought and large portions of its diverse native forests have been converted to more flammable tree plantations, the researchers said.

Co-author Anibal Pauchard, professor at the University of Concepcion and researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Chile, said wildfires have been a part of the Chilean landscape for centuries, but they have grown larger and more intense in recent decades, despite costly government efforts to control them.

“Unfortunately, fires in central Chile are promoted by increasing human ignitions, drier and hotter climate, and the availability of abundant flammable fuels associated with pine plantations and degraded shrublands dominated by invasive species,” Pauchard said.

In 2016-2017 alone, fires burned nearly 1.5 million acres of Chilean forests, almost twice the area of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. It was the largest area burned during a single fire season since detailed recordkeeping began in the early 1960s.

The devastation prompted the Chilean government to ask what land-use policies and environmental factors were behind these fires, McWethy said. That led to a national debate about preventing and reducing the consequences of future fires.

McWethy said wildfires in south-central Chile and the western U.S. are affected by many of the same conditions, but the main difference is that native forests in the western U.S. are well-adapted to fire. In Chile, most native forests in the central and southern regions are not.

To better understand the Chilean fires, the researchers compared satellite information with records from the Chilean Forest Service for 2001 through 2017. They studied eight types of vegetation, climate conditions, elevation, slope and population density across a wide range of latitudes in Chile.

“Now we have compelling evidence that after climate, landscape composition is crucial in determining fire regimes. In particular, exotic forest plantations need to be managed to purposely reduce fire hazard,” Pauchard said. “Which forestry species we plant and how we manage them matters in terms of fire frequency and intensity.”

The researchers recommend that Chile move away from exotic plantations toward more diverse, less flammable native forests.

“Protecting and restoring native forests would likely buffer the negative impacts of fires that are projected to continue to increase into the future,” McWethy said, but that will be difficult to do. “So much of the landscape has changed in south-central Chile,” he said, “that it’s going to be difficult to restore,”

Firefighter overlooks the Donnell Fire, which started from unknown causes on August 1, 2018 near Donnell Reservoir, burning into the Stanislaus National Forest. August 18, 2018 (Photo by Josiah Dewey) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Firefighter overlooks the Donnell Fire, which started from unknown causes on August 1, 2018 near Donnell Reservoir, burning into the Stanislaus National Forest. August 18, 2018 (Photo by Josiah Dewey) Creative Commons license via Flickr

North American Forests Drying and Frying

Rising average temperatures have led to forests in Western North America drying out, increasing the risk of fires.

There are 129 million dead trees in California alone. Across California, the total number of fires is trending downward, but the size of fires is going up.

The West Coast of the United States is shrouded in smoke. Currently, more than two million acres have burned in 111 large fires in 13 states. Over 1.9 million acres (768,900 hectares) are or have been ablaze.

Six new large fires were reported in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon over the weekend and eight large fires have been contained, including the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park in California.

The weather concerns in the area include warmer than average temperatures that will continue in the west with daily winds and overnight humidity recoveries that are just marginal.

The Province of British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast has declared a state of emergency as thousands of firefighters battle more than 560 wildfires.

Fifty-eight large wildfires are destroying forests across the province, filling the skies with smoke. Overall, 565 fires are threatening more than 20,000 people who are on evacuation alert or under evacuation order.

“We’re going to throw everything we’ve got at these fires, but in a lot of cases, Mother Nature is going to be in the driver’s seat,” Kevin Skrepnek, the province’s chief fire information officer, told reporters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with first responders and British Columbians displaced by the wildfires on Thursday.

Trudeau met with B.C. Premier John Horgan in the British Columbia town of Nanaimo late Tuesday afternoon, ahead of a retreat with his newly-shuffled cabinet.

“Our thoughts are with the first responders, the firefighters and the residents who are struggling through the wildfires that are raging across the province,” Trudeau said.

In eastern Canada, firefighters from across the continent, from Wisconsin and Mexico are assisting Ontario forest firefighters in their battles with one of the worst fire seasons on record.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry reports 1,108 fires across Ontario this year, compared to 618 in 2017. The 10-year average is 643 fires in the province.

Fires Sweep Europe

England’s peatland moors, Ireland, Sweden, Scandinavia and even areas north of the Arctic Circle experienced major fires over the past two months.

At least 15 EU countries have experienced more wildfires than usual for this time of year, according to figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.

The number of wildfires ravaging Europe this year is 43 percent higher than the average for the last 10 years.

Several European countries are in the grip of unprecedented wildfires. While the deadly fires in Greece now are under control, dozens of fires are blazing across Turkey, Italy and Cyprus.

With Europe in the grip of a heatwave and with little rain to ease the drought, fires have now broken out as far north as the Arctic Circle, in Sweden.

An estimated 50 fires are now burning in Sweden. Through July there were three times as many fires during this period as last year.

Jonas Olsson from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said, “It’s very, very dry in most of Sweden. The flows in the rivers and lakes are exceptionally low, except in the very northern part of the country. We have water shortages.”

“Rainfall has only been around a seventh of the normal amount, the lowest since record-keeping began in the late 19th century,” Olsson said.

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said, “The devastating forest fires in Sweden have highlighted once again the impact of climate change and that we are facing a new reality.”

The number of forest fires in the European Union more than doubled from 2016 to 2017, figures obtained by Euronews show. Experts blame climate change for the increase, saying it has lengthened the traditional wildfire season and raised the frequency of fires.

There were 1,671 blazes in 2017, a huge increase over the 639 the EU saw annually on average during the previous eight years.

Russian Fires Not Extinguished

This year, fires have already affected an estimated area of more than 90,000 hectares in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

Lakes in Yakutia were still frozen at the end of May, but that ice has been replaced by fire after persistent heat over Siberia.

For example, on July 29, a total of 66 wildfires covering an area of 14,888 hectares were put out over 24 hours across Russia, the press service of the Federal Aerial Forest Fire Service (FAFFS) reported.

The hardest hit by wildfires were the Krasnoyarsk Region and Yakutia, where 39,600 and 21,000 hectares of woodland respectively were engulfed in flames. About 3,200 hectares were hit by wildfires in the Magadan region, and more than 2,300 in the Irkutsk region.

These fires were not put out as the firefighting expenses exceed the forecasted damage, FAFFS stated.

The northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet as a whole, says the World Meteorological Organization. That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burning. A recent study found Earth’s boreal forests are now burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.

Featured Image:  Polish firefighters in action combating the wildfires Sweden. July 24, 2018 (Photo by Pavel Koubek / European Union) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Brutal Weather Hits Extremes

SmokeBCfires

Smoke from fires burning in British Columbia, Canada. Colin Seftor, an atmospheric scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has published data maps collected by the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite that show the smoke reaching as far as the U.S. Midwest and northern Quebec. July 18, 2017 (Image courtesy NASA) Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 25, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – France today activated the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism as forest fires ravage southern regions of the country, threatening the resort of St. Tropez and the island of Corsica. French authorities have requested firefighting aircraft, and EU support is already on its way.

Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said, “The EU stands in full solidarity with France. In an immediate response, the European Commission has helped mobilize a Canadair aircraft from Italy through our Civil Protection Mechanism.”

“Earlier this month, France helped Italy fighting forest fires and now Italy is showing its support to France. This is EU solidarity at its best,” said Stylianides. “Our thoughts are with all those affected and the brave first responders working in difficult conditions.”

Conditions are difficult around the world, with fires, floods and drought coming in waves of trouble.

June 2017 extended the spell of “exceptional global warmth” that has lasted since mid-2015. Average surface air temperatures were the second hottest on record, after June 2016, finds the latest analysis from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

In addition to high temperatures, extreme weather affected many parts of the world in June and July.

Rescue services and troops in New Zealand’s South Island worked around the clock over the weekend to help those affected by a severe storm that released floods and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

A state of emergency was declared in the South Island cities of Christchurch, Otago, Timaru and Dunedin after some areas were hit with more than 200 millimetres of rain in 24 hours.

The New Zealand Meteorological Service says all of July has been marked by severe weather events, caused by low pressure systems from the Tasman Sea.

Australia had the second driest June on record, with rainfall 62 percent below average for Australia as a whole, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. June was the driest on record for large areas of southern Australia because of persistent high pressure and a lack of cold fronts.

Chinese weather authorities report that the annual monsoon season was accompanied by torrential rainfall in many parts of China for extended periods in June and early July, causing considerable economic losses and transport disruption.

For instance, more than 600 flights were cancelled at Beijing airport alone on July 6 as a result of rainfall.

The rainfall was one of the contributing factors to a deadly landslide with many casualties on June 24 in  Maoxian County, Sichuan. In north and northeast China, the National Meteorological Center said that from June 21 to June 24, the maximum hourly rainfall was between 20-40 mm.

Authorities issued warnings about water levels along key tributaries of the Yangtzee River basin. There was a red alert on July 2 along the whole course of the Xiangjiang River that was near or above record levels. The water level in the section of the river in Changsha, capital of Hunan, reached a record 39.21 meters on July 2.

Since June 22, floodwaters have inundated parts of several cities in Hunan, forcing more than 311,000 people to evacuate, damaging crops and destroying more than 6,300 houses, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

In Japan, tropical storm Nanmadol brought torrential rainfall to the southern part of the country. The city of Hamada in Shimane, which faces the Sea of Japan, saw hourly precipitation of over 80 mm on July 6, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Local governments issued evacuation orders to nearly 60,000 residents in affected areas.

Tropical cyclone Mora caused Bangladesh authorities to evacuate nearly one million people from low-lying areas, At least 10 people died. Heavy monsoon rainfall in June caused severe flooding and deadly mudslides. Nearly 900,000 people were affected by floods as of July 5, authorities said.

In Myanmar, heavy monsoon rains have prevailed across the southeast Asian country since early July. Today, riverbank erosion washed away a Buddhist pagoda. Rising floodwaters across large parts of the country have claimed two lives, washed away entire villages and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

In Indonesia, drought is drying the crops as they stand in the fields.

Much of South America and Africa were warmer than average during this two month period, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports the Middle East is broiling. The Iranian city of Ahwaz recorded a temperature of 53.7°Celsius (128.66° Fahrenheit) on June 29 as part of a heatwave with temperatures in excess of 50°C across the region, including Iraq and Kuwait.

An even higher temperature of about 54°C (129.2°F) scorched the city of Turbat, southwestern Pakistan, in late May.

But this week in Turkey, it’s too much water, not too much heat. Istanbul traffic came to a standstill as severe storms inundated the city, flooding the streets.

Temperatures were much above average, and high in absolute terms, over Morocco and northern Algeria in June and July. Forest fires are burning across northern Algeria. An estimated 1,000 hectares have been consumed.

Southern and central Europe was very much warmer than the 1981-2010 average in June, especially over the Iberian Peninsula, where Portugal experienced devastating wildfires.

The heatwave shifted from the Iberian Peninsula to southeastern Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean towards the end of June, with temperatures well over 40°C ((104°F) in many countries. The high temperatures were sometimes accompanied by damaging summer storms, hailstorms, torrential rainfall and flash floods.

Fires this month in Croatia and Montenegro sparked requests for help in fighting the flames. Still, on July 18, the Adriatic coast was engulfed in wildfires.

The Deutscher Wetterdienst said July 7, “A period with significantly above-normal temperatures and heat waves, at least for the next week, is expected for most parts of the eastern Mediterranean – from Italy, Balkans to Caucasus and Middle East.”

Conversely, says the WMO, temperatures have been well below average over the northeast of Europe. The contrast between southwest and northeast continues a pattern that was present in April and May.

In Russia, June 2017 was widely called Junabre, meaning June plus November, because of the cold weather in the European parts of the country. June was the coldest month in the past 14 years for Moscow.

FloodingLondon

Caption: Flooded streets in London, UK, June 2, 2017 (Photo by Dmitry Dzhus) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The UK should be bracing for record rainfall, says Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The UK’s two wettest winters on record occurred in 2013-14 and 2015-16, leading to flooding in many parts of the country. As a result, the National Flood Resilience Review was begun, but it needs expansion to include surface water flooding, says Ward.

Commenting on the publication Monday of the paper, High risk of unprecedented UK rainfall in the current climate in the journal “Nature Communications,” Ward said, “I hope that the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, will carefully read this important Met Office analysis because it highlights the risk of extreme rainfall that could cause flooding.”

“We know that the risk of record rainfall is increasing due to climate change. From 2000 onwards, the UK has experienced 6 of the 7 wettest years since records began in 1910, and its 8 warmest years. The period between January and June 2017 was the third warmest such period on record. As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, increasing the risk of heavy rainfall.”

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that starting around June 18 and continuing for over a week, scorching temperatures hit the western United States of America from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest.

June 20 was a particularly hot day for the southwestern United States. Las Vegas, Nevada (47.2°C or 117°F), and Needles, California (51.7°C or 125°F), both tied their all-time records.

Forest fires have been devouring forests across the U.S. West.

For instance, the Detwiler Fire in California began on July 15. It covers 79,400 acres and is 65 percent contained.

The Snowstorm Fire in Nevada began on July 13. It has burned 60,000 acres and is just 13 percent contained.

In Arizona, from June 17-27, Phoenix International Airport has had 11 straight days with temperatures of at least 110°F (43°C), with one day hitting 48.3°C (119°F). The heat caused multiple canceled flights. The hotter the air, the less dense it is, which means less lift for airplanes as they take off. In order to take off, the planes would have needed a longer runway, which is not available in Phoenix.

As the heat wave continued, the hot air spread west and north. On June 25, Portland Oregon, reach 38°C (101°F) and Seattle, Washington, hit 35.6°C (96°F), tying its hottest June day on record.

In July, the forests of south-central British Columbia were primed to burn. Abnormally hot, dry weather had dried out vegetation and soil, and many forests were full of dead trees left by mountain pine beetles. When lightning storms passed over the region on July 7, more than 100 fires were sparked. Some of these fires are still raging.

As of July 19, 2017, the British Columbia Wildfire Service reported 50 wildfires burning in the Cariboo region and another 21 in the Kamloops region. The fires have charred roughly 300,000 hectares (1,000 square miles) and have forced nearly 50,000 people to flee their homes.

To far south, June temperatures were way above average offshore of parts of Antarctica, where sea-ice cover was unusually low, the WMO reports. But the agency also says temperatures were well below average over East Antarctica.

So, investors can no longer count on business as usual. The climate is changing – tending toward extremes of heat, cold, drought and rainfall, and the physical impacts of climate change will affect assets and investments.

Climate change and extreme weather events will affect agriculture and food supply, infrastructure, precipitation and the water supply in ways that are only partly understood.

Yet, decisions made by private sector investors and financial institutions will have a major influence on how society responds to climate change.

There will be significant demand for capital, with governments looking to the private sector to provide much of it.


Featured Images: Wildfires send thousands fleeing the Provence resport of St. Tropez, France. July 25, 2017 (Photo by CCI Riviera & Monaco) Posted on Twitter

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Beetle Bitten Forests: Log or Leave Alone?

BeetleKillsColorado

Dead standing trees dot the hills of Grand County, Colorado, 2008 (Photo by Vicky Hamilton)

By Sunny Lewis

DENVER, Colorado, April 27, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – As another wildfire season unfolds across the Northern Hemisphere, billions of beetles of many species are burrowing into trees, laying their eggs, killing forests and leaving dead stands vulnerable to fire. And again the debate arises – should they be left alone or managed?

Japan’s world-famous cherry blossoms, which attract millions of tourists every spring, are under attack from a foreign species of beetle that experts fear could kill cherry trees across the nation.

The culprits, red-necked longhorn beetles, Aromia bungii, were imported into Japan in shipments of lumber from China, Vietnam and other parts of southeast Asia, the “Yomiuri Shimbun” newspaper reported in February.

“They have tremendously high fertility,” said scientist Etsuko Kagaya, chief of the planning division in the forest entomology department at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture. “Unless something is done to prevent their fertility now, there will be irrevocable consequences.”

As a first step, the Environment Ministry of Japan has decided to have the red-necked longhorn beetle designated as an invasive alien species and ban its import or domestic breeding. But hundreds of Japan’s precious cherry trees are already lost.

The European spruce bark beetle, Ips typographus, found from Europe to Asia Minor and some parts of Africa, has destroyed vast areas of Germany’s Bavarian Forest Biosphere Reserve. This destruction in the early aughts, and officials’ decision not to intervene in the natural forest processes, generated local and international alarm.

By 2004, the bark beetles had destroyed close to 4,000 hectares, or nearly one-sixth of the Bavarian Forest Biosphere Reserve. But then the beetle attacks began to recede and destruction slowed.

The biosphere reserve is part of the Bohemian Forest situated on a long mountain ridge running along the Czech-Bavarian and Czech-Austrian borders in central Europe. This densely wooded landscape with mountain streams, marshlands, mires and bog woodlands is a refuge for many endangered species of plants and animals.

Nature is protected here in two national parks: the Bayerischer Wald National Park in Germany; established in 1970 and enlarged in 1997 to 24,250 ha and the Šumava National Park in the Czech Republic; established in 1991; 68,064 ha. There have been proposals to establish a national park in the Austrian part of the Bohemian Forest but so far they have not been accepted.

Less than six millimeters long, the spruce bark beetle only attacks spruce trees, burrowing through the bark and feeding on the next layer of tissues that transport nutrients and water. There the beetle digs tunnels to lay its eggs.

Just 50 beetles are enough to kill a fully-grown tree in eight weeks. The larvae laid in the tunnels hatch to produce tens of thousands of new beetles to attack neighboring trees.

The only effective way to stop destruction is to fell the tree and remove it from the park. But Bavarian park officials followed a policy of allowing nature to take its course, only felling beetle-damaged trees in the buffer zone between wilderness areas and commercial forests, and to keep the beetles from spreading across the border to the Sumova National Park.

But in 2011 the bark beetles did spread to Sumava. There the same controversy erupted, but this time environmentalists said leave natural processes to take their course, while Sumava Park officials wanted to fell damaged and dead trees.

The majority of Czechs sided with park and government officials, who see the action as a necessary to prevent a wider infestation, a poll by the Center for Analysis and Empirical Studies shows. Some 4,000 trees were marked for cutting.

Bark beetles can spread quickly over large areas. Some scientists say beetles originating on the Iberian Peninsula may have invaded the spruce forests of northern Norway.

In the Norwegian spruce forests beetles are transmitting fungal pathogens such as blue stain fungus, which kills healthy trees by blocking the upward flow of water. It stains the wood with blue streaks, destroying its commercial value, causing trouble for the lumber industry.

North America is also plagued by invasive beetles, both native and from other parts of the world.

In California, a pine tree planted in 2004 in honor of Beatles member George Harrison has died after being attacked by pine bark beetles.

During the five-year drought that parched California until heavy rains this year, pine bark beetles turned the state’s forests into a highly flammable expanse of dead wood.

The most recent data from 2015 estimates bark beetles have killed over 29 million trees, and Cal Fire Education Officer Amy Head said that number is now higher, increasing the fire risk even more.

“Bark beetles are always there,” Head told “SF Gate” last May. “They’re part of the environment in California, but because of the consecutive years of drought, the infestation has reached epidemic levels. We’re going into a fifth year of drought and we didn’t quite get enough rain fall this winter. The bark beetles are multiplying. They’re thriving on these stressed and dying trees.”

In June 2016, the U.S. Forest Service reported that 66 million trees had died since 2010 in California’s prolonged drought.

And beetles are killing vast swaths of forests from Canada to Mexico. They can be found at elevations from sea level to 11,000 feet.

In Colorado, on both the Front Range and Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, the mountain pine beetle epidemic lingers, warns the U.S. Forest Service.

The spruce beetle infestations exist in the southern forests of the region including the Rio Grande, San Jaun, Grand Mesa, Umcompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests.

Currently, land management agencies are removing hazard trees and fuels to protect forest visitors and surrounding communities from forest fires. The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests use both tree removal and spraying to respond to the issue in high value recreation areas such as campgrounds and trailheads and along roads and powerlines.

The core area of the epidemic remains in the Arapaho & Roosevelt, White River, and Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and adjacent forest lands. Bark beetles affect all of the eight national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region.

Damaged power lines could cause wildfires and/or blackouts because electricity generated in western Colorado must be transmitted across beetle-killed areas to serve Front Range demands. The Forest Service also warns that essential water supplies are at risk because the heart of the epidemic in Colorado and Wyoming contains the headwaters for rivers that supply water to 13 western states.

But as in Europe, not everyone agrees that beetle damaged trees should be managed. Some even contest that they are susceptible to fire.

Scientist Sarah Hart and her colleagues from the University of Colorado who studied the states of the Mountain West said that contrary to the expectation that a mountain pine beetle outbreak increases fire risk, spatial analysis showed no effect of outbreaks on area burned during years of extreme burning across the West.

They concluded, “These results refute the assumption that increased bark beetle activity has increased area burned; therefore, policy discussions should focus on societal adaptation to the effects of the underlying drivers: warmer temperatures and increased drought.”

Scientists under the leadership of Garrett Meigs from College of Forestry at Oregon State University found this year that insects generally reduce the severity of subsequent wildfires because insects decrease the abundance of live vegetation susceptible to wildfire at multiple time lags.

“In such situation, native insects buffer rather than exacerbate fire regime changes expected due to land use and climate change,” they concluded.

Douglas Bevington, forest program director for Environment Now and the author of the 2009 book “The Rebirth of Environmentalism: Grassroots Activism from the Spotted Owl to the Polar Bear,” is of the school of thought that would leave natural processes, including beetle infestations, to take their course.

“Rather than allowing logging proponents to exploit fear and misinformation about fire, we have a collective opportunity to learn from the current pulse of tree mortality and develop a greater understanding of the full diversity of California’s forests,” he wrote in “EcoWatch” last August.

“Dead trees, including large patches of snags, are a vital part of the forest. We should appreciate them, along with the natural processes that create them, such as beetles and wildfires,” wrote Bevington. “While forest protection efforts have historically focused on green trees, forests come in a variety of colors that also deserve protection, including trees with brown needles and trees with blackened bark. Their diversity provides the basis for a diversity of forest life.”


Featured Image: European spruce bark beetles are destroying spruce trees across the continent. (Photo by Tõnu Pani via Wikipedia)

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Climate Change Takes Its Toll

fortmcmurray

A wildfire devours the forest next to Highway 63, 24 kilometers south of Fort McMurray on Saturday, May 7. The “Beast”, as it was called by Wood Buffalo fire chief Darby Allen, caused the mass evacuation of nearly 90,000 people from the northern Alberta city. (Photo by Chris Schwarz / Government of Alberta) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

MUNICH, Germany, September 21, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Monetary losses caused by natural disasters in the first half of 2016 were “significantly higher” than the corresponding figures for the previous year, although fewer people died in these events, according to a report by the German insurance and re-insurance firm Munich Re.

In total, losses to the end of June came to US$70bn (previous year US$59bn), of which US$27bn (US$19bn) were insured.

The main loss drivers were powerful earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, storms in Europe and the United States, and forest fires in Canada.

A raging wildfire consumed the parched forest south of the oil sands city of Fort McMurray, Alberta on May 7. The 1,500 square kilometer inferno caused the evacuation of nearly 90,000 people.

The European storms are likely linked to climate change, explains Peter Höppe, who heads Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research Unit.

 “Scientific studies have shown that heavy rainfall has become more frequent in certain regions of Europe over the last few decades. For example, in the period 1951–2010 severe spring rainfall events that used to have a mathematical occurrence probability of once every 20 years have already increased by a factor of 1.7. Climate change is likely to have been partly responsible for this,” said Höppe.

Natural catastrophe figures for the first half of 2016:

Overall losses were above the inflation-adjusted average for the last 30 years (US$63bn), but below the average for the last 10 years (US$92bn).

Insured losses were in line with the inflation-adjusted average for the last 10 years and above the average for the last 30 years (US$15bn).

Just 3,800 people lost their lives to natural disasters in the first six months of 2016, fewer than during the same time period in 2015, (21,000) and the averages for the last 10 and 30 years (47,000 and 28,000).

The greatest number of fatalities was caused by an Mw 7.8 earthquake which hit the Pacific coast of Ecuador at almost the same time as the quakes hit Japan. Many buildings were destroyed and shopping mall roofs collapsed. Nearly 700 people were killed. As is so often the case in emerging countries, a relatively small share of the overall loss of US$2.5bn was insured: US$400m.

The highest losses were caused by two earthquakes on the Japanese island of Kyushu in April (US$25bn, just US$6bn was insured).

 Munich Re Board member Torsten Jeworrek said, “These events clearly show the importance of loss prevention, such as protection against flash floods or the construction of earthquake-resistant buildings in high-risk areas. The good news is that improved building codes and a more intelligent approach by emergency services and authorities offer people much better protection than used to be the case.

Catastrophe activity in the United States led to $3.8 billion in insured losses in 29 states during the 2016 first quarter, with much of the damage hitting Texas. Those events were the worst in a decade in terms of frequency and severity, according to a new industry report.

The first quarter is usually mild … since the major perils are hail and winter storm,” the Property Claims Services unit of Verisk Insurance Solutions explained in its first-quarter 2016 catastrophe review, which encompassed 13 catastrophe events.

But this year, said PCS, some of the first-quarter U.S. storms “packed a serious wallop.” One storm alone caused $1.1 billion in insured losses when it hit Texas in March.

The Global Federation of Insurance Associations (GFIA) , a Brussels-based industry group, warned as far back as 2013 that “loss trends and climate scientists indicate that, in the future, more and more insurance will be needed to help economies recover from a growing frequency of weather related losses: tornados, hailstorms, hurricanes/typhoons.

Natural disasters triggered by climate change are tragic and costly, but these are not the only losses people are experiencing due to the warming climate.

The rising price – in money and in health – of extreme weather events amid rapid urbanization, and the value of applying science and technology to reduce these risks, is explored in six research papers released at a United Nations forum in Malaysia on July 19.

Assembled by UN University’s Malaysia-based International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH), the research is published in a special issue of the “Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health.”

The papers include a stern warning about productivity loss due to heat stress. The latest estimates show productivity in many jobs will fall by up to 40 percent by 2030 due to heat stress. The global economic cost of this reduced productivity may be more than US$2 trillion by 2030. 

 The jobs most susceptible include the lowest paid – heavy labor and low-skill agricultural and manufacturing.

In Southeast Asia alone as much as 15 to 20 percent of annual work hours may already be lost in low-paid, heat-exposed occupations, a figure that may double by 2030. 

Author Tord Kjellstrom of the Health and Environment International Trust, New Zealand, said, “Current climate conditions in tropical and subtropical parts of the world are already so hot during the hot seasons that occupational health effects occur and work capacity for many people is affected.

Dr. Kjellstrom’s paper cites estimated GDP losses due to heat stress for 43 countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Saint Lucia, Samoa, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

The situation in Malaysia is typical of the Southeast Asian countries. As work slows or stops to avoid dangerous heat stress, the country’s Gross Domestic Product is projected to decline by an estimated 5.9 percent (value: US $95 billion) by 2030, more than double the estimated 2.8 percent GDP lost to heat stress in 2010.

 In 2030, in both India and China, the GDP losses could total $450 billion, although mitigation may be made possible by a major shift in working hours, among other measures employers will need to take to reduce losses.

This situation already is straining electricity infrastructure, Dr. Kiellstrom observes. The additional energy needed for a single city the size of Bangkok for each 1°C increase of average ambient temperature can be as much as 2000 MW, roughly the output of a major power plant.

It is very important to develop and apply adaptation measures now to protect people from the disasters that current climate and slowing changing climate brings,” said Kjellstrom. “However, adaptation is only half an answer; we must also take decisive action now to mitigate emissions of greenhouse gases.

Failure will cause the frequency and intensity of disasters to worsen dramatically beyond 2050, and the situation at the end of this century will be especially alarming for the world’s poorest people,” he warned.

Climate change will bring increasingly difficult situations, according to the papers:

  • Disastrously heavy rains can expand insect breeding sites, drive rodents from their burrows, and contaminate freshwater resources, leading to the spread of disease and compromising safe drinking water supplies.
  • Warmer temperatures often promote the spread of mosquito-borne parasitic and viral diseases by shifting the vectors’ geographic range and shortening the pathogen incubation period.
  • Climate change can worsen air quality by triggering fires and dust storms and promoting certain chemical reactions causing respiratory illness and other health problems.
  • In extreme disasters, harm is often amplified by the destruction of medical facilities and disruption of health services
  • Central and south China can anticipate the greatest number of casualties and highest economic losses from extreme weather events in the Asia Pacific region – the world’s most disaster-prone region – and a more integrated, multidisciplinary approach is needed to upgrade the nation’s emergency response system for natural disasters.
  • From 1980 to 2012, roughly 2.1 million people worldwide died as a direct result of nearly 21,000 natural catastrophes such as floods, mudslides, extreme heat, drought, high winds or fires. The cost of those disasters exceeded $4 trillion (US) – a loss comparable to the current annual GDP of Germany.
  • In Asia Pacific 1.2 billion people have been affected by 1,215 disasters since the millennium. Some 92 percent of human exposure to floods occurs in Asia Pacific, along with 91 percent of exposure to cyclones and two-thirds of all exposure to landslides. Between 1970 and 2011, two million people in the region – 75 percent of the world total – were killed by disasters.
  • From 1993 to 2012, the Philippines experienced the highest number of extreme weather events (311), Thailand experienced the greatest financial loss (US$5.4 billion) and Myanmar experienced the highest death rate (13.5 deaths per 100,000 people).
  • In just 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, the regional population exposed to flooding risk more than doubled from about 30 million to 64 million while those in cyclone-prone areas rose from roughly 72 to 121 million.
  • Cities cover two percent of world land cover, generate 60 to 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and half of all waste, and are expanding at a rate of one million people per week. In a single generation – from 2000 to 2030 – urban land extents are expected to have tripled.

The authors underline that fast-rising numbers of people are being exposed to the impacts of climate change, with much of the increase occurring in cities in flood-prone coastal areas or on hills susceptible to mudslides or landslides. Especially vulnerable are people living in poverty, including about one billion in slums.

Cities, concentrated sources of energy consumption, heat and pollution, covered in surfaces that absorb warmth, create local heat islands and impair air quality, both threats to health.

And rising demand for cooling contributes to warming the world. Air conditioners not only pump heat out directly, the electricity required is typically produced by burning fossil fuels, adding to atmospheric greenhouse gases. As well, people acclimatized to air conditioning become less heat tolerant, further increasing demand for cooling.

On the other hand, better urban planning presents “tremendous opportunity” to mitigate the health impacts of more extreme weather events, authors emphasize.

Urban planners, the authors say, can help by designing cities “in ways that enhance health, sustainability, and resilience all at once,” incorporating better building design, facilitating a shift to renewable energy, and fostering the protection and expansion of tree cover, wetlands and other carbon sinks, for example.

To mitigate the health impacts of longer, more severe extreme weather events, the authors stress the need to replace piecemeal reactive responses with integrated, multi-disciplinary planning approaches.

Beyond better preparation and warning systems to improve disaster response, recommended steps include enhancing drainage to reduce flood risks and strengthening health care, especially in poor areas.

The six papers, published by the “Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health,” are:

  • Climate Change, Extreme Weather Events, and Human Health Implications in the Asia Pacific Region, by Jamal Hisham Hashim and Zailina Hashim (http://bit.ly/29AXLlM)
  •  Urbanization, Extreme Events, and Health: The Case for Systems Approaches in Mitigation, Management, and Response, by José G. Siri, Barry Newell, Katrina Proust, and Anthony Capon (http://bit.ly/29N9IBA)
  • Impact of Climate Conditions on Occupational Health and Related Economic Losses: A New Feature of Global and Urban Health in the Context of Climate Change, by Tord Kjellstrom (http://bit.ly/29BL0Dn)
  • Impact of Climate Change on Air Quality and Public Health in Urban Areas, by Noor Artika Hassan, Zailina Hashim, and Jamal Hisham Hashim (http://bit.ly/29EX6y4)
  • Review of Climate Change and Water-Related Diseases in Cambodia and Findings From Stakeholder Knowledge Assessments, by Lachlan McIver, Vibol Chan, Kathyrn Bowen, Steven Iddings, Kol Hero and Piseth Raingsey (http://bit.ly/29EWWXw)
  • Emergency Response to and Preparedness for Extreme Weather Events and Environmental Changes in China, by Li Wang, Yongfeng Liao, Linsheng Yang, Hairong Li, Bixiong Ye, and Wuyi Wang (http://bit.ly/29UhBI7)

Featured Image: Rescue vehicles address Cypress Creek flooding near Houston, Texas, April 19, 2016 (Photo by muypronto) Creative Commons license via Flickr