We were back in California for a visit last year. It was the end of a road trip, across the US in June. There were fires in New Mexico and Colorado as we passed through, but it was California that was a shock. We crossed the Sierra Nevada at Mamouth to visit Devil’s Postpile, and immediately we were in smoke an ash from a fire in the John Muir Wilderness a short way away. Helicopters, fighting that fire. We saw the great postpiles…
then walked, through smoke and a drizzle of ash, across the scar left by the Rainbow Fire of 1992. There was a forest here before that fire; will there ever be again?
In the midst of that scar, we came to Rainbow Falls, from which the fire got its name. Still worth a visit.
The next day, we crossed Tioga Pass and headed across Yosemite into the Central Valley. From the western boundary of the park, for the rest of our visit – another month – we were in smoke and haze, rarely seeing fire but knowing that there were active fires in every direction.
Much is made of houses and even towns burning, and of the problem of houses built scattered in woods on the urban fringe. Yes, that’s a problem: the fire damage is greater, both because houses burn and because the priority of protecting houses can compromise that of minimizing the spread of the fire; insurance companies, the state legislature & local planning commissions will need to sort it out. But, for the houses amidst the trees, we can miss seeing the bigger picture: we are watching the creation of deserts. These Mediterranean climates, which have always been warm and dry, are now getting drier, and hot. The vegetation, live and dead, which had before been part of a healthy landscape, is now just fuel. Mature deserts don’t burn so much, because there’s not much to burn. These places will keep burning, year after year, until there is nothing left to burn.
The Trump-Putin connection can seem just a lurid sideshow in Trump’s horrific circus of racial and religious profiling, misogyny and authoritarianism. And, when that special relationship does catch our attention, the most obvious thing linking the two men (possible videos and blackmail aside) is their common political language of aggressive nationalism.
But this is no sideshow, and much as Trump would like it to be all about him, it is not his personal foible: the agendas of the Republican Party’s petro-backers coincide perfectly with those of the Russian oligarchy, and that is why Trump’s links to Russia were tolerated even before he was elected. The nationalist postures of Trump and Putin, which might seem to be simply ways of rallying some segments of the aggrieved masses to the banners of the countries’ respective caudillos, are instrumental for reshaping the international order in a way favourable to the oil interests.
The overriding need of the oil interests is to block anything that would cut the demand for oil – which is to say, to stymie any serious steps to mitigate climate change. International cooperation is necessary to fight climate change, and aggrieved nationalism undermines international cooperation. The cohesion of the EU is particularly important for international action on climate, and so European integration has become the enemy not only of Moscow, but also of Republican Washington.
Resource wars. On the occasion of the USA’s Veterans Day, Joe Romm reflects on forthcoming food and water shortages, and the prospect of resource wars. Good discussion, good links. That conflicts over food or other resources can lead to war is not new news, of course: it is in the history of every empire. Last summer in the New York Review of Books, Timothy Snyder reminded us that in the cases of Stalin in the 1930s and Hitler in the 1940s, most of the killing of civilians took place neither in the gulag of Siberia nor death camps in or near Germany, but in the wheat fields of eastern Poland, Ukraine and environs. Whatever the contributions of ideology and madness to those events, Russian and German desires to control that breadbasket had a big hand in the deaths of millions. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain kept food exports flowing from India, in the midst of famine; Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts gives a gripping account of this, and of the link between El Niño, drought, and famine. So when you think of climate change, don’t think of hot weather, hurricanes or dead polar bears: think of just how nasty human society can become when there is a conflict over food.
Carbon dioxide and methane. Recent attention to the warming role of methane has led some in the denial community to use this – as they use everything – to claim that carbon dioxide isn’t so important. At RealClimate.org, Gavin Schmidt of NASA details the relative contributions of these and other agents to the problem.