Wildfires, drought are critical signs of climate change

Wildfires, drought are critical signs of climate change

30 May 2016

published by http://www.columbiamissourian.com

USA — This month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that April marked the 12th consecutive month that heat records have been broken. It is the longest warming spell in the agency’s 137 years of record keeping.

NOAA also reported that in April the Northern Hemisphere’s snow cover was the smallest in 50 years of data collection. That has led to water shortages, particularly in California, which has suffered a five-year drought.

California was among states that last year were plagued by wildfires because of drought, which many blame on the growing effects of climate change.

Climate change and the latest severe El Niño also threaten more than a third of the planet’s coral reefs, which may never recover. It’s a serious problem because coral reefs are incubators for aquatic life, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species. Coral reefs support fish stocks, which feed more than a billion people.

Much of this damage results from consumption of fossil fuels. People burn coal, natural gas and oil for heating and cooling, electricity production and transportation.

The growing amount of greenhouse gases causes the temperature of the planet to rise. Polar ice melts, sea levels rise and threaten coastal areas, storms become more severe and violent, and droughts spread, creating conditions ripe for more wildfires.

The drought in California has killed more than 40 million trees, providing dry fuel for wildfires, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. He’s seeking aid from Congress to ensure that there’s enough resources to fight the wildfires and do the needed work of wildfire prevention and forest restoration.

Last year wildfires claimed the lives of seven members of the Forest Service’s firefighting team and damaged or destroyed 4,500 homes. Fire seasons now are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970.

The number of acres that the flames have consumed annually has doubled since 1980. Last year was the most expensive fire season in the Forest Service’s history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire suppression alone.

Canada has faced similar problems, including wildfires that recently forced almost 90,000 people to flee for their lives in a mass evacuation of work camps north of Fort McMurray.

The United Nations climate change talks last year in Paris resulted in an agreement among nations to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon emissions. But many worry that the agreement was too little, too late and that the Earth already may have reached a tipping point.

Climate change isn’t going away, and the next president and Congress will inherit the problem whether they want to deny the science or not. More resources need to be devoted to conservation and renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal.

Pointing fingers at other countries and doing nothing no longer is an option.

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