Monday, November 19, 2018

Wildfires need not be disastrous

This is from the NYT, no less.  I have however omitted the  initial throat clearing

 The southeastern United States has not lost significant numbers of homes or lives to fire, despite its vast expanse of the “wildland-urban interface” — the mixture of rural homes and towns with wild vegetation. That’s not because the region is immune to fire. It’s because, in part, the Southeast uses prescribed fire across millions of acres each year to reduce how much vegetation is left to burn, effectively using intentional fires to limit out-of-control wildfire.

In California, some communities aggressively prepare residents for the eventuality of wildfire. Montecito, a community east of Santa Barbara, saw the need to address wildfire risk following the 1990 Painted Cave Fire nearby, which killed one person and consumed 427 homes. The Montecito Fire Protection District works with residents to reduce vegetative fuels along roadsides, create “fuel breaks” — essentially areas where native shrubs have been thinned or removed — at strategic locations on private property, and harden homes against embers by putting screens over vents and replacing siding and roofs with less flammable materials.

Fire personnel help residents create “defensible space” around their homes by removing brush and dead trees. (As the name suggests, defensible space is an area where a home can be defended by firefighters.) The district also set up a neighborhood chipping program to help residents dispose of excess logs and branches.

It created a robust evacuation plan and educated residents on how it worked. And it changed certain codes, requiring new driveways to be wider and with enough turnaround space for large fire engines. Those things make it safer and easier for residents to evacuate and firefighters to get in to protect lives and homes.

All of this preparation was tested in the Thomas Fire last December. The ongoing drought had primed the vegetation for explosive growth. Downhill winds developed, gusting over 60 miles per hour, pushing the fire into the community and raining embers down on homes. It was the worst-case scenario imaginable. Fire-behavior models projected that hundreds of homes could be lost in such conditions. When it was over, however, Montecito emerged with no fatalities, no injuries and only seven homes lost.

I was part of a team that reviewed how Montecito’s preparation paid off, and I saw how well the multipronged approach had worked. Yes, firefighters still had to protect homes. But they were able to do so safely, and many homes withstood the flames without any firefighter support. A lot of things went right, and there is no question that the changes Montecito made over many years contributed to the outcome. As a former wildland firefighter, what I saw in Montecito was a community that prioritized life safety and made sure firefighters could do their jobs safely and effectively, and it made all the difference.

Other communities in the West are implementing their own strategies. In San Diego, new subdivisions are being built with fire-resistant designs and materials so residents can stay safe in their homes while the fire burns around them, instead of risking evacuation and the perils of clogged roads. San Diego Gas and Electric has also focused on strategic blackouts during high wind events to reduce the risk of power line ignitions.


Another danger in California: Bad air. Even far from wildfires, smoke is taking a toll

Greenie-caused pollution.  I hope they are proud of themselves

The wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world.

On Friday, residents of smog-choked Northern California woke to learn that their pollution levels now exceed those in cities in China and India that regularly rank among the worst.

In the communities closest to the Paradise fire, an apocalyptic fog cloaked the roads, evacuees wandered in white masks, and officials said respiratory hospitalizations had surged. Nearly 200 miles to the south, in San Francisco, the smoke was so thick that health warnings prompted widespread school closings. Even the city’s cable cars were yanked from the streets.

And researchers warned that as large wildfires become more common — spurred by dryness linked to climate change — health risks will almost surely rise. “If this kind of air quality from wildfires doesn’t get people concerned,” said Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist at the University of California at San Francisco, “I don’t know what will.”

At fault, researchers say, is a confluence of two modern events: More people are moving to communities in and around wooded enclaves, pushed out by factors like the rising costs of housing and the desire to be closer to nature — just as warming temperatures are contributing to longer and more destructive wildfires.

Wood smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals that city pollution does. While humans have long been around fire, they generally inhale it in small doses over cooking or heat fires. Humans have not, however, evolved to handle prolonged inhalation of caustic air from something like the Paradise blaze, Balmes said.

Research into the long-term health effects of large wildfires is still new. But a growing body of science shows how inhalation of minuscule particles from wood fires can nestle in the folds of lung tissue and do harm to the human immune system.

The body creates zealous responses to what it sees as an alien presence, and those effects can last for years by priming the body to overreact when it encounters subsequent lung irritation, said Dr. Kari Nadeau, a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist at Stanford.

In short, researchers like Nadeau believe that a person’s short-term exposure to wildfire can spur a lifetime of asthma, allergy, and constricted breathing.

By Friday, the death toll from the Paradise fire, north of Sacramento, had reached 71 people, with more than 1,000 people still missing, according to Sheriff Kory Honea of Butte County.

The 142,000-acre fire was 45 percent contained, and officials said they expected to reach 100 percent by Nov. 30. Full containment does not mean that the fire is extinguished, only that firefighters were able to complete a perimeter around the flames and stop them from spreading.

President Trump was planning to visit the region Saturday, and the White House said he would tour the affected areas and meet with evacuated residents.

Already, research shows that fires can directly affect lung health.

An extensive study of the 2015 wildfire season in Northern California found that smoke exposure led to increased emergency room visits for adults of all ages, but particularly those over 65. One of the biggest research projects on the subject, the study looked at nearly 1.2 million emergency room visits during the summer of 2015, and found that during smoke-dense periods, there was a statistically significant increase in emergency room visits for heart attack, stroke, and respiratory infection.

In recent days, as California’s air pollution map shifted from healthier green and yellow to red and purple — and then dark purple — officials from Los Angeles to Northern California urged residents to stay indoors and wear white N95 masks when they could not avoid leaving their homes. Even in Los Angeles, where smoke from the Woolsey fire had subsided by late Thursday, the air was still hazy and many schools forced children to take recess inside.

In the Bay Area, the National Weather Service said smoke would linger in the region into the coming week. The unhealthy air in Berkeley forced Saturday’s California and Stanford football showdown to be pushed back until Dec. 1, the first postponement of “The Big Game” since the rivals’ 1963 match was delayed after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In the communities around Paradise, air quality is considered hazardous for everyone, and the county health department is urging everyone to remain inside. But this has been difficult for evacuees. More than 81,000 people have been forced from their homes and many are sleeping outside in tents.

“I’ve got 18 grandkids here,” said Jewel Taylor, 50, an evacuee from nearby Magalia, standing in a hotel lobby where she had managed to find a room for the previous night.

Taylor said she was most worried about her infant grandson, 1-month-old Evan, who had developed a cough. “What do you do when you see your kids like this?” she said, her voice catching.

This week, some around Paradise said that when they inhaled, they could feel the particles cutting their throats. Others likened breathing to a persistent low-level anxiety attack.

“Let me put it this way,” said Becky Dearing, 66, who already has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, “you almost feel like you’re choking.”

“We’re like zombies,” she went on, “walking around, all the unknowns.”

Researchers say that climate change leads to ill health through wildfire, but also through prolonged pollen seasons, dust storms. and other events that affect air quality.

“We’re setting up a tipping point in the immune system that leads to more inflammation and disease,” said Dr. Sharon Chinthrajah, a pulmonologist and allergist at Stanford.

“California,” she added, “is being reset to a new reality.”


The smog machines in Britain's homes: Wood-burning stoves emit six times as much pollution as a diesel truck... and they're ruining your health even if you don’t own one

They are the Greenies' preferred alternative to gas and electrical heating

Their march has been unstoppable, from traditional farmhouses and cosy country cottages all the way to the front rooms of suburban semis. No family home, it seems, is complete without a stylish wood-burning stove.

And why not? Anyone who has ever watched the gently dancing flames will know that real fires are relaxing and reassuring, a nostalgic link to an age when life was simpler.

Featuring in endless glossy photoshoots, wood-burning stoves have even acquired something of a ‘green’ image, viewed as a clean, efficient and renewable source of heat.

Yet this cosy reputation conceals an altogether dirtier reality.

Because, whether in open hearths or specialist burners, wood fires are choking the British atmosphere, adding to the smoke particles from traffic, industry and farming that cause thousands of preventable deaths.

Although barely discussed, the evidence is shocking: just one of the latest ‘eco-friendly’ wood-burning stoves – those meeting all European tests – can produce about six times more particle pollution than a modern diesel lorry, or 18 times more than a modern diesel car.

Worse, still, they release their fumes into residential areas and at times when people are likely to be at home.

Few of us need to heat our homes with wood, rather than gas or electricity. In other words, the stoves and hearths we spark up for that extra cosy glow on a winter evening are little more than a lifestyle accessory.

One reason there’s so little discussion of this silent threat is that the smoke they produce is almost invisible, particularly when compared with the killer smogs of the 20th Century.

Those filthy, sometimes deadly combinations of fog and smoke caused by burning coal, led directly to the widely acclaimed Clean Air legislation of the 1950s.

It wasn’t until a chance discovery in Paris in 2005 that the modern menace of urban wood-burning was even identified.

Oliver Favez, a young PhD student, was measuring air pollution in a city park when he noticed a pattern that could not be linked to diesel fumes.

Instead, his instruments recorded a chemical signature previously seen in Alpine valleys, where wood-burning has a serious impact on air pollution. If the readings were correct, it was a serious problem in Paris, too.

Favez continued his measurements for five weeks, concluding that each night – especially at weekends – the air was polluted by wood-burning and that wood smoke was adding between ten and 20 per cent to the city’s particle pollution.

Stranger still, this new pollution was not drifting in from the countryside as you might expect, but was instead coming from within the city itself.

Fellow scientists leapt on the findings and, gradually, traces of wood-burning pollution were found in other major European cities.

Public authorities had long since assumed that wood-burning was a thing of the past, but scientists measuring the air that people breathed were now proving them wrong.

Today in Britain there are more than 1.5 million wood-burning stoves, and about 200,000 are added to that total every year.

Yet nobody bothered to measure the effects until the winter of 2010, when my research team at King’s College London placed sampling devices in a 20-mile line across London.

As we suspected, a great deal of wood was being burned and it was making up ten per cent of the particle pollution that Londoners were breathing during winter.

There was other information, too. Wood-burning happened mainly at weekends, for example. It seemed that, to Londoners at least, the stoves were largely decorative or used as an extra heating source.

How bad was the problem? Two years earlier, London had introduced a low emission zone, banning the most polluting diesel vehicles from the city.

Now we had established that the extra particle pollution from wood-burning was six times greater than the particle pollution that the low emission zone had saved.

If wood-burning were to continue unabated, the money invested in cleaning up transport and industry could be negated.

In fact, wood-burning could halt the progress on air pollution that has been made since the middle of the 20th Century.

If we introduce still more wood burning, particle pollution in the air of British cities is expected to be similar in 2030 to what it was in 2015, despite improvements in vehicle emissions.

Along with other scientists, we presented our data to the environment ministries here and in Europe, but the politicians were so focused on traffic pollution that they didn’t want to hear.

It was only in 2015, when a Government survey revealed that about one home in 12 in the United Kingdom was burning wood, that it was finally recognised as a problem. Wood-burning was producing 2.6 times more dangerous polluting particles than traffic exhaust.

A lot of these fires are actually illegal. Major British cities still have the smoke control laws put in place following the terrible four-day London smog of 1952 which killed at least 12,000.

These ban the burning of non-smokeless coal in open fires and prohibit the burning of wood, too, but the law is rarely enforced and widely ignored.

Almost all of London is designated as a smoke control area, for example, but in 2015, 68 per cent of wood-burning homes in London were using an open fire, even though most UK homes have gas or electric heating.

Why the lack of action?

In part, there’s political resistance to the idea of telling people what to do in their own homes, particularly when it comes to banning something pleasurable.

What happened in France is instructive. In 2015, the city of Paris got within a hair’s-breadth of banning wood-burning in open fires, but with just days to go, the French Ecology Minister, Ségolène Royal, attacked the proposal as ‘ridiculous’.

In a series of extraordinary statements, she seemed to suggest that banning a romantic evening with a glass of wine in front of the fire was an attack on the French way of life.

Another obstacle is the clean image that wood-burning stoves present. Stoves have been promoted as ‘green’, renewable and carbon-neutral compared to the environmental evil of burning fossil fuels.

It is certainly true that the most modern stoves and wood-pellet burners produce less than a fifth of the particle pollution that comes from an open fire.

So, upgrading from fireplaces to modern wood-burners should reduce air pollution at a stroke – but those upgrades are unlikely to happen any time soon because fireplaces and stoves go on for ever.

The people who burn wood in open hearths in Britain probably use the fireplace that was built with their house a century or more ago. Inefficient old stoves can pump out heat and fumes for generations to come.

In other words, it is not enough to set pollution standards for new wood-burners – we need action on existing fireplaces and stoves.

The testing regime itself is another obstacle to real improvement. Yes, stoves are getting better, and by 2022 those sold in Europe will have to meet Ecodesign standards that set limits on how much smoke they can produce.

However, as with diesel vehicles, there is a very large disparity between test performance and the smoke that comes from stoves in the real world.

Stoves are tested in idealised conditions using dry wood burnt for just an hour or so rather than the variety of wood that people use at home with frequent refuelling and adjustment to keep a fire going all evening.

So the results from laboratory tests have been nothing like results from those same wood-burners when they were tested in normal houses – and produced ten times as much pollution.

Some days the emissions were close to those of the laboratory test and at other times they would be as much as 16 times higher.

There has been huge variability in results even from the same stove, and it was a puzzle to find out why. Using wet wood appears to be one factor that increases the pollution; closing the air vents on the stove is another.

The biggest factor, though, is the person who lights the fire and the skill with which he or she does so. (Some countries have introduced videos and classes aimed at encouraging the best wood-burning techniques, such as lighting their fires from the top of the stacked wood and using plenty of kindling.

A lack of kindling is one of the reasons why wood-burners sometimes produce smoke when they are first lit.)

What you burn matters, too.

There is worrying evidence from air- quality testing carried out at a bowling club in the small New Zealand town of Wainuiomata, near Wellington.

As expected, the town’s air was full of wood smoke throughout the winter, but the smoke contained arsenic at a level 50 per cent greater than the legal limit in Europe.

The only possible explanation was that people were burning construction timber, treated with a preservative known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA).

New Zealand scientists rapidly found that it was not just a local problem. Treated wood was being burnt everywhere. Arsenic and lead were found in the air of suburbs of the Greek capital Athens, suggesting that people were burning construction waste and old painted wood. This is inevitably happening in Britain, too.

It is difficult to measure the direct effect on public health in detail, but wherever wood is burnt, we find air-pollution problems.

And air pollution, we know, endangers health. It has been calculated, for example, that particle pollution caused 29,500 premature deaths in Britain in 2010 and that a short period of high air pollution in March and April 2014 caused about 1,650 ‘excess’ or additional deaths.

The latest research suggests that the damaging effects of wood smoke are worse than we thought. In particular, it does not dissipate harmlessly.

On the contrary, scientists have discovered that wood smoke changes over time as the gases and particles in the smoke react and then make yet more pollution particles.

In some experiments, the concentration of particle pollution in the smoke increased by about 60 per cent as the hours passed. In others it tripled.

Because the problem is invisible, the health implications often become clear only when the wood-burning is removed or reduced.

In areas where this has happened as part of government-sponsored anti-pollution initiatives, the number of older people admitted to hospital has dropped by as much as 11 per cent, and winter death rates have dropped by a similar amount.

And there’s the great injustice. The smoke from a small numbers of homes that are burning wood – often as a lifestyle choice – can pollute a whole neighbourhood or even an entire city.

Changing centuries-old attitudes and habits will not be easy – who doesn’t love a crackling fire?

However warm, cosy and no-doubt stylish they make us feel, we have to question the place of wood fires in towns and cities.


Renowned Physicist Freeman Dyson: “Theories Of Climate Are Very Confused”…”Models Are Wrong”!

In his new documentary “The Uncertainty has Settled“, Dutch filmmaker Marijn Poels focuses on climate science and politics and found that the issue is in fact as controversial and as UNSETTLED as any issue could possibly get.

The production of the film took Poels to a variety of locations from Manhattan to the Austrian Alps.

The first part of the film depicts the plight of farmers in former East Germany (Saxony Anhalt), who are struggling to practice their livelihoods under the heavy burden of German agricultural regulation and market distortion that result from bureaucrats having decided that 0.01% of our atmosphere (man-emitted CO2) is a monumental problem.

That’s the narrative the media and leading politicians keep ramming. But a number of skeptics doubt it, and so Poels investigates if this doubt is just right wing politics or if there is something really behind it.

In the end he finds that the science is fully in dispute.

Belief we can stop climate change “enormously egocentric”

At the 38:00 Poels says that the [alarmist] Potsdam Institute refused to grant him an interview and so he set out for Hamburg to meet with climate scientist Hans von Storch, who is in the warmist camp.

Von Storch confirms that climate change is real, man-made and is a problem that needs to be dealt with seriously. But he adds that the claim that we can “rescue” the climate is “nonsense” and characterizes the claim the individual can play a role on controlling climate as “enormously egocentric”.

Later in the film (1:04:45) von Storch says he doesn’t see climate change as a danger, but as “a challenge” that he is not afraid of.

CO2 as a climate driver “complete, delusional nonsense”

Next astrophysicist Piers Corbyn tells Poels that the amount of man-made Co2 in the atmosphere is like a “tiny blob of birdshit” and calls the claim that this is causing the climate to change “complete, delusional nonsense”. Corbyn also believes the globe will see continued cooling until about 2035. He calls the datasets showing warming “frauds”.

Freeman Dyson: Climate models “very dangerous game”…”they’re wrong”

Next Poels makes his way to Princeton where he meets with “living legend” Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson, one of the leading skeptic voices on man-made climate change.

Dyson has harsh, critical words for climate science and the models they rely on (1:10:30). He calls the science of climate modeling a “very dangerous game”, adding:

When you work with a computer model for years and years and years – always improving the model – in the end you end up believing it. […] It’s very difficult to remain objective.”

Models “wrong”…”disagree with observations”

On why we should not trust the models, Dyson says flat out: “Because they’re wrong. It’s very simple. They’re wrong.” Dyson says they “disagree with observations”. He then commented on modeling scientists: Those people don’t look at observations. They are in a world of their own.”

“Scaring the public”

The 93-year old Princeton professor also notes that although the models are “very good tools for understanding climate”, they are a “very bad tool for predicting climate” and that these scientists “live by scaring the public”.

Climate theories are “very confused”

Dyson continues: Unfortunately the thing has become so political it’s no longer science when you have strong political dogmas, as you say, on both sides.”

Overall Dyson advises that we need to believe the observations and pointed out that “the theories of climate are very confused.”

Herd, tribal mentality: He also told Poels a large sociological part of the problem is that climate scientists have in large part gotten caught in herd and tribal mentality. It’s still more important to belong to the tribe than to it is to speak the truth.”


Australia: Greens policy would outlaw thermal coal as it is 'no longer compatible' with human life

The Australian Greens will propose a phase-out of thermal coal exports by 2030 in a significant strengthening of the party’s existing policy, which has focused on banning new mines.

The Greens’ climate change spokesman, Adam Bandt, will outline the shift on Friday in a speech to the United Firefighters Union in Hobart. The speech focuses on the growing risk of wildfires as a consequence of climate change.

Against the backdrop of catastrophic destruction in California, Bandt will tell his audience Australia’s biggest chance of avoiding climate catastrophe is by ceasing coal exports.

Under the reworked Greens policy, by 2030, it will no longer be legal to dig, burn or ship thermal coal. The proposal includes maximum penalties for breaches of the prohibition of seven years imprisonment, and hefty fines.

According to the speech circulated in advance, Bandt notes Australia’s current status as the world’s largest coal exporter and the likelihood that demand will remain high “for some time”.

Australia’s economy relies heavily on coal exports, which in 2017 were valued at $56.5bn, and governments rely on revenue from royalties and tax collections.

The latest World Energy Outlook, released this week, suggests coal has enjoyed a mini resurgence over the past two years because of demand from developing economies in Asia. That report also points out Australia is the only export-oriented country projected to ramp up coal production significantly over the next 20 years.

Bandt will say on Friday the current outlook indicates Australia “will continue to export hundreds of millions of tonnes of coal every year which, when burnt, produces about twice as much global warming pollution than Australia’s domestic economy”.

“The reality is every tonne of coal that is burnt makes the bushfire threat worse, and every tonne of coal burnt brings us closer to climate catastrophe – in other words the burning of coal is no longer compatible with the protection of human life.”

Bandt will flag bringing forward legislation, based on laws regulating the use of asbestos, to ban thermal coal exports in January 2030, and impose quotas in the interim so exports scale down between now and the proposed cut-off.

The policy proposal would see export permits auctioned annually, with the revenue raised supporting a transition fund for displaced coal workers to assist with structural adjustment.

Bandt says the science is clear – the world needs to shut down two-thirds of the coal fleet in the next 12 years, and the rest shortly after. He says Australia should take the opportunity of the coal phase-out to develop the clean energy economy and pursue renewable hydrogen exports, with burgeoning demand in Asia.

He will also acknowledge his proposed coal ban isn’t absolute. Bandt says there will continue to be a role in the short term for coking coal, which is used for the manufacture of steel.

With the Morrison government strongly supportive of the coal industry, and Labor flagging a managed transition, the bill Bandt proposes has no prospect of passing the parliament.

Labor is currently finalising the energy policy it will take to the next federal election. It is mulling a package of measures to guide the transition away from coal that will be triggered because of a more ambitious emissions reduction target.

The Labor package, expected to be outlined in coming weeks, is likely to include the creation of a new statutory authority to oversee the transition and the programs intended to ameliorate it; specific industrial relations arrangements to ensure workers are managed through the process; and programs to drive economic diversification.

Bandt on Friday will compare coal to tobacco and asbestos. “When we found out tobacco companies knew their product killed but kept on selling it anyway, they got sued and they got regulated.

“We once used asbestos in our buildings because we thought it was safe. But we now know better, so we have banned it. Now it is coal’s turn. “Coal is a product that kills people when used according to the seller’s instructions.”




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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