Fire in the Amazon

Large swaths of the Amazon rainforest are on fire. Media tends to call these wildfires, but the vast majority of them are intentionally set. I think of wildfires as being caused by lightning strike or an accidental spark. When fires are set intentionally, they should be called arson.

While the current scale of the fires is new, the problem is not. For years, farmers and ranchers have burned parts of the Amazon rainforest to clear land for themselves. They have been opposed by indigenous people and their allies, some of whom have been killed trying to defend the forest.

The fires are devastating for the plants, animals, and people who live there, but the scale of the destruction now threatens the very mechanism that makes the rainforest possible. The vegetation, especially the large, tall trees, transpire large quantities of water, which form clouds and help to keep the rainforest green. If too much land is burned, the amount of rainfall will decrease so much that it would be impossible to sustain a rainforest ecosystem.

Plants also take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. It is estimated that 20% of the world’s atmospheric oxygen is produced in the Amazon. As more and more of the rainforest is destroyed, the level of oxygen in the air that all people and animals need to breathe could diminish, while the level of carbon dioxide, already at record highs, could become even higher, accelerating global warming and increasing drought, which diminishes plant growth and causes a downward spiral.

The government of Brazil is making only half-hearted measures to control the fires and has refused the assistance of other nations. President Bolsonaro is a climate change denier, who sees this issue as being solely about the economic development of Brazil. His short-sighted actions may cause world-wide suffering for decades.

It highlights to me how interconnected we are as a planet. At this point in human history, we can’t afford countries being isolationist and concerned only with making their rich citizens even richer.

Money can’t buy oxygen or make more rainfall or change the temperature.

common sense climate science

Although we hear news about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels often, there are several other greenhouse gases which are also affecting the global climate.

One of the most potent greenhouse gases is methane which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide when measured over a twenty year period. Atmospheric methane is also at record levels. After a relatively stable period, it began rising in 2007.

While no definitive science report has yet been published as to the cause of the rise, I have a common sense guess. The rise of atmospheric methane began to rise with the advent of high volume hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the United States. Other sources of methane, such as agriculture and waste disposal, have not seen any large expansion in this timeframe.

There have been a number of measurements that have traced atmospheric methane and other VOCs to fossil fuel sources, including well pads, compressor stations, processing equipment, and pipelines. A number of studies have been published using these data. These data show that actual methane emissions are much higher than those that the industry and the EPA had estimated.

This gives even more urgency to rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is critical to restrict methane emissions to avoid climate tipping points, such as large scale permafrost melting and the release of methane hydrates from the cold water seas.

I am proud that our grassroots organizing managed to hold off fracking here in New York State. There is still a long way to go, but we are making progress. We won’t stop until fracking and other unconventional fossil fuels are a thing of the past.

SoCS: two degrees

Two degrees Celsius is the threshold between what is considered impactful but manageable global warming and catastrophic global warming. Climate scientists will tell you it isn’t that clearcut. We are already seeing major impacts at only one degree-ish. At two degrees, we may get major feedback loops happening, like the melting of permafrost and the release of methane hydrates from northern seas and oceans which would accelerate warming further.

Two degrees C. has been translated into 350 ppm carbon dioxide. We have now topped 400 at times in the atmospheric readings on the Big Island of Hawai’i – I think it is Mauna Kea, but it could be Mauna Loa – and the levels keep rising.

What is disturbing me even more is that global atmospheric methane, after a long period of stability, began rising in 2007. Methane is more short-lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but is a much more powerful greenhouse gas – 86 times more powerful in a twenty year context and 106 times more powerful in a decade. Given that our timeframe to get global warming under control is now very short, methane in the atmosphere is particularly troubling as it has such a strong effect in the immediate future.

So, why do I hear the word degrees and immediately go into my global warming spiel?  I write about this a lot, as an offshoot of my commentary on the dangers of shale oil/gas aka unconventional fossil fuels aka fracking.  I have spent countless hours writing and researching and commenting on these topics.  It started as a personal thing as my state, New York, is currently under a moratorium, while our neighbor state Pennsylvania is drilling extensively. And I live in a border town.

I could literally write about this for hours, but I will spare you. I apologize if I was unclear at all in this post. It’s the whole stream of consciousness thing – no fact-checking or editing allowed…

This is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturdays.  This week’s prompt was “degree/degrees.”  Join us! Read how here:

Badge by Doobster @Mindful Digressions