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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Climate change comes to rich countries

I wrote an article over the weekend about the rich world facing severe seasonal disasters from climate change. Since then, the sky over New York City, where I live, has turned an ominous shade of red due to smoke from wildfires on the other side of the continent. A fire, bootleg, was messing with the weather in the west. British Columbia declared a state of emergency as wildfires ordered evacuations.

Britain’s Weather Service issued its first extreme heat warning. And in a measure of shock at the level of devastation in a German village, particularly affected by last week’s floods, Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “There is no word in the German language, I think, for devastation.”

More than words, many countries around the world do not have what we need to adapt to extreme weather events. This is a fact even in countries that have the means, such as in Europe and North America, and it also occurs in countries that have already released most of the greenhouse gases for the past century by warming the atmosphere and with the seasons. are messing with.

Even emitters have not been immune until recently. Torrential rains lashed the Indian metropolis of Mumbai on Sunday, causing houses to collapse, killing dozens and shutting down the city’s water filtration plant, according to Indian news reports. On Tuesday, central China received the heaviest rain on record, washed away cars, flooded the subway, and shut down power in Zhengzhou, a city of five million. China is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

As I wrote, the world is “neither ready to slow down climate change, nor to live with it.” You can watch it here.


The past few months have been a surprising time in the western United States, and not in a good way. First there was a severe drought. This was followed by heat waves, including one in the Pacific Northwest, of a magnitude that stunned climate scientists.

Drought and heat wave continues. And now there are forest fires. Scores are burning all over the West, but one in particular stands out. It’s the bootleg fire in southern Oregon, and not only is it the largest fire ever this year (600 square miles and counting), it’s behaving in extreme ways that have alarmed fire scientists and shocked firefighters. is.

It is producing huge clouds that reach high levels in the atmosphere and on at least one occasion, lightning strikes. It’s so big, it’s forcing the winds to separate and move around it. It may also have generated a fire tornado, a terrifyingly large vortex of hot air, flame and smoke, with winds strong enough to flatten trees.

What really makes bootleg fire so unusual isn’t that these kinds of extreme behaviors are happening. They have been in other fires before. But they usually last for a day or two before things get back to normal (or as normal as a wildfire might be). But with bootleg, the extreme events have been going on for about two weeks. Firefighters have had to retreat from their positions several times as the flames ignited. They’ve already had enough, and are hoping the fire settles so they can finally get it under control.

Worth quoting: “The weather generally predicts what a fire will do,” said Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman Marcus Kaufman. “In this case, the fire is predicting what the weather will do.”

related: The forest fire is intensifying. Here’s why, and what can be done to protect your home.


There are currently more than 80 major fires burning in 13 US states, many more across Canada, and the effects are being felt thousands of miles away from the flames. Air quality was in the unhealthy category for much of the East Coast on Wednesday morning, and haze was moving south toward Washington, DC and Virginia.

We created an interactive map based on modeling from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that shows how the smoke from the fire reached the East Coast across North America. You can view it here.

Last month, I flew to Northern California for what I thought would be a direct job about wineries that can’t get insurance due to wildfire risk. It turns out, the story was about more than just alcohol.

What I found was a reminder of how hard it would be for US agriculture to counter global warming.

In Napa Valley, climate change is already eroding vintages from winemakers who produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other reds in the country. Drought means less water for irrigation, even though warmer temperatures make irrigation more important.

The grapes that survive may be ruined by the smoke of wildfires, which destroyed much of last year’s crop. And making everything even more difficult, the same wildfire is now preventing the winery from obtaining insurance.

In response, as I wrote this week, winemakers I spent time with are doing everything possible, from spraying a kind of sunscreen on vines and vineyards to filling empty reservoirs with recycled wastewater. But the valley, which was once a showcase for the best American agriculture, is increasingly showing the limits of adapting to a warming world.

When it comes to climate change, we often focus on what we may lose down the road. But what about those places and things that are just disappearing?

In his new book released this week, “Atlas of Vanishing Places,” Christina Conklin, an artist and author, and Marina Soros, a sustainability expert, combine science, maps and stories to illustrate how 20 coastal locations and experiences – like coral fishing in Kenya and lobster fishing in Maine – Changing with the climate.

We spoke to Ms. Soros about the book. Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Why create an atlas instead of a more specific climate book?

I have long worked in public engagement around climate change science and policy. And what I’ve noticed is that if people are scared, or they feel hopeless, they really shut down. So thinking about it from an Atlas perspective, using art and storytelling to talk about science and policy, was one way to make the issue more accessible to a wider range of people.

> Why did you focus on the coastal areas?

The health of our oceans is really going to determine the health of our planet. Through millions of years of photosynthesis, sea creatures have made our environments hospitable, and those tiny life-forms continue to provide half the oxygen that we land dwellers use. Therefore, we are literally dependent on the ocean for the breath we breathe.

> Your book is scary and hopeful. Why is it important to strike that balance when discussing climate change?

Much can be done, and much can be saved. And so, helping people move from such shock and awe to wonder and opportunities, I think it helps people cope with what’s happening and stay engaged for the future.

Q. What will readers feel or do after they finish your book?

Maybe grieve, because that’s something we have to do. We are losing species and places and ecosystems and people. There will be loss, there will be bargaining. But it’s not about closing. It’s about grieving that, and then seeing what to save and how we save it.


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