During global heat records, a world-scale carbon burst is still pouring out of Northern Canada’s wildfires – bigger than the emissions of most countries. Explore with Professor Justin Angle author of “This Is Wildfire: How to Protect Yourself, Your Home, and Your Community in the Age of Heat.” Then re-thinking the big picture: Adrian Parr’s new work “Earthlings; Imaginative encounters with the Natural World.”
TALK ABOUT WORLD HEATING AND THE SEPTEMBER BUMP
No doubt you heard the hot news: September and early October smashed heat records around the world – and not just by a little. Normally reserved climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said “This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist – absolutely gobsmackingly bananas.” The Japanese reanalysis found September 2023 “beat the prior monthly record by over 0.5C, and was around 1.8C warmer than preindustrial levels.”
The first global temperature data is in for the full month of September. This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist – absolutely gobsmackingly bananas. JRA-55 beat the prior monthly record by over 0.5C, and was around 1.8C warmer than preindutrial levels. pic.twitter.com/mgg3rcR2xZ
— Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath) October 3, 2023
This September was half a degree Centigrade hotter than any temperature ever recorded. We have never seen such a big heat jump. Earth sailed past the supposed 1.5 degree C safety guardrail, at least for one month.
Many of you lived through it. How great to get summer weather in October! Back to the beaches – unless of course you are a plant, animal or farmer thrown out of season. European countries sizzled. Poland was 4 degrees warmer than the previous hottest September; Switzerland – where 10% of glacier in the Alps melted in the last two years – was 3.8 degrees C hotter. France was 3.6, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria.
The Caribbean experienced record-breaking heat.
Professor Eliot Jacobson says: “The most extreme global temperature anomalies going on right now are in the tropics, where temperatures are averaging about 0.70°C above the recent 1991-2020 baseline.”
Weather historian Maximiliano Herrera reports on October 6th: “Middle East in rewriting world climatic history
Yesterday new national October records
Middle East in rewriting world climatic history
Yesterday new national October records
IRAN 46.6 Bandar e Dayyer
OMAN 45.2 Hamra ad Daru
Next tweet with all records broken
Tmin 33.9C Abu Al Bukoosh UAEmirates
WORLD RECORD HIGHEST MINIMUM IN OCTOBER (tb confirmed) pic.twitter.com/Jj0Mux7qpC
— Extreme Temperatures Around The World (@extremetemps) October 6, 2023
The world’s hottest minimum temperature for an October night was recorded in Abu Al Bukoosh, the United Arab Emirates. If that 33.9 C. night time low, 93 degrees Fahrenheit is officially confirmed, we have a new night high for October on Planet Earth. It was 33 C in the capital Doha overnight. Imagine!
“September 2023 in #Peru was record hot and also witnessed the highest temperature in its climatic history.” The October heat was cooking and breaking records across northern South America in countries like Bolivia, Guyana and more.
Eastern China broke October heat records, and you know Japan has been baking in a heat wave lasting months, surrounded by seas hotter by far than anything seen before.
SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE HEAT
But it’s not just the Northern Hemisphere. According to Herrera, a climatologist:
“September 2023 in New Zealand had an average temperature of 11.9C which is +1.3C above the 1991-2020 normal and was the WARMEST September on records. Dozens of records warmth were beaten.”
We know all-time records were set in South America. “Spring” has been a hot summer for millions of people in a string of countries.
Australia is already very hot, early in it’s Spring. A few fires already sprung up in New South Wales. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology just released it’s forecast for this El Nino year: Australians should expect three months of dry blistering heat. The conditions mirror the great fire times of the last El Nino, in 2015/2016. This looks like another tough summer for our Australian friends.
You get the idea. Earth just experienced a new jump in heat. We don’t know how long it will last, what it changes, or what it means. Models did not predict this. Scientists are scrambling to find out why. Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, a trusted source Tweets:
“We do understand the #globalwarming caused by fossil fuels – for four decades it’s been going as predicted. But we don’t understand the surprise upward leap that is happening now.
And that worries me.”
Me too. Despite producing a dozen program this year about abrupt climate change and the fragility of Earth’s systems, I find myself shocked, sad, and out of words.
Why didn’t scientists see this big jump in global temperatures coming? Some did. James Hansen, working with records of how temperatures go up to a new plateau with each El Nino, predicted “… that 2024 is likely to be off the chart as the warmest year on record.”
But even Hansen did not see the huge jump in temperature this soon, at the start of October, in both hemispheres. Regular listeners have heard various guest on this show talk about the possibility of sudden, surprising, and abrupt climate change. I’ve focused on the instability of the climate system since the Spring – and the novelty. We did not see this in the past. We are in a brand new situation.
Michael Mann, famous inventor of the hockey stick and climate warrior, has a new book out (“Our Fragile Moment”). He is doing interviews still selling hope, even of 1.5 degrees for the future. We may breach that this year of next. Mann criticizes “doomers” who will discourage the public, even if they turn out to be too right. Perhaps scientists should not tell the public the frightening truth, because then they will lose hope, and party with fossil power until we drop. We already at the fossil fuel bonfire blow-out party, and I strongly disagree with Mann’s argument. I say: Tell the truth to anyone who will listen.
This is Radio Ecoshock.
JUSTIN ANGLE: THIS IS WILDFIRE
In October, smoke from Canadian wildfires clouded the air over Miami, about 3,000 kilometers or 1900 miles away from the mega-fires in Ontario and Quebec. Those fires started in May and will keep going until deep snow puts them out, if winter comes. The wildfires are worse in Canada’s north, like British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide pour out of those vast burning trees into the atmosphere. None of that is included in the comforting forecasts coming from politicians and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fire is in the driver’s seat.
Record-setting mega-wildfires scorched North America this summer. They burned thousands of homes, and forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate. Harmful fire smoke covered continents. What a perfect time for a clear down-to-earth fire manual for us all. It is called “This Is Wildfire: How to Protect Yourself, Your Home, and Your Community in the Age of Heat.”
The authors are Montana journalist and award-winning podcaster Nick Mott, and fellow public radio broadcaster Professor Justin Angle. He is from the University of Montana. Their podcast and radio show is called “Fireline”. The new book is full of helpful tips, with a message that will be controversial for some of you.
NOTES FOR THE JUSTIN ANGLE INTERVIEW
In North America, Native tribes used fire for many reasons before the white settlers arrived: in battle, to clear land, to flush game, and for ceremonies. On indigenous fire management, Justin interviewed Tony Incashola Sr. and also Jr. for his Fireline Podcast Episode #4 “The Gift of Fire”. The Incasholas are two members of the Confederated Salish and Kooteney Tribe, living North of Missoula on the Flathead Reservation in Northwest Montana. Jr. was in charge of fire management for the tribe.
After a long history of white fire management (suppression) the tribe went back to their traditional methods of intentional setting of fires as a way of wildland management. They used a prescribed low-intensity burn that cleared out fuel from the undergrowth. This allowed the return of a food plant that disappeared in modern forests: an edible root from a plant used by the first peoples, called camas or kwetlal.
“Common camas bulbs were considered a delicacy by the Native American tribes within the range of the species including the Blackfoot, Cree, and Nez Perce. Bulbs would be steamed or pit cooked for one to three days breaking down complex carbohydrates into ample amounts of the sugar fructose. “
NOT A FIRE SEASON – A FIRE YEAR
Although “fire season” is now officially 80 days longer than it was a few decades ago, Justin says we might as well call it a “fire year” instead. One of the most devastating fires in the Northwest – the Marshall Fire – developed over New Years… in winter, just as 2022 began.
Professor Justin Angle, Montana State University
Justin and Nick interviewed a fire scientist, Cathy Whitlock at Montana State University, to get the links between a hotter planet and more intense fires. (FireLine Podcast #3 “The Ring of Fire”) Her team drills into the bottom of lakes to get sediment cores. Preserved pollen from plants can indicate temperatures during long time periods, and evidence of fires. “The science shows the warmer the temperature on this planet, the more fires we have” Justin tells us.
EXPECT EVEN MORE FIRES EVEN AT CURRENT WARMING
Cathy Whitlock and colleagues say despite the record fires, the Northwest is in a fire deficit! Based on the temperatures and water vapor deficit, there should be even more fires, and probably would be without fire fighting.
One of the reasons is: vapor pressure deficit. The warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, and will drag it out of plants to get fill that deficit. Plants draw more water from the soil until they can’t keep up, and then dry out – to become ideal fuel for wild fires.
ARSON CONSPIRACY THEORY
Conspiracy theorists and deniers say the fires were all started by arsonists. But forest officials and satellite images show hundreds of thousands of lightening strikes, over and over. There are no roads, no ways to get there. So why does the “arson” theory keep showing up on social media and even some news stations? Justin suggests: if we can blame just one person, one bad actor for the fires, we don’t have to consider our own role in creating greenhouse gases, warming, and fire conditions.
FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE
The use of prescribed burns is controversial for some people, especially those who fight to save the trees. Justin describes a “Prescribed Burn Association” and explores that community fire control method in their new book. They are private landowners who want to introduce fire to their land – a long-time no-no for the government and conservationists. It takes knowledge and resources not often available to a single land-owner.
But this sets the paradox: environment scientists (like Thomas Crowther on Radio Ecoshock) want to plant billions more trees to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and here we propose to burn more trees. How can those two go together? Justin finds this is a complex problem. If trees are planted ONLY to capture carbon, are they really sustainable forest ecosystems, and can they be planned with species to resist fires on their own? Along the way Justin notes wildfire smoke itself operates like a greenhouse gas.
I ran into an example of this problem with would-be geoengineer Russ George. George wanted to sell carbon offset credits to a forest planned for Hungary. In fact, he claimed this future forest absolved the Vatican for it’s greenhouse gas emissions. He absolved the Pope of His sins! That planting did not happen, but the very area chosen for the forest burned down just a few years after. These tree planting projects for carbon can be reversed, emitting toxic smoke and greenhouse gases, more or less at any time – and that is more likely to happen as the planet heats up. Is this one of those “wicked problems” where the solution can contribute to the problem?
HOW HOMES BURN
Although media shows giant walls of fire approaching homes (and this can happen) – usually homes catch fire via airborne embers which can travel miles from the original fire. A retired Forest Service expert Jack Cohen appeared in the Fireline Podcast in Episode 6 (the final of the series) to talk about that. If the ember lands on weak spots on your home, Justin tells us, the roof can catch fire. It could be just dried leaves and debris in a house gutter. Anything that can burn could be the tinder for a house fire.
If you think of your home as a fire magnet, move firewood and scrap wood away from the house, clean gutters, prepare. Consider surrounding the home with gravel instead of mulch. If you have a wooden roof (like Cedar shakes) think about ways to replace it. Metal roofs are much more fire resistant, as are tiles, but I know these can be too expensive for many of us. We do what we can.
Use resources like wildfirerisk.org and firewise.org to help “harden” your home to wildfire. And remember, the folks in Maui Hawaii did not consider themselves in the fire zone. With enough warming, almost anywhere can be “the fire zone”.
KEY PSYCHOLOGY THAT APPLIES TO CLIMATE AND MANY OR OUR PROBLEMS:
(quote from book “This Is Wildfire”)
“Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (academics later called them the “Lennon and McCartney of social science”) had this other really important idea: human brains are bad at making decisions when confronted with complex and uncertain scenarios. No matter how much experience someone has, the brain contains unavoidable biases; it’s far from a rational, calculating machine. Gut feelings often tend to push decisions in the wrong way.”
PRESCRIBED BURNS – LIMITED USE?
The problem of building fuels under the tree canopy, due to fire suppression, is not new. I covered this in my program “The Age of Superfires” with Silviculturalist John Betts as my guest. That interview is still good today.
But these methods can hardly apply to the vast boreal forests, where few people live, and inaccessible lands burn without any possible fire fighting. Prescribed burns are only possible in Canada’s northern and mountain forests in small areas around settlements.
Here is an example: the whole population of the capital of Yellowknife was evacuated partly because of the risk the town might burn down. But the Mayor explained the principle reason for evacuation was simple: the prescribed “back-burn” needed to create a safety ring around the city was so large, and right on the outskirts, the resulting smoke would be too toxic to breathe. The mass evacuation was for the prescribed burn. It did happen, and the city did not burn down. Lots of cities and towns in Canada will have to do the same to survive the new age of fire.
Not everywhere is plant life adapted to fire as in the Western U.S. That was part of the problem in Lahaina, Hawaii where existing plants have no strategy to regrow after the fire. Some giant trees along Canada’s north Pacific coast are over a thousand years old. Those forests have likely never burned since the glaciers retreated.
A PREVIOUS RADIO ECOSHOCK WILDFIRE SHOW
New Age of Super Fires July 16, 2015,
EARTHLINGS: ADRIAN PARR
Attention Earthlings. Adrian Parr has a new book for you called: “Earthlings; Imaginative encounters with the Natural World.” You can’t fit this book or Adrian into any box. She sounds like an Australian American with a European education. The new work follows her trilogy of three works: “Hijacking Sustainability”, “Wrath of Capital”, and “Birth of New Earth”.
All the while, Adrian is educating people directly with leading roles at the Universities of Cincinnati and Texas. She is now Dean of the College of Design at the University of Oregon.
In the interview, Adrian cites this quote: “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism“, which has been attributed to both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek.
Adrian raises German author Wilhelm Reich. Here is my 2006 radio piece on Reich called “The Strange Case Of Wilhelm Reich – Life and death of a social pioneer”. Part 1 (17MB 19 min) Part 2 (17MB 19 min)
Parr wrote three books about French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Her new book continues with deconstruction of fundamental beliefs. Yet all along there is another thread approaching the vision of James Lovelock: that all life on Earth is part of one great organism intent on more life. Lovelock called it “Gaia”. Do these two streams of deconstruction and Gaianism run separately or do they meet?
Gaia became and remains popular. But I interviewed Dr. Peter Ward on his counter book “The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?”. To be honest, the most recent developments – on many existential threat – leads me to think Peter Ward’s concept of a self-destructive urge may win out.
The marriage of billionaires and political power is ready to defend itself by any means necessary. Dirty tricks and media hack jobs are just the start. People protesting climate destruction can be labeled a “terrorist” and met with heavily armed police, jail, and in some countries murder or execution. Institutions work for whatever mob controls the banks, energy, and pretty well everything else.
Adrian, notes right-wing growth in places like Spain, Germany, and U.S. – places where left was formerly developed. Even when people support eliminating subsidies for fossil fuels, millions vote for a climate denier as leader. The awful question is: What happens if the masses desire their own oppression?
Truth requires brutal honesty, especially about ourselves. There is a small history of right wing environmentalism, including within the German National Socialists under Hitler. We could find ardent environmentalists in many countries who see time to save ourselves so short, they might endorse a strong man or woman to dictate social and economic reform on a crash basis, citing an emergency. What if authoritarian government, perhaps led by a dictator, is the only way to slash emissions and preserve the last pockets of Nature? If that was the only way, would we do it, or perish with our beliefs in freedom?
Parr warns against “Fascist Earth” – Earth dominated by institutions that place all life in the service of capital accumulation, no matter what the costs or damages. For example the socio-economic institutions like “free markets”. We can’t use the mechanisms that led to these problems to solve them. We need to imagine a life outside outside that.
After reading Parr’s book “Earthlings” I struggle to describe it. The mix includes excellent science journalism, a philosophy of nature, photos – and ends with a poem.
Adrian says we need an imagination of a Utopia, a vision of what we might become, futurity, not perfection but a goal of pursuit. She compares “Apocalyptic imagination” and “emancipatory imagination”. The Apocalyptic can consume us, replacing our ability to use the imagination for positive changes. How can we feed emancipatory imagination?
“Environmental degradation is calling us to the witness stand of history. It demands we testify against ourselves and mount a case in our defense. Ultimately, we are all agents of history. To reduce ourselves to a role of mere observation is to deny us of our humanity.”
– Adrian Parr, The New York Times, May 2016
INTELLECTUAL COMPANIONS: GEMS TO CHECK OUT FROM ADRIAN PARR
When I asked about her contemporaries, Adrian Parr starts with Santiago Zabala. His site bio says:
“Santiago Zabala is a philosopher and cultural critic. Since 2010 he has been ICREA Research Professor of Philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona…”
Another of Parr’s intellectual companions is Rosi Brandotti, “feminist Continental philosopher and Distinguished University Professor Emerita at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.”
Brandotti’s book description for her foundational 2013 work “The Posthuman” says:
“The Posthuman offers both an introduction and major contribution to contemporary debates on the posthuman. Digital ‘second life’, genetically modified food, advanced prosthetics, robotics and reproductive technologies are familiar facets of our globally linked and technologically mediated societies. This has blurred the traditional distinction between the human and its others, exposing the non-naturalistic structure of the human. The Posthuman starts by exploring the extent to which a post-humanist move displaces the traditional humanistic unity of the subject. Rather than perceiving this situation as a loss of cognitive and moral self-mastery, Braidotti argues that the posthuman helps us make sense of our flexible and multiple identities.”
Are you posthuman? Dare to explore. You could start with this YouTube video: “Rosi Braidotti, “Posthuman Knowledge”
Mar 13, 2019
“This lecture is built on the assumption that we are currently situated in a posthuman convergence between the Fourth industrial Age and the Sixth Extinction, between and advanced knowledge economy, which perpetuates patterns of discrimination and exclusion, and the threat of climate change devastation for both human and non-human entities.”
Then Adrian Parr cites Brad Evans and his work on violence. Wiki says:
“Brad Evans is a British academic, and Professor of Political Violence at the department of Politics, Languages & International Studies at the University of Bath, United Kingdom. He is the founder and director of the Centre for the Study of Violence.”
Parr is also inspired by the work of David Rothenberg, philospher artist. who makes music with other species.
“David Rothenberg (born 1962) is a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, with a special interest in animal sounds as music. He is also a composer and jazz musician whose books and recordings reflect a longtime interest in understanding other species such as singing insects by making music with them.”
Her father Michael Parr is also an artist, in Australia. In fact “Mike Parr” is a well-known performance artist and printmaker.
She then reads us the last paragraph from the introduction to her new book:
“Art and literature invite us to come alive. Medicine and science try to keep us alive. The law tells us how to live. Politics questions how we live. Religion hopes to give us something to live for. Philosophy pursues how living and nothingness work, tempting us to explore what we love most about life. This book is a little of all of these, and hopefully something more.”
ALEX: OUR TIME OF TRIALS
As I wrote in song several years ago, these are our “Time of Trials”. Those who pray should pray. Whoever can act should act, speak, and spread what you learn hear to everyone. Something had to break in nature’s climate system and it has. Now something has to break open in human affairs, a wave of minds coming together to save the species.
Next week: billions of people around the world will experience heat and humidity beyond the limits of human survival. Safety limits assumed for decades turn out to be wrong – we are in much more danger from heat waves than we knew. Hear the lead author of this breaking science in next week’s program.
Please support this free-for-all radio program if you can. Your donation or monthly support is always needed. There are no advertisers or donors with an agenda behind this show – just listeners keeping a dedicated science journalist and sometime activist on the air, and on the Net. Thank you for helping.
I’m Alex Smith. Thank you for listening, and caring about our world.