Derechos and Fires and Bears … and Biden — Oh My!

Dear Friends,

Derechos and fires and bears … and Biden — Oh my! That’s how I’d summarize the week’s climate-crisis news.

DERECHOS. Two months ago, Elizabeth Leitman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, described the derecho that rolled across the Rocky Mountains on June 6 as “exceedingly rare.” That was after another derecho tore through the northeast on June 3, hitting Philadelphia with 80-mile-an-hour winds.

The August 10 derecho flattened Iowa corn fields and destroyed grain bins. (Photo Mike Byers)

Last week’s derecho, the August 10 monster that impacted nine states but wreaked particularly devastating harm on Iowa, may go down as one of the strongest derechos in US history. The full impact is still being assessed, but one-third of Iowa’s corn and soybean crop — 10 million acres! — may have been damaged or destroyed.

Iowa cities were hit hard, too, especially Cedar Rapids, which has never fully recovered from the record-breaking flood of 2008. That soggy disaster took out 14 square miles of the city, inundated downtown, and displaced over 10,000 residents.

The flood of 2008 has been described as one of the worst natural disasters in US history. Cedar Rapids officials say the 2020 derecho is worse — far worse.

What’s the climate-change link? On the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website, someone asks, “How might climate change affect derecho frequency and distribution?” NOAA’s answer: “Nobody knows.”

Historically, I have a lot of respect for NOAA — but not with Trump-appointee Neil Jacobs at the helm. Jacobs is the guy who, two years ago, sided with Trump against NOAA’s own scientists when the president claimed Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.

So, with NOAA’s integrity presently compromised by the Trump administration’s climate denial agenda, we have to rely on independent analysis. And that analysis is quite clear: The 2020 derechos are exceptional, unprecedented, and impacted by Earth’s changing climate.

On August 15, California’s Loyalton Fire produced a fire tornado. (Photo Katelynn and Jordan Hewlett)

FIRES. A heat wave is currently scorching the Southwest and California. Death Valley just recorded Earth’s hottest temperature ever — 130 degrees Fahrenheit! Some California cities have hit 110 degrees. On August 7, Californians used so much electricity trying to stay cool that, for the first time in 19 years, the state’s utility company shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers for several hours to avoid a damaging overload.

Along with excessive heat comes fire. As I prepare to publish this blog, the Loyalton Fire in northern California has burned 43,444 acres and is only 10% contained. Last Saturday, the National Weather Service in Reno issued a tornado warning for, believe it or not, a fire tornado. This may have been the first-ever fire tornado warning.

(I know, like me, you’ve been worried about Sharknados and Mosquitonados. Now we have to add Firenados to the list of things that keep us up at night.)

Meanwhile, on the other end of the state of California, the Lake Fire has consumed 18,500 acres as it continues to blaze about 65 miles north of Los Angeles. That fire is only 30% contained, and more than 4,500 homes, businesses, and other buildings are threatened.

There is no longer any doubt that fires in the US and elsewhere are worse now than ever before. The worst fire years in the US West are 2006, 2007, 2012, 2015, and 2017. And 2018 isn’t even on that list. That was the year the Camp Fire ravaged Paradise, California, killing 85 people, destroying 14,000 homes, and burning an area the size of Chicago.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Speaking of Chicago, that brings us to …

THE BEARS. Yes, not only are the Chicago Bears threatened with extinction (along with the entire NFL, at least for the 2020-2021 season), but polar bears are at risk of extinction as well. Many bears are starving because of shrinking sea ice, and the prognosis for the animal’s future is grim.

A 2018 story in Arctic Today points out that, while the polar bear is important and people seem to have developed a huge attachment to them, to fully grasp the peril facing the Arctic (and thus all of planet Earth), we have to move beyond bears.

Even as warnings of the impact of climate change on the Arctic grow more dire, President Trump just fulfilled another one of his Big Oil buddies’ dreams: authorizing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Oil and gas companies can now begin to apply for leases to gain the right to destroy America’s largest wilderness area — though it may take several years for drilling to begin. Which brings us to…

BIDEN. Even if you can’t stomach voting FOR Biden, cast your vote AGAINST Trump.

And how do you spell an anti-Trump vote? It’s B-I-D-E-N

Do it for the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and yeah, do it for the polar bears. Do it for our own survival.

Biden may not be the climate champion many of us wanted when we voted last spring. But he arguably has advanced his commitment to addressing the crisis. And Kamala Harris, while also not the climate community’s first champion of choice, brings a younger, fresher perspective to tackling America’s most pressing challenges. Vote Biden-Harris!



Here’s the line-up:

— Derechos and fires and bears … and Biden — Oh my!
— Asphalt addiction: Developers won’t take “no” for an answer (with Jim Benzoni, attorney)
— Big Oil supports geo-engineering (with Steve Horn, The Real News Network)
— Can I eat this tomato? (with Kathy Byrnes, Birds & Bees Urban Farm)

(Click here for video of “Can I eat this tomato?”)

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Ed Fallon