A cluster of new technologies aim to fulfill humanity’s ancient desire to influence the weather. But is it a good idea?

Olivia Solon, The Guardian, August 26, 2018

Farmers in Mexico have accused Volkswagen of ruining their crops by installing “hail cannons”, which fire shockwaves into the atmosphere in an effort to prevent hail storms from damaging the cars rolling off the production line.

The devices are being blamed for causing a drought during months when farmers near the German carmaker’s plant in Puebla expected plenty of rain.

While some may be convinced of the hail cannon’s power, scientific research has cast doubt on these observations. But effective or not, the technology represents humanity’s latest attempt to control the weather – rain dancing 2.0 – and has raised concerns about the lack of regulation and the assumption that there is a quick fix for complex meteorological phenomena.

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Part I of  a Two-Parter by Nathaniel Rich in The New York Times Magazine, August 1, 2018

Editor’s Note

This narrative by Nathaniel Rich is a work of history, addressing the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989: the decisive decade when humankind first came to a broad understanding of the causes and dangers of climate change. Complementing the text is a series of aerial photographs and videos, all shot over the past year by George Steinmetz. With support from the Pulitzer Center, this two-part article is based on 18 months of reporting and well over a hundred interviews. It tracks the efforts of a small group of American scientists, activists and politicians to raise the alarm and stave off catastrophe. It will come as a revelation to many readers — an agonizing revelation — to understand how thoroughly they grasped the problem and how close they came to solving it. Jake Silverstein

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Chris Mooney, Washington Post, August 14, 2018,  Medford Mail Tribune, August 15, 2018

The next five years will be ‘anomalously warm,’ scientists predict

Humans are already making the planet warmer. Now Earth could help speed the process up.

The past four years have been the four warmest ever recorded — and now, according to a new scientific forecast, the next five will also probably be “anomalously warm,” even beyond what the steady increase in global warming would produce on its own.

That could include another record warmest year, even warmer than the current record year of 2016. It could also include an increased risk of heat extremes and a major heat event somewhere in the Earth’s oceans, of the sort that has triggered recent die-offs of coral reefs across the tropics.

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Guest Column by Alan Journet, Medford Mail Tribune / Ashland Daily Tidings, August 12, 2018

As residents of the Rogue Valley, we can ignore the data and our own eyes as some argue we should. Alternatively, we can be a little smarter; we can acknowledge what is happening and then both prepare for the future and commit to reducing the problem.

I’m a Rogue Valley newcomer of some seven years and a local forest owner, but I can see the same trends that others must see: our Douglas firs are dying at an alarming rate. Though great for our winter wood store, it’s a disturbing harbinger of what is likely to come. Exactly how the warming trend will influence our native tree species is unclear, but analyses suggest that several commercially and ecologically important species will soon be seriously compromised (http://charcoal.cnre.vt.edu/climate/species/).

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Editorial Board, Washington Post, August 8 2018

CALIFORNIA, THE nation’s most populous state and the world’s fifth-largest economy , is on fire. In a state already known for monster conflagrations, the past month has been unusually destructive. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco is now officially the largest in California’s history, having burned an area about the size of Los Angeles, and it is just one of the major blazes the state has had to face since last October.

President Trump tried to lay the blame on “bad environmental laws” and wasted water, claims that experts quickly debunked. The 14,000 firefighters on the ground do not lack for water; they are battling blazes next to big lakes and other major bodies of water. The state’s big rivers have not been “diverted into the Pacific,” as Mr. Trump claimed; they flow into the ocean as they always have, though with large amounts sent to cities and farmland for human use.

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Report by Nathan Rott with Ari Shapiro on NPR’s All Things Considered, August 8, 2018

Massive wildfires in Western states are rapidly depleting funds set aside to fight fires. At the same time, many experts argue our priorities are wrong — we should be spending more on prescribed burns, and less on fighting fires in unpopulated areas.

Transcript and audio

The Trump administration has made no secret of the fact that when it comes to America’s public lands, their loyalty rests with the oil and gas, mining and logging industries – not the American public. Alaska has not been immune to this imbalance either, and the Bureau of Land Management will soon officially release a proposed plan for 3-D seismic exploration across the entire 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with a public comment period potentially to follow.

The administration wants to allow a small army of industrial vehicles and equipment onto the coastal plain with a mandate to crisscross every square inch of the Arctic Refuge’s biological heart. This scheme will put denning polar bears at risk and leave lasting scars on the fragile tundra and its vegetation, and that’s before a single drill rig has been placed or length of pipeline installed.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a true refuge for wildlife. Birds from all 50 U.S. states raise their young on the coastal plain alongside species ranging from caribou and polar bears to muskoxen and snowy owls. Despite the coastal plain’s incomparable wilderness, wildlife and subsistence values, SAExploration in its plan failed to reference or say it would conduct any scientific study on the impacts of its proposed work.

SAExploration’s plan calls for two massive teams of 150-160 workers living in mobile camps that would be moved up to two miles every few days throughout the coastal plain on giant sleds, alongside tractors, fuelers, loaders and other support vehicles and equipment. Working continuously in two 12-hour shifts every day from December through May, these teams would cross the coastal plain in multiple 90,000-pound “thumper trucks” sending vibrations into the ground to map out oil and gas resources. That is 10,000 pounds heavier than the 18-wheeler trucks that traverse America’s highways (80,000 pounds is the maximum allowed weight for 18-wheeler trucks without an oversize permit). 

In addition, despite BLM stating there will be no significant impacts from seismic exploration, multiple experts have suggested otherwise, and a 2010 study from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service suggests a need for a full environmental impact statement. It noted: Previous studies of disturbance from winter seismic vehicles in the Arctic predicted short-term and mostly aesthetic impacts, but we found that severe impacts to tundra vegetation persisted for two decades after disturbance under some conditions.

And then there’s the wildlife. The seismic work outlined by SAExploration would occur in the middle of critical habitat for the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear, currently down to a population of approximately 900 bears. Exploration would occur during polar bear denning season, and polar bears are increasingly using the coastal plain to build their dens as sea ice disappears due to climate change.

Caribou and birds like snowy owls and ptarmigan can be found there in winter as well, and muskoxen – these prehistoric-looking creatures live year-round on the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. After disappearing in Alaska more than 100 years ago, they were reintroduced in 1969 and today the Arctic Refuge serves as protected habitat.

The bottom line? Seismic exploration does not belong in America’s largest and wildest refuge any more than development belongs in Yellowstone Park or the Grand Canyon. Please stay informed about this issue – and watch for the official public comment period to open. We all need to raise our voices against this atrocious idea! For more information, contact Lois Norrgard at lois@alaskawild.org.

Jessica Corbett, Common Dreams, August 4 2018 (via Truthout)

As temperatures bust heat records across the globe and wildfires rage from California to the Arctic, a new report produced annually by more than 500 scientists worldwide found that last year, the carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere reached the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.”

While the most significant jump was the global average for carbon dioxide (CO2)—which, at 405.0 parts per million (ppm), saw a 2.2 ppm increase from the previous yearconcentrations of other dominant planet-warming greenhouse gases, methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), also hit “record highs,” according to State of the Climate in 2017 released Wednesday.

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Kaylee Tornay, Medford Mail Tribune,  July 31, 2018

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said he is looking to congressional colleagues and agencies including the U.S. Forest Service to provide future relief from wildfire smoke, which had only slightly improved this week by the time of his Tuesday press conference in Medford.

Standing in front of an orange S-64 Aircrane helicopter flanked by county commissioners from Jackson and Josephine counties, Walden detailed legislative work he was involved in prior to Congress’ summer recess to address wildfire prevention in the House version of the farm bill.

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Thoughts from Alan Journet by way of response:

Maybe when our representatives have been in office too long, they start thinking they understand more about issues than they really know.  Congressman Walden seems to have fallen prey to this delusion with forest management.  While Walden fails to indicate what the goal for his forest management is, it seems clear the goal is not healthy resilient forests but maximizing short-term logging.

In relation to wildfire, Walden seems to be convinced that the solution is to increase fire suppression. Unfortunately, our SW Oregon forests and the Mediterranean climate that we enjoy mean that the forests are fire-prone, fire-adapted, and fire-dependent.  In other words, if we wish to maintain healthy forests, we need to learn to live with and manage fire.  Simply suppressing every fire as soon as possible almost certainly not the best approach.  Instead, we need to compensate for the unfortunate fire suppression decades we imposed on and restore forests to a condition where we can reintroduce and manage beneficial fire.

http://wildfiretoday.com/2018/03/09/vicki-christiansen-selected-interim-forest-service-chief/

Walden seems to think that he knows more about fires and our wester forests than Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen who has a degree in forestry and over 30 years of experience in state and federal forest departments, much of it in fire management. When Christiansen reportedly suggested that forest managers need the flexibility to make decisions about whether fires should be suppressed, or used to enhance forest health, Walden disagreed.  Yet forest managers have frequently complained that they are required to suppress fires whenever such are reported rather than decide on how best to manage them for forest health. The notion that every fire should be suppressed is uninformed and naïve.

Walden reportedly argued that wildfires release substantial pollution causing global warming and that the solution is thinning.  He reportedly stated: “The United Nations Climate Change Task Force [sic] has said forest fires are a big contributing factor to the kinds of particulate matter and carbon in the air, pollutants in the air that exacerbate it.” It’s hard to know if he meant the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but I can find no evidence of any Task Force by the name he suggested, so it’s equally difficult to check on the claim.  While it is the case that fires release particulates into the air that cause respiratory problems these do not contribute to warming.  In fact, quite the reverse since particulates in the atmosphere reflect incoming solar radiation and actually cause cooling.  We have experienced this cooling phenomenon in recent weeks in SW Oregon.  Meanwhile, although combustion of vegetation does, indeed, result in carbon dioxide emissions, these are annually nowhere near as problematic as the emissions resulting from logging operations.   The main reason for this is probably that much of (in some cases most of) the carbon in Oregon forests is actually in the soil, and this is only released with very severe fires, and this occurs only in patches even in what seems to be a major fire.  In the Chetco fire, for example, Forest Service data tell us that only 7% of the area was subjected to very severe fire.

In legislation (HR. 3715), a response to fire, Walden promotes salvage logging and replanting – presumably generating conifer plantations. Regrettably, salvage logging is well understood to have profound negative effects. In particular, harvesting fire-killed trees may increase available surface fuels by transferring unmerchantable material, such as tops, branches, and broken boles to the ground immediately after harvest.  In addition, plantations burn with higher severity than unmanaged forest stands.  The science suggests clearly that Walden’s proposal would do nothing to promote healthy forests and simply enhance fire risk.

Jefferson Exchange, July 23rd 2018

Humans have been drinking wine for a very long time.  And we’ve generally figured out which grapes grow best in certain climates.

Trouble is, the climates are more variable than they used to be.  That’s created a problem for winemakers, and a career for Greg Jones.

Dr. Jones is regarded as one of the top wine climatologists in the world, and he left Southern Oregon University for Linfield College last year.

We bring him back to the Exchange for a check-in on how vineyard owners can respond to climate change.

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