California’s fires – a symptom of climate change

A series of wildfires, fanned by extraordinarily heavy winds, have swept though the state forcing hundreds of thousands to evacuate their homes. How did things get this bad? The answer is climate change. Los Angeles Times, late October 2019

But is climate change really happening?

By Roger Childs

Climate change has been a fact of life for the planet for millions of years. There have been cooler and warmer periods across the millennia and, back even further, there were ice ages which transformed the landscapes of North America, Europe, Northern Asia and New Zealand.

In recent decades there has been a noticeable warming of the Earth as seen in

  • rising sea levels
  •  increased average temperatures
  •  retreating glaciers and ice melting in the Arctic and Antarctic
  • droughts and fires of increased intensity
  • hurricanes/cyclones/typhoons with higher average winds than in previous times.
Hurricanes have become more intense in recent years

 The increases in temperatures and sea levels have been small, but the recent trends since the late 20th century have been upwards. However, as seen with the shrinking of New Zealand’s glaciers such as the Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox – the melting has been dramatic over the last 40 years. Franz Josef has lost 800m in the last 11 years and this is mirrored in Northern American “ice rivers”. Around the North Pole the melting has also been dramatic.

Franz Josef Glacier has retreated 800m in 11 years

Arctic Sea ice is reducing by 13% per decade, a rate that is unprecedented in the last 1000 years. Journalist, Joel McManus The Dominion Post, September 27 2019

Weather extremes – wind, waves and heat

Climatic extremes have been a vivid reminder of the changes taking place. Back in September, Hurricane Dorian actually reached Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic Seaboard – the first time a storm of this magnitude has hit the province since 1996. Meanwhile inland Australia continues to swelter in its longest drought in recorded history.

In New Zealand, coastlines are under pressure, and areas like the West Coast, Nelson, Dunedin, the southern coast of Hawke Bay and the Kapiti Coast have lost land to the sea. South of Raumati South, on the edge of Queen Elizabeth Park, the sand dunes have retreated more than 30 metres in 50 years.

Coastal erosion at Paekakariki

Fires like never before in recent years

In Central and Southern California over the last few years, unprecedented fires have raged across wide areas. According to the Los Angeles Times – five of California’s deadliest fires have occurred in the last two years. And 10 of the 20 most destructive fires in terms of structures lost, occurred over the last 120 years.

A few days ago our son witnessed one of the blazes first hand.

 ... upon entering Lafayette/Martinez (east of Oakland) to play tennis, I guess some 15 minutes before the authorities were shutting down thoroughfares, in some cases big ones, due to fresh fires, … flames literally lapping at the road I was driving on, Alhambra Avenue, I think, at one point perhaps my body length away from me … a bit like the Russians firing fields at the end of winter as they do since with so much land the practice of the allegedly reinvigorated fallow field is commonplace, but The Martinez Fire was not a controlled fire when I saw it.  An evacuation order was issued almost instantly within a certain radius but, as compared to other recent fires, fire fighters got to this one early, obviously so, perhaps, as in these stiff dry winds up North tall flames crossed rivers …The Lafayette tennis club burned to the ground. Richard Childs

Lafayette tennis club building destroyed

Carbon in the atmosphere

By trapping heat from the sun, greenhouse gases have kept Earth’s climate habitable for humans and millions of other species. But those gases are now out of balance and threaten to change drastically which living things can survive on this planet—and where. Christina Nunez, National Geographic, May 13 2019

Carbon dioxide is an essential element for life on Earth and its presence in the atmosphere helps prevent the sun from frying everything on the surface. But too much leads to warmer average temperatures. Areas such as wetlands and bogs are “carbon sinks” where the gas is “stored”.

However, many wetlands in recent decades have been drained for urban expansion, infrastructure development and the spread of farming. In the Eurasian landmass the huge permafrost tundra areas are starting to melt. These massive peat bogs contain vast stores of methane and carbon dioxide which, if the warming trends continue, will be released into the atmosphere.

Measurements worldwide going back to the1970s, including records kept in New Zealand, show that the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air is increasing, slowly. Carbon dioxide along with methane, nitrous oxide and others are collectively known as the “greenhouse gases”.

The IPOCC Report

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report a few months ago was produced by 104 experts from 36 countries.  Three of its key findings are that:

  • there is a well established trend of more carbon dioxide in the air. This is slowly heating the oceans, changing ecosystems and raising sea levels.
  • on-going ice sheet melting in the Arctic and Antarctic is continuing to result in rises in sea levels.
  • the Eurasian permafrost is melting and releasing more carbon dioxide into the air.

A well-organised conspiracy?

There are plenty of climate change (CC) deniers out there, many from countries rich in fossil fuels, led by Donald Trump. They see the CC movement, from Al Gore’s 2006 An Inconvenient Truth movie, through International CC conferences to the action of Swedish teenage, Greta Thunberg, admonishing the world’s governments at the United Nations two months ago, as political grand-standing.

Some scientists claim that the data has been exaggerated and that any recent warming is just a blip in long term climatic and weather patterns. To see 197 claims from sceptics and the scientific responses go to https://skepticalscience.com/argument.php

The reality is that climate change is happening, admittedly slowly, and the planet is definitely warming up. It is not a dramatic process, but the trends of rising seas, increased average temperatures, melting ice and increasing C02 in the air are indisputable.

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