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News Archive December Environmental Progress News

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Is the World on Fire?

Fire Disasters Becoming Common

The 2018 fire season was extreme, causing devastation all around the world. Was this an unusual year or can we expect the same again? Is this the new norm?

We are confronting more large fires, a tripling of homes burned and more frequent large evacuations in North America,” said Tania Schoennagel, a fire scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder.“This trend will continue in response to further warming.”

David Bowman, a professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania in Australia recently stated “Will there be more fires? With climate change, yes, lots more. We must get used to them, and learn to adapt. It’s like the earth has thrown down the gauntlet and we are paralyzed.

Increased fires can be expected in the climatic changes we are experiencing.We are caught in a cycle – rising temperatures lead to increasing droughts and dryness, which lead to fires, which lead to flooding.

Fires not only threaten lives and destroy property, they emit gases that contribute to global warming. In forest fires, all of the carbon held in the trees is released into the air adding to global warming.The smoke from fire season also impacts our air quality.

In November 2018 a forest fire swept through the small town of Paradise literally destroying the town. 5,000 people lost everything – homes, schools, businesses.

This disaster was not an isolated incident, it is happening all around the world.

Hotter-than-normal temperatures and drought across much of northern Europe and North America in June and July have resulted in wildfires burning in what are typically wetter, cooler regions.  England’s peatland moors, Ireland, Sweden, Scandinavia and even areas north of the Arctic Circle experienced significant fires over the past two months“, according to World Resources Institution. 

Impacts of forest fires

Each year we lose 32 million acres (13 million hectares), 26 times the size of the Grand Canyon, or 60 acres per minute. To regenerate the resources we’re already consuming, we would need 1½ Earths, yet our demand is still growing.

Naturally we focus on loss of life and property damage, but that there are other equally important consequences that often go unobserved.

Smoke from fires in Malibu, CA Photo Credit: Aaron James

One of the immediate impacts of this year’s fire season has been on air quality in residential areas surrounding the wildfires. In Oregon, for example, the smoky season lasted 2 1/2 months compared to the normal 1 month. In the Bay area in California, their air quality reached unhealthy levels comparable to Beijing.

Wildfire smoke contains a mixture of thousands of compounds: Chemicals, gases and tiny particles that can be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung”, CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports.

Further environmental consequences

Wildfires cause dramatic changes in landscape and ground conditions, which lead to increased risk of flooding. During heavy rains the burned ground is unable to absorb the falling rain, producing runoff conditions much like a parking lot. Even modest rainstorms over a burned area can result in flash flooding downstream. When you add in the increasing amount of water being dumped by superstorms, we are looking at further devastation to come.

Sustainable forest management

Based on the first resolution of Helsinki accords, 1993, sustainable forest management is defined as the “stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems”.

Sustainable forest management focuses on creating a balance between society’s increasing demands for forest products and benefits, and the preservation of forest health and diversity. This balance is critical to the survival of forests, and to the prosperity of forest-dependent communities. Healthy forests help maintain a balance of CO2 in our atmosphere. Loss of forests creates an imbalance and contributes to global warming.

What more can we do?

Smarter planning can reduce human exposure

When residential areas begin encroaching on forest lands the homes are at a higher risk.

Community fire mitigation programs get communities to work together to ensure homes are fire-resistant. Through wildfire protection plans, communities create “defensible space” on individual properties by clearing trees and vegetation close to homes and thinning out other trees near the property. They are also encouraged to use fire-resistant building materials especially on windows and on roofs, which catch fire due to ember storms preceding the actual flame front.

Additional forest management practices can reduce the ferocity of the fires

For years, many fire agencies have used basic software that can produce projections of the fire on laptop computers. But in recent years, the availability of real-time fire data has mushroomed. NASA satellites are providing detailed images of fire perimeters. Weather stations, field cameras and aerial reconnaissance flights provide even more.

Advances in technology are helping increase efficiency. The supercomputer center in San Diego has developed WIFIRE, a fire behavior model that builds on existing models and adds in real-time data. It can run many simulations simultaneously, as soon as a fire breaks out.

“We can understand where the fire will be, its rate of spread, its direction for the next couple of hours,” Altintas says. “Having that information in a matter of minutes, in your hand, as fast as possible, is very important” says Ilkay Altintas of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego.

The system is still under study, and not widely used, but the hopes are in the future they will be able to identify and evacuate threatened areas faster.

Unless we address global warming, fires are here to stay and – because of drought, etc., – they will get more frequent

Community fire mitigation programs and supercomputers might help, but what we really need is to tackle global warming and reduce impacts that increase the risk and occurrence of raging forest fires.

Biochar can help our environment in 4 notable ways:

  1. Removal of dead wood in forests and turning into biochar reduces the fuel for forest fires.
  2. Putting the biochar back into the earth sequesters CO2, helping to reduce global warming.
  3. Once Biochar is back in the earth it brings life back to the soil.
  4. Biochar has high water retention, helping plants during drought periods to help end the cycle we are currently caught in – drought, fire, flooding.

Indeed it is a monumental task, but what is the alternative?

“If each one of us does our bit, we will be helping to keep global warming from harming our countries.” ~ Sienna Miller

Why are trees so important?

Scientists tell us that the main culprit in global warming is carbon in the form of CO2. This is why trees are so important and why forest fires and global deforestation are a key part of global warming.

Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. They release the oxygen (O2) back into the atmosphere for us to breathe and use the carbon (C) to build cell walls.

As long as the tree is alive, it soaks up C; together trees in a forest become a “carbon sink” holding carbon that cannot contribute to global warming. To understand more about Global Warming read “Climate Change Primer” or download a copy below.

Free Downloads

Climate Change Primer

Cool the Climate

What we are doing in Thailand

In Thailand, where Warm Heart is based, we are getting ready to go into our “smoky season”. Smoke from forest fires and farmers burning their crop residue greatly impact the air quality.

Our Biochar Project focuses on teaching farmers improved sustainable farming practices. Our goal is to end the open field burning and replace it with pyrolization of the crop residue, which creates no smoke and provides biochar for the farmers to use in their soil.

Part of the solution for better forest management is incorporating pyrolyzing the dead wood and turning it into biochar.

Making biochar is carbon negative. When you make biochar from dead wood, you permanently remove carbon from the atmosphere. The biochar that remains when you finish production is pure carbon equal to 40 percent of the total carbon contained in the wood – and it is completely inert. It will never again enter the atmosphere. Put differently, for every pound of biochar you make, you remove three pounds of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Making biochar also has important indirect impacts. Large piles of rotting wood chips, for example, emit not just CO2, but methane, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 25 times as warming as CO2. Methane and other such long-term GHGs as NOx (298 times as warming as CO2) are eliminated by pyrolysis.

The benefits of biochar far exceed CO2 reduction.

Biochar is a powerful soil amendment. Applied to lawns, playing fields, golf courses, farm lands, it can reduce fertilizer costs 40-50 percent.

Biochar retains water extremely well. In farming it can reduce time between watering by days, conserve water and save money, which also helps combat drought.

Biochar is also a highly effective decontaminant. It can be used to clean up hazardous spills, decontaminate building sites, storm drains, and lawns and public spaces after floods.

Widespread use of biochar can help alleviate global warming.

6 Degrees of Separation

Climate change is a global problem, but the solutions are local. We need to take a close look at the benefits of biochar, and implement local changes that utilize biochar.

Putting biochar to work to help reverse global warming needs to happen now. We can not wait for an informational  trickle down. People need to catch on and understand the importance of focusing on how biochar can help heal the environment. Biochar can help cool the earth by reducing CO2, improve soils and help fight drought, which in turn helps reduce the amount of forest fires.

Please share our newsletter with your friends, and ask them to share with their connections. The goal is to help make biochar a common, everyday word, and through the power of 6 degrees of separation reach those that have the power to enact on implementing biochar solutions in their world.

Biochar needs to spread, like wildfire!

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Warm Heart is a grass-roots, non-profit organization working towards solutions to reverse global warming. Environmental Progress News is meant to help stay current with new issues and on finding solutions. Our focus is working with biochar. Donations are always welcome.

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