Environment: Tough month for the Earth

by Judy Ferro

This has been a tough month for our planet.

Forest and range fires are plaguing Idaho. Canyon, Ada, and Owyhee counties sit under a blanket of smoke as ash rains on sidewalks, cars, and pools. As I write, the blaze has devoured a 10-mile-wide swath of BLM land over 30 miles in length.   Several families are relying on limited power from an Idaho Power generator because the fire has destroyed power polls.

South of Lewiston, the Lawyer Complex, the result of 21 separate fires, has burned over 6 square miles, forcing the evacuations near Kamiah, the seat of Lewis County.

In central Idaho, a 500-acre fire in heavy timber threatens vacation homes north of Crouch.

Nationwide, fires have ravaged 35% more land than the 10-year-average.

Yet, fires are just one consequence of extreme heat this summer.

Areas with no—or less reliable—air conditioning have seen thousands die from the heat. This month has seen new record high temperatures in cities from India to Egypt, in Japan, and in much of Europe. Karachi, Pakistan, had highs over 100 F for six weeks with the temperature reaching 124 F at one point. Iraq’s major cities have also have suffered from temperatures over 120 F.

In Tokyo, 47,000 have been hospitalized from heat stroke.

One study indicates that between 1951 and 1980, extremely hot summers covered just 1% of the Earth’s surface; the average for the last 30 years is 10% and rising.

Pollution, not heat, however, was responsible for a major disaster in Colorado. Employees of a company contracted by the Environmental Protection Agency, working at a mine closed since 1923, breached a berm holding back 3 million gallons of waste water and tailings. An orange sludge containing cadmium, lead, iron, and arsenic, continues to flow from Cement Creek into the Animas River, a tourist destination for fishing and white-water rafting.

Gradually, the polluted mass is moving into waterways serving cities in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and the Navajo Nation. Loss of drinking water, tourism, and farm crops now threatens the entire region.

It’s hard to imagine a worse water disaster, but one has been building in the North Pacific since May.

High sea surface temperatures are nourishing a record-breaking algal bloom stretching from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to southern California. Predictably, the bloom is laced with toxic species that can devastate sea life and, with it, regional economies.

The deaths of nine Fin whales near Kodiak Island in June are believed related to the bloom. July brought reports of deaths among whales, gulls, and forage fish. The Aleutian Pribiloff Island Association is soliciting samples for testing for algal toxins.

Oregon and Washington have closed their recreational razor clam harvests. Washington has also closed much of its Dungeness crab fishing. California has closed some of the sardine and anchovy harvests.

An algal bloom in Lake Erie is threatening to devastate that region’s economy as it did in 2014.

And the California drought continues to threaten crops and wildlife.

Amazingly, many Americans continue to deny the existence of global warming and to fight attempts to ameliorate it. A recent poll, however, indicates that California’s record-breaking drought has made believers of most residents there. Eighty percent of those polled said they saw global warming as a serious threat. The number was highest—90%–among Blacks and Latinos.

Let’s hope matters don’t have to get worse before U.S. voters realize they can’t continue to elect politicians who refuse to acknowledge, much less fight, what is developing into the greatest problem of this—and perhaps any—century.

 

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