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Huge Fire In California Probably Due To Climate Change: Experts

The California summit will look at ways to build consensus and avoid worst-case scenarios. Protesters who have gathered in San Francisco, however, say it is not enough.

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Climate Change Fuels California Fires. Flickr
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California has experienced record heat waves and catastrophic fires in recent years, and climate experts say it is likely to get worse.

A report released Aug. 27 by the state of California, the fourth in a series of assessments, puts the blame squarely on climate change.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is hosting an international summit, beginning Wednesday, in San Francisco to search for solutions.

The worst fires in California’s history came this year and last, with the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire scorching 186,000 hectares. Parts of northern California are still burning. The largest of the fires, in Shasta County, has burned more than 20,000 hectares and is only 5 percent contained.

Climate research

The California Climate Change Assessment summarizes current climate research and finds a litany of problems caused by greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, which is emitted by the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

If nothing or little is done, the reports say to expect temperature rises of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.6 to 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100; a two-thirds decline in water supplies from the mountain snow pack by 2050; a nearly 80 percent increase in the area scorched by fires by the end of the century; and up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches eroding in the same time frame.

From flooding to a strained electrical grid and premature deaths and illnesses, the list is extensive.

“I think we’ve reached the point where the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” said Michael Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann was not involved in the study, but said he thinks its finding are, if anything, conservative.

“We are literally seeing them play out in real time in the form of record heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires,” he said.

 

California
A firefighter sprays the smoldering remains of a vehicle on Interstate 5 as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, VOA

 

The Trump administration, however, has pledged to overturn emissions curbs and has promised to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, an accord of nearly 200 countries that requires national targets for emission cuts but which lacks enforcement powers.

President Donald Trump said the pact is ineffective and kills jobs. Climate expertssay something must be done to slow the climate shifts that are underway.

“A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so there’s the potential for greater rainfall events, worse flooding,” Mann said. “A warmer atmosphere also dries out the soils, causing drought.”

He added, “You’re moving the probability curve, and at the tail of the curve are the extreme weather events.”

Health effects of climate change

Epidemiologists are tracking health effects of the changes, from more pollutants emitted by fires to warming in the cities, said epidemiologist Rupa Basu of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Basu was a contributing author to California’s climate assessment.

“There’s a larger population living in urban areas, and more importantly, a larger vulnerable population living in urban areas,” said Basu, which she said become “urban heat islands” as temperatures rise. The report says that many rural communities, and Native Americans and other minorities, are disproportionately affected.

 

California
In this Sept. 5, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Forest Service, a truck drives next to the Delta Fire burning on Interstate 5 near Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif. VOA

 

Researchers are seeing more emergencies and deaths among the very young, elderly and poor. Analysts compare hospital and emergency room visits, infant birth weights, death and illness rates to temperature and relative humidity, researcher Xiangmei Wu said.

On a global level, climate change can increase the ferocity of tropical storms because of changes to the jet stream that determine weather patterns, although hurricanes are not an issue in California.

Mann, of the Earth System Science Center, said one of most destructive storms in U.S. history, Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast, released huge amounts of rainfall as it stalled in its path over Houston in 2017. He said, “You’re moving that probability curve over” on the graph of weather patterns, “and at the tail of the curve are the extreme warm events.”

 

California
Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the goals of the global climate summit he is hosting in San Francisco and legislation he signed directing California to phase out fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 during an interview with The Associated Press. VOA

 

Extreme weather events

Dan Cayan, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a coordinating lead author of the California report, said climate change exaggerates natural cycles such as El Nino, the periodic warming of equatorial oceans that leads to storms in the Pacific. He said more extreme weather events may well be on their way.

“State and local governments and other players are taking this seriously. And I think that trend will grow as climate change symptoms continue to bubble up,” Cayan said, adding that he is cautiously optimistic that the world can mitigate the worst effects of the changes.

Gov. Brown, who is hosting the three-day summit that ends Friday, has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in his state to 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Monday, Brown signed a bill requiring California to obtain all of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2045.

Brown is a key figure in a coalition of local and regional governments that have committed to achieving the Paris accord’s limiting of global warming in this century to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, whether or not the United States remains in the agreement.

California
The Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. VOA

The California summit will look at ways to build consensus and avoid worst-case scenarios.

Also Read: Smoke From Wildfire Makes Weather in West US Worse

Protesters who have gathered in San Francisco, however, say it is not enough.

“There have been many climate summits with a lot of rhetoric but not enough commitment,” activist May Boeve told The Associated Press. She was one of thousands who marched through San Francisco last Saturday, calling for a transition to renewable energy sources and protections for workers and minority groups as the world braces for dramatic changes to its weather.

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Advanced Technology Required To Tackle Online Sex Trade and Trafficking: Analysts

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide.

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Trafficking
People opposed to child sex trafficking rally in Washington. VOA

The online sale of sex slaves is going strong despite new U.S. laws to clamp down on the crime, data analysts said Wednesday, urging a wider use of technology to fight human trafficking.

In April, the United States passed legislation aimed at making it easier to prosecute social media platforms and websites that facilitate sex trafficking, days after a crackdown on classified ad giant Backpage.com.

The law resulted in an immediate and sharp drop in sex ads online but numbers have since picked up again, data presented at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference showed.

“The market has been destabilized and there are now new entrants that are willing to take the risk in order to make money,” Chris White, a researcher at tech giant Microsoft who gathered the data, told the event in London.

Google, Web summit, sexual misconduct, trafficking
Google employees fill Harry Bridges Plaza in front of the Ferry Building during a walkout, Nov. 1, 2018, in San Francisco. Hundreds of Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company’s mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives. VOA

New players

Backpage.com, a massive advertising site primarily used to sell sex — which some analysts believe accounted for 80 percent of online sex trafficking in the United States — was shut down by federal authorities in April.

Days later, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), which introduced stiff prison sentences and fines for website owners and operators found guilty of contributing to sex trafficking, was passed into law.

The combined action caused the number of online sex ads to fall 80 percent to about 20,000 a day nationwide, White said.

The number of ads has since risen to about 60,000 a day, as new websites filled the gap, he said.

In October — in response to a lawsuit accusing it of not doing enough to protect users from human traffickers — social media giant Facebook said it worked internally and externally to thwart such predators.

 

Trafficking
This April 6, 2018, file photo shows a screenshot of Backpage.com on the day that federal authorities seized the classified site as part of a criminal case. VOA

 

Using technology to continuously monitor and analyze this kind of data is key to evaluating existing laws and designing new and more effective ones, White said.

“It really highlights what’s possible through policy,” added Valiant Richey, a former U.S. prosecutor who now fights human trafficking at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), echoing the calls for new methods.

Law enforcement agencies currently tackle slavery one case at a time, but the approach lacks as the crime is too widespread and authorities are short of resources, he said.

As a prosecutor in Seattle, Richey said his office would work on up to 80 cases a year, while online searches revealed more than 100 websites where sex was sold in the area, some carrying an average of 35,000 ads every month.

Also Read: Sexual Misconduct Cases Will Be Handled Better: Google

“We were fighting forest fire with a garden hose,” he said. “A case-based response to human trafficking will not on its own carry the day.”

At least 40 million people are victims of modern slavery worldwide — with nearly 25 million trapped in forced labor and about 15 million in forced marriages. (VOA)