Note: We have been following the Texas wildfires for quite sometime. Tomorrow, September 15, Dr. Neil Carmen from the Texas Sierra Club will be interviewed on Los Angeles’ KPFK radio’s Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescott to speak on the devastation that is happening in Texas. We will rebroadcast the interview here on this blog, but you can listen live tomorrow at 7 am Pacific/10 pm Eastern/14:00 GMT.
Dr. Carman is a plant scientist with a background in plant genetics. Since 1996, he has been speaking and writing extensively on the potential biological hazards of genetic engineering to both the public and policy makers. He works for the Sierra Club on air quality issues in Texas, and has helped stop several coal-fired power plants. He is also a volunteer scientist with the Sierra Club’s national Genetic Engineering committee and is a Steering Committee member of the STOP GE trees Campaign.
-The GJEP Team
Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history occurred in 2011. This year’s wildfire in Bastrop County set a somber state record for destruction: the highest number of homes lost in a single fire in Texas history.
Although it’s too soon to determine the total amount of insured property losses caused by Texas wildfires,2011 is projected to be the worst in state history according to a spokesperson of the Insurance Council of Texas. The cost may exceed $150 million. The previous cost record was set in 2009, when fires caused more than $100 million in insured property damages statewide. In fact, Texas is currently dealing with its third yearlong wildfire season since 2005 — and its most severe. Others were in 2008 and 2009.
No one can dispute that the Texas wildfire epidemic of the past six years, culminating in the most severe this
year, is very closely related to the extreme heat and drought that have been plaguing Texas. And the changing Texas climate is not an isolated phenomenon. Extreme climatic events are becoming the order of the day around the world. For examples, most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days.
Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear patterns for the globe as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.
It is folly to attribute an extreme climate event such as the current severe drought in Texas to any single particular cause. However, increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere definitely cause an increase in the heat energy and water vapor content of the atmosphere, thereby increasing the probability of an extreme climate response. Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere and is necessary for life. However, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide that we are experiencing now is directly ascribable to human activities. There is enough of this greenhouse gas to account for the changes we are seeing in extreme climate events.
To make a point, I remind you that the global atmosphere contains substantially more carbon by weight (one and a half times as much) than do all of the trees, grass and all other terrestrial plants and animals in the world!
Local weather patterns are generated by energy and water vapor as they are carried around the globe embedded in moving air masses. It is the dynamics of the global distribution in these quantities that determine our climate and weather. Perturbing these movements by changing the composition of the atmosphere by the introduction of greenhouse gases may lead to extreme climatic conditions in different parts of the world, such as the extreme drought and intense wildfires that we are now experiencing in Texas.
It is time to wake up to the fact that our home the Earth is changing, and changing at a rapid rate because of what we as humans are doing.
Ronald L. Sass, Ph.D., is the fellow in global climate change at the Baker Institute and the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences at Rice University. Now retired, he joined the Rice faculty in 1958 and served as chairman of the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department.