Climate change will fan future wildfires
Wildfires will get worse with climate change, not only endangering those near the blazes, but also threatening the health of millions of Americans from wildfire smoke that can drift hundreds of miles, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
As a result, communities must protect themselves from the health risks arising from exposure to wildfire smoke—including asthma attacks, pneumonia, and more serious chronic lung diseases. And the report, titled “Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke,” suggests the country take action to curb the threat of climate change.
“There’s trouble in the wind: What blazes in Texas rarely stays in Texas. Wildfire smoke can pose serious health risks to people hundreds of miles away from the sources of fires,” said Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist in NRDC’s Health and Environment Program, who directed the analysis. “Wildfire smoke already clouds the skies of millions of Americans and because climate change will fuel more wildfires, that danger will rise.
“Communities need safeguards against this smoky peril, and our country needs standards to curb the unlimited carbon pollution from power plants that’s driving climate change.”
The study, based on smoke data from the 2011 wildfire season, one of the worst in recent decades, found that the area affected by smoke is 50 times greater than the area burned by fire. About two-thirds of Americans – nearly 212 million people – lived in counties affected by smoke conditions in 2011. Many states had large wildfires that year, but the study found that among the top 20 most affected states, six with no major fires nonetheless had to cope with more than a week of medium- to high-density smoke conditions during the year.
The states with the greatest numbers of residents affected by wildfire smoke conditions for a week or longer in 2011, according to the report, were Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa.
The report found that in 2011:
* Texas ranked 1st nationally because more than 25 million people lived in areas with wildfire smoke conditions for one week or more.
* Illinois ranked 2nd with 11.9 million residents in affected areas.
* Florida ranked 3rd with 11.2 million residents in affected areas.
* Missouri ranked 4th with 5.9 million residents in affected areas.
* Georgia ranked 5th, with 5.7 million residents in affected areas.
* Louisiana ranked 6th, with 4.5 million residents in affected areas.
* Michigan ranked 7th, with 3.93 million residents in affected areas.
* Alabama ranked 8th, with 3.92 million residents in affected areas.
* Oklahoma ranked 9th, with 3.7 million residents in affected areas.
* Iowa ranked 10th, with three million residents in affected areas.
Other states where large numbers of people lived in areas with smoky conditions include, ranked in order, are Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, Tennessee, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Indiana, South Carolina and Minnesota. Altogether, more than one-third of the states experienced medium-to-high density smoke conditions for a week or longer, the report shows.
“The clear takeaway is that wildfires, smoke and the conditions that increase fire risk are national health concerns that spread well beyond the borders of local fire perimeters, conditions that are only projected to worsen with climate change,” the report says. NRDC used smoke data from federal weather satellites and also looked at the locations of Environmental Protection Agency ground-based air quality monitoring stations.
Climate change is fueling droughts that are projected to intensify in the future in across much of the United States as a result of less rainfall and more evaporation, turning wild-land vegetation tinder-dry. It also is projected to fuel more frequent, longer lasting extreme heat and lengthen warm-weather seasons, reducing moisture and setting the stage for fire risks, the report says.
NRDC’s report was recently released during a national telephone press conference led by Knowlton and Dr. Patrick L. Kinney, professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and director, Columbia Climate and Health Program.
The report shows steps some states are taking to protect their communities and suggests actions individuals can take if they know they are in a high-smoke period.
“Families can lessen the health risks from smoke by staying indoors or limiting outside physical activity,” Knowlton said. “You can keep smoke levels low inside the house by closing the windows and running the air conditioner on ‘recirculate.’
“We also need better monitoring and early-warning systems for growing health threats, so people will know when the air is unhealthy for vulnerable groups. That’s part of making climate change preparedness a national priority. With fire, smoke and other air pollution threats increasingly affected by climate change, all states should be putting health protections in their climate adaptation plans.
“Finally, we must engage in prevention,” said Knowlton. “Climate change threatens the health of every American. We have an obligation to them and future generations we cannot shy from. The president has outlined a plan that rightly takes aim at the heart of the problem, and it deserves our support.”
Read “Where There’s Fire, There’s Smoke” issue brief here: nrdc.org/health/impacts-of-wildfire-smoke/
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.