Briefly

Stuff that matters


scariest place on earth

Wildfire smoke adds apocalyptic hellscape to Disneyland’s attractions.

An out-of-control blaze in the Anaheim Hills east of Los Angeles cast a foreboding orange glow over the city on Monday as it burned homes and forced the evacuation of thousands of local residents.

As of Tuesday morning, the Canyon Fire 2 — following a previous Canyon Fire last month — was just 5 percent contained, with more than 1,000 firefighters on-site. Along with deadly fires in the San Francisco Bay Area, this week’s statewide wildfire outbreak ranks as one of the most destructive in history.

The Anaheim inferno grew 100-fold in size within a few hours on Monday. Residents in foothill neighborhoods scrambled to safety throughout the afternoon. The Los Angeles Times reported that at an elementary school within the evacuation zone, parents were seen abandoning their cars and going to grab their children on foot.

At nearby Disneyland, bewildered tourists gawked at the orange sky as a red sun shone through the pall of wildfire smoke. The significance of the juxtaposition was not lost on internet commenters.

So-called “Santa Ana winds” fanned the flames, leading to explosive fire growth. Scientists expect that these gusts, notorious for stoking some of the worst fires in state history, will become more severe with climate change.

Weather conditions are expected to improve on Tuesday, but the local branch of the National Weather Service expects another of these wind events this weekend.


Patagonia Wars

This House committee has clearly picked a side in the national monument debate.

It’s not Patagonia’s.

The public lands dispute heated up on Monday when outdoor clothing brand Patagonia turned its homepage into a call to arms against President Donald Trump’s decision to significantly shrink two national monuments in Utah.

On Friday, the House Natural Resources Committee fired back at Patagonia, accusing the company of “hijacking the public lands debate” in an attempt to sell more products.

It seems highly unusual for a House committee to traffic in conspiracy theories, but, to its credit, Patagonia’s website did see record traffic following the company’s stand against Trump.

Anyways — the Natural Resources committee will hold a hearing next Thursday to consider legislation proposed by Utah Republican Chris Stewart that would turn the remaining parts of Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument into a national park.

That means Grand-Staircase Escalante would no longer be preserved under the Antiquities Act for containing objects of historical, cultural, or scientific interest; instead, it would be protected for its scenic, educational, and recreational value.

Democratic State Senator Jim Dabakis called Stewart’s proposal a “sleight of hand, a trick” to divert attention from the plot to open up public lands for mineral extraction.


ice code

Northern Alaska is warming so fast, it’s faking out computers.

The loss of near-shore sea ice near Utqiaġvik (Barrow) has been so abrupt, it’s transformed the local climate.

Open water in the Arctic causes a compounding warming effect and rapidly elevates temperatures — water is darker than ice and absorbs heat quicker. The effect is particularly strong between October and December, the time of the year that used to have sea ice, but often doesn’t anymore. Octobers in Utqiaġvik are now nearly 8 degrees warmer than Octobers in the 1980s and ’90s.

Apparently, the computers tracking temperatures there have finally had enough. Deke Arndt, chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch, explains:

In an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic, the average temperature observed at the weather station at Utqiaġvik has now changed so rapidly that it triggered an algorithm designed to detect artificial changes in a station’s instrumentation or environment and disqualified itself from the NOAA Alaskan temperature analysis, leaving northern Alaska analyzed a little cooler than it really was.

Basically, the computer thought the weather station had been moved. It hasn’t moved; Utqiaġvik is just a different place now.


partly sunny

A bill in Congress would require more scientific research … into geoengineering.

On the one hand, supporting science is good! On the other hand, geoengineering — the modification of planetary systems to counteract the effects of global warming — is a risky long-shot attempt to address climate change, when much simpler, more direct solutions are already known.

A new bill introduced by a Jerry McNerney, a Democratic representative from California, calls for “a federal commitment to the creation of a geoengineering research agenda and an assessment of the potential risks of geoengineering practices” by the National Academies of Sciences.

The bill comes out of the House Science, Space, and Technology committee, chaired by outgoing climate foe Lamar Smith. Smith has somehow managed to support geoengineering research without acknowledging the changing climate that would render it necessary in the first place.

To be fair, research into geoengineering is a far cry from — as one proposal would have it — actually spraying particles into clouds to make them brighter, reflecting more sunlight and therefore allowing less heat to enter the atmosphere.

Whether that kind of planetary meddling will ever be a viable approach to climate change requires a lot more research, yes. But with the sciences feeling the pinch of a science-allergic administration, lots of important research is already on the chopping block.


role play

Is Ryan Zinke pretending to be Christian Grey?

Not in a sexy way! Maybe kind of in a sexy way.

According to Politico, the interior secretary loves to travel by helicopter: a helicopter to a leisurely horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence; a helicopter ride over the James River in Virginia to review a new power line installation site; a helicopter to the signing-in ceremony of Montana Senator Greg Gianforte (the angry guy).

Here’s video evidence of Christian Grey, the protagonist of the fictional book and film series 50 Shades of Grey, also enjoying a good heli ride:

It’s romantic!!!!!

It’s dangerous!!!!!!

It’s one of several ways to zoom around in a tiny aircraft!!!!!

(The key difference here is that Christian Grey ostensibly paid for his own helicopter, and Ryan Zinke is using many thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to use government helicopters.)


Hurricane Harvey

People of color and low-income residents still haven’t gotten the help they need after Hurricane Harvey.

A new report by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation found economic and health disparities among those affected by Harvey.

Sixty-six percent of black residents surveyed said they are not getting the help they need to recover, compared to half of all hurricane survivors. While 34 percent of white residents said their FEMA applications had been approved, just 13 percent of black residents said the same.

And even though they are receiving less assistance, black and Hispanic respondents and those with lower incomes were more likely to have experienced property damage or loss of income as a result of the storm.

Additionally, 1 in 6 people reported that someone in their household has a health condition that is new or made worse because of Harvey. Lower-income adults and people of color who survived the storm were more likely to lack health insurance and to say they don’t know where to go for medical care.

“This survey gives an important voice to hard-hit communities that may have been forgotten, especially those with the greatest needs and fewest resources following the storm,” Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation, said in a statement.


risky business

Inmates are risking their lives to fight California’s raging fires.

As wildfires tear through the greater Los Angeles area, destroying hundreds of homes, officials have warned nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

Thousands of firefighters have arrived on the scene — many of them inmates, who make up about a third of the state’s wildfire-fighting force. Since the 1940s, California has relied on inmates to combat the flames by digging containment lines and clearing away brush. In return for this difficult and dangerous work — which has been compared to slave-era labor conditions — inmates get credit toward early parole and $2 per day in camp plus $1 per hour for their time on the fire line.

Roughly 250 women inmates serve on California’s firefighting force, risking their lives to get out of prison faster.

“I’ve seen women come back with broken ankles and broken arms, burns, or just suffering from exhaustion, you know, the psychological stress that people go through trying to just pass the requirements,” Romarilyn Ralston, a former firefighter trainer, told PBS.

As climate change makes wildfires worse, state officials are scrambling to recruit more inmates to fight them.