Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
October 25, 2019
Mr. President: California wildfires are again in the news as the Kincade Fire now
raging risks 50,000 people, who have been evacuated. It might come as a surprise
but there have been 41,074 wildfires compared to 47,853 in 2018 for the first nine
months of the year. Blame the downslope Santa Ana winds for fanning them. Fires
can occur naturally through lightning strikes but these days some 90 percent are due
to human carelessness: discarded cigarettes, unquenched campfires and the like.
Killing 85 people, the deadliest wildfire in the state's history seemed to have been
caused by Pacific Gas and Electric power lines, and they are suspected in the
present Kincade Fire. Wildfires do clear brush -- 4.4 million acres burned this year --
ensuring a worse fire will not occur in the future.
As can be expected, such fires also place property at risk. California, Texas and
Colorado have the highest numbers of properties at risk, while Montana and Idaho
are tops in percentage terms; in Montana 29 percent and in Idaho 26 percent of
properties are in the danger zone.
If the west is prone to wildfires, the east has an opposite problem: flooding. Sea
levels are rising. The Greenland ice sheet holding enough water to raise the water
line by 7 meters is melting. Scientists estimate two-thirds of the ice loss is due to
glacier calving as chunks of ice detach from the 300 odd outlet glaciers that end in
the fjords. As reported in Science magazine recently, (October 11, 2019), Helheim, a
major glacier responsible for 4 percent of Greenland's annual ice loss is being
observed by a team headed by Fiamma Straneo of the Scripps Institution.
In severe retreat since 2014, the glacier has reduced "by more than 100 meters,
leaving a tell-tale ring on the rock around the fjord." This summer its water
temperature is 0.2C above the previous high in a relentless rise. Also the data
collected will improve mathematical modeling to predict future consequences.
Coastal flooding on the East Coast has been noted by the New York Times (October
8, 2019) in a feature article, As Sea Levels Rise, So Do Ghost Forests. Trees in
coastal areas are dying off due to frequent total incursions of saltwater.
An excellent estimate of coastal flooding on the East and Gulf coasts, Encroaching
Tides, was prepared by the Union of Concerned Scientists a few years ago. Sober
reading, it forecasts coastal innundation over the next three decades. It talks about
adaptation to the new norms, the responsibility of Municipalities, States and the
sea walls, economic consequences, and a retreat from heavily impacted areas. Is
anybody listening, and when they called for reducing emissions was the US listening?
When more than 190 countries signed up to almost all of the rulebook buttressing the
2015 Paris Agreement, it made the 24th International Climate Conference in
Katowice, Poland (Dec 2018) a major success. This December the 25th International
Climate Conference will convene in Santiago, Chile. A primary issue before it is how
to avoid double counting i.e. counting the same emission reduction more than once.
Countries have so far failed to reach common ground on how to avoid it despite the
threat to carbon markets underpinning the Paris Agreement. Is bashing heads
together in Santiago one answer?
Meanwhile on the top of the world, inhabiting the Tibet plateau, the beautiful and
majestic chiru or Tibetan antelope, once in trouble from excessive poaching and then
recovering, is at risk again. This time it is due to climate change. It has caused
excessive melt and a burst natural dam that used to surround Lake Zonag right
beside their calving site.