Normally, Americans love breaking records. (“We’re number one! We’re number one!”) But the latest records to come out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should make anyone’s heart sink. Here’s how the World Meteorological Society put the news in a recent press release: “The globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for January to June 2015, as well as for the month of June, was the hottest such period on record.” June itself was a global record-setter for warmth, as had been May and March in this thermometer-busting year, and February might also have squeaked into the number-one spot in recorded history. If so, four of the six months of this year were uniquely, grimly warm. And batten down the hatches since this is now officially an El Niño year in which surface water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean are heating up significantly, possibly to historic levels, and global weather and storm patterns could be affected in major ways.
Where’s that (discredited) “pause” in global warming now that we need it? In the American West, still gripped by a devastating drought, wildfires are raging from California to Western Canada to Alaska. Hundreds of those Canadian wildfires have been burning away and, as desperate people leave the fire areas, a new phrase has entered our language: “wildfire refugees.” Here are two more words that may become more commonplace in the future: “fleeing” (as in “from hotels and campgrounds”) and — in one of our great national parks, Glacier in Montana, part of which is now ablaze — “evacuation.”
TomDispatch regular and award-winning photographer Subhankar Banerjee lives on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington and has recently found himself on the frontlines of the present wildfire season and of climate change. In his latest piece, he takes us into perhaps the single place least likely to be ablaze in America and oh yes, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s on fire. Welcome to — if you’ll excuse my appropriation of a classic phrase from our past — the new world Tom Engelhardt
Why we all need to learn the word “anthropogenic”
By Subhankar Banerjee
The wettest rainforest in the continental United States had gone up in flames and the smoke was so thick, so blanketing, that you could see it miles away. Deep in Washington’s Olympic National Park, the aptly named Paradise Fire, undaunted by the dampness of it all, was eating the forest alive and destroying an ecological Eden. In this season of drought across the West, there have been far bigger blazes but none quite so symbolic or offering quite such grim news. It isn’t the size of the fire (though it is the largest in the park’s history), nor its intensity. It’s something else entirely — the fact that it shouldn’t have been burning at all. When fire can eat a rainforest in a relatively cool climate, you know the Earth is beginning to burn.
And here’s the thing: the Olympic Peninsula is my home. Its destruction is my personal nightmare and I couldn’t stay away.