STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD WORLDWIDE THREAT ASSESSMENT of the US INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY January 29, 2019.
Environment and Climate Change
Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond. Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security. Irreversible damage to ecosystems and habitats will undermine the economic benefits they provide, worsened by air, soil, water, and marine pollution. (p 23)
Bourguignon, Didier. “The precautionary principle: Definitions, applications and governance.” European Parliament Research Service Paper (2015).
Treaty on European Union, Article 191
2. Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.
The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992)
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
In fulfillment of requirements of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change Act of 2015, this report provides updated projections of the amount of sea-level rise relative to Maryland coastal lands that is expected into the next century. These projections represent the consensus of an Expert Group drawn from the Mid-Atlantic region.
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The Great Fire of 1910 (original link)
This is a report on the Fire of 1910, which burned over 3,000,000 acres/4,700 sq. miles over a weekend. (Likely started by flaming cinders from a steam train.) The Camp Fire burned about 100,000 acres. The 1910 fire lead to the fire suppression policies by the US Forest Service that ultimately contributed to current fires. (These were co-opted by the timber industry, so it is not clear what the forest service on its own might have done through time as it saw the effects of the policies.) But the nature of temperate coniferous forests is that they burn, and even in a state of nature, large areas may burn. As with flooding, it is only an issue when people enter the picture, turning a natural phenomenon into a disaster.
The 1910 fire was not the biggest or most deadly:
Fire resistant construction and community design is not significantly more expensive than conventional construction and has additional benefits by increasing resistance to wind damage. It is pretty expensive to retrofit, however. The principles have been known for a long time, but the political will to impose the construction standards has been limited. Our insurance folks will know better, but at least until the most recent fire seasons, the cost of fire insurance has not been high enough in these areas to incentivize better construction. Part of the reason is that the homeowners and their communities do not pay the cost of firefighting, which usually can save the houses. Thus the risk is subsidized, as with flood insurance and flood control projects. (Fire insurance for high end homes in fire areas does include the cost of firefighting, which is what brings in those private teams to foam the house and the area when a fire threatens.)