Today's D Brief: Smoke in the air; Guam still recovering from typhoon; China’s new Cuban toehold; CQ Brown talks deterrence; And a bit more.
A growing number of North Americans are experiencing the effects of climate change in a new way this week after smoke from more than 350 Canadian wildfires drifted south, triggering health advisories as far south as the Carolinas and as far west as Indiana. For Canadians, it’s their worst wildfire season in recorded history.
Flights were halted in and out of New York and New Jersey on Wednesday. Officials in affected states called off field trips, sports, and outside recess at schools. Some governments have asked businesses and municipal departments to limit outdoor activities until the air clears—possibly as early as the weekend.
Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies postponed their Wednesday night home game against the Detroit Tigers at Citizens Bank Park; same for the Yankees hosting the Chicago White Sox in New York. In some of the most affected regions, air pollution can be worse just before sunrise, which means for folks without a gym membership, outdoor exercise like cycling requires an N95 mask, or better still: Just wait a couple days for those al fresco workouts.
Check out this apocalyptic timelapse video from New York City on Wednesday, via the Weather Channel. Why are things so orange? The National Weather Service explained in an infographic back in mid-May, after the smoke from Canada first began circulating southward. But now Europe is beginning to be affected as well, and smoke is expected to reach Norway by the end of the day.
Canada has called up its military to help fight the fires, most of which are burning across western and northern Quebec, but also Alberta and Nova Scotia. Quebec alone has already experienced more than 380 wildfires this year, which is a significant rise from its 10-year average of 187. Across the country, “More than 120,000 Canadians have been forced from their homes at some point this spring, and thousands remain evacuated,” Canada’s public broadcasting service, CBC, reported Thursday.
The U.S. has sent 600 firefighters to help out so far, the White House said Wednesday, and they’re part of 17 federal firefighting crews currently lending a hand. Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa have also sent firefighters to Canada for the ongoing emergency. France, Costa Rica, Portugal, and Chile may send help soon as well, the Associated Press reported this week.
While some Canadian military units fight those fires, other military units are in the high north learning how to fight and defend in the arctic. The New York Times recently traveled to Canada’s Rankin Inlet military base, a coastal hub with a population of 3,000 people on the northwestern edge of the Hudson Bay. There, troops are conducting five-day arctic patrols as they work alongside indigenous Inuit Canadian rangers to better understand the land and the environmental challenges of the region.
One last climate-themed update: Thousands of people on Guam are still without electricity more than two weeks after Typhoon Mawar, the strongest storm to hit the region in two decades, touched down in late May. “While temperatures hover in the high 80s, people are living without the ability to shower, wash clothes, clean their damaged homes or refrigerate food,” the Red Cross said Wednesday.
The Navy and Air Force also just hit pause on PCS moves to Guam until at least the end of June, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday. Meanwhile, “Debris is still washing up on the beaches, and the government says the commercial sector suffered $112 million in damage,” NPR’s Ashley Westerman reported from the island on Wednesday. Meanwhile, National Guard troops on Guam are directing traffic, operating radio towers, and working with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to help with clean up and recovery.
- “Nearly $2M available for military families in Guam after typhoon,” Military Times reported Wednesday;
- “How Canada's wildfires and air quality warnings are connected to climate change,” via ABC News, reporting Wednesday;
- “What's causing Canada's raging wildfires? It's not as simple as blaming climate change, expert says,” Yahoo News Canada reported Wednesday; the Weather Channel, too, produced a one-minute explainer video on the correlation Wednesday, here;
- See also “Climate change is exacerbating forest fires and vice versa, experts say,” via the Montreal Gazette, reporting Wednesday as well.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Audrey Decker. On this day in 1995, U.S. Air Force Capt. and downed F-16 pilot Scott O'Grady was rescued by U.S. Marines in Bosnia after nearly a week spent evading local forces, gathering rain water, and living off the land. His experiences would later inform the 2001 film, “Behind Enemy Lines.”
The U.S. Air Force needs to be “thoughtful” about how it flies its bomber fleet in the Pacific, since more missions don’t necessarily equate to more deterrence, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown said Wednesday in an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, in northern Virginia. Brown, who was recently selected by President Biden to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, served as the commander of Pacific Air Forces before his current role.
Why it matters: As the new B-21 bomber comes online, which is key to the Air Force’s plans to operate in the Pacific, the Pentagon will continue to walk a fine line between maintaining its presence in the region and avoiding escalation with China.
“How well do we understand the activities we do, or what it does for deterrence?” Brown asked the audience. “Does it actually ramp up or decrease deterrence because of the activity? That is something that we've got to continue to work on and be strategic in how we execute.”
China flew 37 combat jets into Taiwan’s air defense zone on Thursday, leading the self-governing island to scramble its own jets, ships, and missile batteries. The mainland government “has over the past three years regularly flown its air force into the skies near the island, though not into Taiwan's territorial air space,” Reuters reported. “Taiwan sent its aircraft and ships to keep watch and activated land-based missile systems, it added, using its standard wording for how it responds to such Chinese activity.”
Involved: Chinese J-11 and J-16 fighters and nuclear-capable H-6 bombers.
The incursion took place one day after China wrapped up a series of joint air patrols with Russian aircraft near the Korean peninsula. A bit more, here.
The U.S. military is planning on linking Taiwan and Japan’s drone fleets for real-time data sharing, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.
Another thing: China has secured a deal with Cuba to build a “listening post” in Havana, à la the Soviets during the Cold War, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Warren Strobel and Gordon Lubold, reporting Thursday.
Lastly: Nearly 30 towns are flooded by the Ukrainian dam breach, BBC reports. “Ukrainian officials said thousands of people had been evacuated from their homes, and that hundreds of thousands had no access to clean drinking water. They've warned that it could take years for affected farmland to recover.” More, here.
Russian troops are shooting at Ukrainian rescue personnel, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Politico in an interview published on Wednesday.
See the latest batch of imagery from the flood zone, released late Wednesday evening by Maxar, here. Unlike the firm’s Tuesday imagery from around the dam, this latest collection is colorized and appears to be significantly more dramatic.
Rhetoric watch: Putin has reportedly finally taken to calling his invasion of Ukraine a “war” rather than a “special military operation.” Reuters talks about what that might mean, here.