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Russian President Medvedev: What is happening now in our central regions is evidence of global climate change...

Russia is being devastated by extreme weather — and their leaders aren’t silent on what they think the cause is. On Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke to a Russian Security Council meeting on the ongoing threat of wildfires associated with the country’s heatwave and drought:

“…our country has not experienced such a heat wave in the last 50 or even 100 years… I want to say that this is, of course, a severe trial for our country, a great trial indeed. But at the same time, we are not alone in facing these hardships, for other countries too have gone through such trials and, despite all the difficulties, have managed to cope with the situation. … Overall, we need to learn our lessons from what has happened, and from the unprecedented heat wave that we have faced this summer.

None of us can say what the next summer will be like. The forecasts vary greatly. Everyone is talking about climate change now. Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past. This means that we need to change the way we work, change the methods that we used in the past.”

Well, everyone is talking about climate change is now — except maybe major U.S. media outlets like the New York Times. The NYT reports today:

Russia banned all exports of grain on Thursday after millions of acres of wheat withered in a severe drought, a portentous decision at a time when crop failures caused by heat and flooding span the northern hemisphere.

And the Times goes on to explain that wheat prices have “increased about 90 percent since June because of the drought in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and parts of the European Union, and floods in Canada.” But it is all just random series of coincidences to the Times (see “As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The NYTimes sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories“).

But not to the Russian president. Last Friday, in remarks to the heads of international sports federations, Medvedev said:

“We are in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave…We have never had such record high temperatures before. At times I have the impression that I’m somewhere in Italy or in Egypt, but certainly not in Moscow…Frankly, what is going on with the world’s climate at the moment should incite us all (I mean world leaders and heads of public organizations) to make a more strenuous effort to fight global climate change.

We will have to take this factor into account in our preparations for the Olympics and other international competitions. I think that we will have to make adjustments for the climate factor, and spend extra money, and this concerns the Winter Olympics too. Very soon in fact I will be meeting right there [in Sochi], as it happens, with the heads of our sports federations representing winter sports. We will need to take what is happening to nature into account.”

Global warming needs to be taken into account when planning the Olympics, contrary to what the anti-science crowd has said (see “Is that airlifted snow on your Olympic ski mountain, or is your enormous helicopter just happy to see me? and “What can the Winter Olympic sports tell us about climate change?“).

The extent of Russia’s fires is captured in images posted by NASA’s Earth Observatory today in Fires and Smoke in Russia. According to NASA:

“Intense fires continued to rage in western Russia on August 4, 2010. Burning in dry peat bogs and forests, the fires produced a dense plume of smoke that reached across hundreds of kilometers….The fires along the southern edge of the smoke plume near the city of Razan, …[in above image], are among the most intense. Outlined in red, a line of intense fires is generating a wall of smoke. The easternmost fire in the image is extreme enough that it produced a pyrocumulus cloud, a dense towering cloud formed when intense heat from a fire pushes air high into the atmosphere.

The lower image shows the full extent of the smoke plume, spanning about 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from east to west. If the smoke were in the United States, it would extend approximately from San Francisco to Chicago….

Early analyses of data … indicates that smoke from previous days has at times reached 12 kilometers (six miles) above Earth’s surface into the stratosphere. At such heights, smoke is able to travel long distances to affect air quality far away. This may be one reason that the smoke covers such a large area. The pyrocumulus cloud and the detection of smoke in the stratosphere are good indicators that the fires are large and extremely intense.

According to news reports, 520 fires were burning in western Russia on August 4…. High temperatures and severe drought dried vegetation throughout central Russia, creating hazardous fire conditions in July.

As of August 4, 48 people had died in the fires and more than 2,000 had lost their homes throughout central Russia, said news reports. The dense smoke also created hazardous air quality over a broad region. Visibility in Moscow dropped to 20 meters (0.01 miles) on August 4, and health officials warned that everyone, including healthy people, needed to take preventative measures such as staying indoors or wearing a mask outdoors, reported the Wall Street Journal. In the image, Moscow is hidden under a pall of smoke. Close to the fires, smoke poses a health risk because it contains small particles (soot) and hazardous gases that can irritate the eyes and respiratory system. Smoke also contains chemicals that lead to ozone production farther away from the fires.”

As WWF’s climate blog notes:

The smoke appears now to extend even beyond Russia to North America. In its daily smoke report (5 Aug 2010), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that an “area of thin aerosol that is believed to be smoke was analyzed over Nunavut and extending into northern portions of Manitoba. It’s possible that this area may be associated with the ongoing fire activity over Russia.”

Lester Brown is sounding more and more prescient every day:

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