A research paper, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, finds that California’s wildfires in 2020 caused twice the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the state reduced between 2003 and 2019. In other words, 2020’s wildfire season, which set a record for the number of acres burned in the state, essentially wiped out 18 years of California’s efforts to reduce emissions through such policies as replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and providing incentives for electric vehicles. California regularly is responsible for around 50 percent of all electric vehicles sold in the United States. More than 9,000 wildfires hit California in 2020, sending smoke all the way to the East Coast and burning more than 4.3 million acres and damaging 11,116 structures. Since wood contains stored carbon, carbon dioxide — the most prevalent greenhouse gas —is emitted when the wood oxidizes (burns). The burning wood from the wildfires accounted for almost 30 percent of California’s total emissions, making wildfires the second-largest source of emissions in the state, after transportation.
According to the study by UCLA and the University of Chicago, wildfire emissions in 2020 were 127 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — second only to transportation (166 million metric tons) and well above industry (88 million metric tons) and power generation (59 million metric tons). From 2003 to 2019, California’s greenhouse gas emissions declined by 65 million metric tons, a 13 percent reduction that was largely driven by reductions from the electric power sector. California has been very aggressive in the transition to intermittent renewable energy with backup from dispatchable forms of energy, including carbon-based fuels. To calculate the wildfire emissions, the researchers used data from two satellites and California Air Resources Board (CARB) data for the state’s emissions cuts. CARB is currently considering a 2022 draft plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045, also referred to as “net-zero.”
In addition, 2020 greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires represent nearly half of the state’s 2030 reduction target of 260 MMT of CO2 emissions, according to the study. The data suggested that future wildfire seasons akin to 2020 would completely zero out any reductions created by government policies and the tens of billions consumers and taxpayers are spending to implement them. Emissions from California’s wildfires in 2020 caused $7.1 billion in global monetized damages.
California sees itself as the nation’s leader in climate policy, launching a series of programs and regulations to cut emissions, which includes requirements that the electrical sector use only carbon-free energy by 2045 and car makers sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2035. The state also runs a carbon cap-and-trade market that forces large businesses to cut emissions or buy environmental permits for their pollution. In September, Governor Newsom signed legislation as part of his “California Climate Commitment” program that would invest $54 billion into climate initiatives, reduce emissions by 60 percent, nearly eliminate the state’s oil consumption and reduce refinery pollution 94 percent through stricter standards over the next two decades. The California Air Resources Board does not account for the smoke pollution from wildfires.
Forest fires on public lands can be combated and reduced by better forest management by the U.S. Forest Service and state natural resource departments. So at about one-tenth the cost of the tens of billions of dollars given to renewable energy programs that make gasoline at the pump and electric power costs much more expensive, improved forest management would do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy companies, however, would probably all go bankrupt without federal and state subsidies, so President Biden and states like California that are far into policies to push a green energy transition, are caught in an ever-continuing funding trap for technologies that cannot do the job American families and businesses need them to do 24/7.
California likes to believe it is a leader in climate policies and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, because of the lack of forestry maintenance, the state has negated all the greenhouse gas reductions it has achieved over 18 years of funding renewable energy, low-emission vehicles and climate policy. In fact, the reductions achieved over those 18 years only amount to half of the greenhouse gasses emitted from wildfires in just one year: 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires are the second largest source of total emissions in the state, second only to those emitted in the transportation sector. At present rates, California’s fires are wiping out all the hard work, scrimping and saving and discomfort – along with the forced expenditure of untold billions of dollars –— Californians have had to endure to pursue their politicians’ obsession with man-made global warming. All their toil and trouble are being erased.
President Biden views California as an example for the nation to follow regarding climate policy. Biden’s climate/tax bill (the Inflation Reduction Act) is supposed to reduce emissions by 40 percent and Biden is calling on the states to continue to make reductions in order to further his national goal. Governor Newsom is responding to that call by passing aggressive climate legislation. So far, however, all California has to show for its endeavors is the highest gasoline prices in the nation and the second-highest residential electricity prices in the nation. The state frequently must ask its residents to conserve energy whenever a heat wave comes because it does not have the excess electric capacity to get through the higher temperatures. Since the state has trouble meeting current demand, how is it expected to have the electric capacity to fuel an all-electric fleet of vehicles, particularly with intermittent solar and wind technology?