Thought Piece

A strong wind blows embers from smoldering trees at the Thomas Fire in Montecito, California, Dec. 16. PHOTO: DAVID MCNEW/GETTY IMAGES

While California Governor Jerry Brown declares that the recent fires were caused by climate change, the Wall Street Journal pours some cold water on that argument (below). In fact, the WSJ points out that Sacramento and state politics have ignored the gathering underbrush and dead trees in their forests for years by underfunding any systematic removal of them. So much for political solutions from an enlightened state government.

By the way, this is the same Governor who advocated the brainwashing of CA citizens, if necessary, at a climate conference at the Vatican, recently. His longstanding narrative has also blamed the droughts and rains on climate change.

At the same time, California has enacted the most aggressive emission reductions legislation, using a seriously flawed cap and trade scheme. Ironically, the current fires have likely emitted more emissions than California has reduced since California passed its more strict emission legislation.

To quote Homer Simpson, “Climate Change, is there anything it can’t do?”

California’s Political Fires

The state’s wildfires are overwhelming its anticarbon pieties.

Wildfires continue to ravage California, and the bravery of firefighters trying to prevent damage to homes and property has been inspiring. But this being 2017 in America, the state’s progressive politicians are blaming the fires on humanity’s sins of carbon emission. To the contrary, the conflagrations should be a wake-up call to regulators and politicians who have emphasized acts of climate piety over fire prevention.

This year’s wildfires have consumed about 1.2 million acres in the Golden State—more than the state of Rhode Island—and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage. Some four dozen people were killed amid the blazes through Northern California in October. Large sections of coastal Ventura and Santa Barbara counties have been charred this month while a Los Angeles brushfire threatened the Getty Center and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The fires are burning in California. They’ll be burning in France, burning all around the world,” fire-and-brimstone Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed recently in Paris. The world is “on the road to hell.”

Yet this fire season appears to be a black swan. One of the wettest winters on record followed a five-year drought and a bark-beetle forest infestation. The result has been a buildup of deadwood and dry brush. The U.S. Forest Service this month said it had found 129 million dead trees in California. Santa Ana and Diablo winds have been particularly persistent, strong and erratic this year, making the fires spread faster and harder to contain.

Loath to let a natural disaster go to political waste, the California Air Resources Board used the fires to promote a new climate-change “scoping plan” aimed at doubling the rate at which it cuts carbon emissions. The irony is that the emissions from wildfires could negate all of the state’s anticarbon policies.

A 2007 study in the journal Carbon Balance and Management found that California’s wildfires in 2003, which burned more than 750,000 acres, produced the monthly carbon equivalent of about half of the state’s fossil-fuel burning sources. Ditto the state’s September 2006 wildfires. On average the state’s annual emissions from wildfires equal about 6% of those from fossil fuels.

By comparison, California’s cap-and-trade program, low-carbon fuel standard, energy efficiency and renewable mandates resulted in a 0.3% decline in carbon emissions in 2015. In other words, California’s climate acts of penance will likely be overwhelmed by this year’s fires. They also won’t reduce global emissions or prevent a single fire.

In 2011 Democrats imposed a “fire prevention” fee on rural homeowners, but the money instead went to backfill the budget. They suspended the fee this summer only in return for GOP votes to extend cap and trade, which they promised would help pay for fire prevention. Yet Gov. Brown has proposed spending a mere $200 million of this year’s projected $2.4 billion cap-and-trade revenues on fire prevention. Most would go to high-speed rail, public housing and transit and electric-car subsidies.

Californians would be better served if the state prioritized resources on clearing deadwood and retrofitting homes in high-risk zones with fire-resistant roofs and vents. Neither electric cars nor a bullet train will save people from a pyrrhic perdition.