Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Oregonians mad homes labelled ‘high risk’ for wildfire

Flames consume a house near Old Oregon Trail as the Fawn Fire burns about 10 miles north of Redding in Shasta County, Calif., on Thursday, Sep. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

Angry reactions from homeowners have caused Oregon state officials to withdraw a map deeming 80,000 structures at high risk from fire, The Associated Press reported. 

The state map — which aimed to quantify where Oregon’s wildfire risk was highest for planning purposes — led to heated responses from some Oregonians, according to the AP. 

The proposed map came after September 2020 fires destroyed 4,000 homes, OregonLive reported. 

“This is more about climate change evangelism than it is about actually protecting people from the risks that are out there,” Medford, Ore., farmer Brandon Larsen told officials during a comment period. 

“I’m sitting in a place here right now where I’m overlooking several hundred acres that are irrigated, they’re green year-round and yet they’re in ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risk category. They’re never going to burn,” Larsen said, according to the AP. 

The “extreme” or “high” risk designations would have required homeowners like Larsen to take additional measures to protect homes and communities from wildfires — like clearing 100-foot areas of “defensible space” and cutting low-lying tree limbs. Home homeowners also worried the designations could impact their insurance coverage and property value. 

State officials were at pains to emphasize that the forecasts weren’t a judgment of an individual homeowner preparedness. 

“The map is the risk of wildfire occurrence and there are certain things you just can’t impact,” agency spokesman Derek Gasperini said, according to the AP. “You can’t affect the weather, you can’t change the fact that you live in a hot and dry climate.”  

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start with China’s decision to end collaboration on climate with the U.S., followed by a look at how the Democrats’ proposed climate deal could boost the solar industry. Then we’ll see why California’s carbon offset program is faltering and explore how climate change is making kids less physically fit.   

China cuts climate cooperation over Pelosi visit 

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that the country would stop cooperating with the U.S. on both climate and military matters in response to
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) trip to Taiwan, our colleague Chloe Folmar reported for The Hill.  

A long list of retaliatory cancellations and suspensions: The suspension of talks on climate change were one of eight “countermeasures” announced by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.  

  • The ministry accused Pelosi of disregarding “China’s strong opposition” to her trip. 
  • Beijing is also ending collaboration on illegal immigrant repatriation, legal assistance on criminal matters, transnational crime and counternarcotics.   

A fraught visit: Pelosi and a delegation of House Democrats visited Taiwan this week, where they discussed security issues with government officials as part of a trip to the region. 

  • China’s foreign affairs spokesperson said that Pelosi’s visit “gravely undermines China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and defies the “one-China principle,” Folmar reported.  
  • Beijing also moved to “adopt sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family members,” according to state press agency Xinhua, which described her trip as an “egregious provocation.”   

A climate setback: A 2014 climate deal between the U.S. and China — struck by President Xi Jinping and then-President Obama — was seen as “a turning point” in global efforts to combat climate change, according to The Associated Press. 

  • The Xi-Obama deal led to the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty in which almost every country pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  
  • Seven years later in Glasgow, Scotland, cooperation between the U.S. and China helped minimize obstacles to another climate deal.    

World’s biggest polluters: China and the U.S. are the world’s top two polluters, collectively generating almost 40 percent of global fossil fuel emissions, the AP reported.  

While China agreed in Glasgow to work with the U.S. “with urgency” to curb emissions, the country did not agree to accelerate its transition away from coal, according to the AP. 

China sizzles: Despite its decision to cease climate collaborations with Washington, Beijing acknowledged this week that global warming is making the country hotter and wetter, according to Communist Party-run English newspaper China Daily. 

  • Xiao Chan, deputy director of the country’s National Climate Center, said that this year’s high-temperature intensity — which includes average temperature, range and duration — is the third strongest since 1961, China Daily reported. 
  • “China, which is vulnerable to climate change, has experienced a faster temperature rise than the global average,” Yuan Jiashuang, deputy director of the National Climate Center, told China Daily. 

Climate stimulus could bring clean energy boom 

Wind, solar and electric vehicle production would receive an enormous boost under the Democrats’ proposed climate deal, according to a new study from Princeton University. 

The so-called Inflation Reduction Act would lead to a nearly threefold increase in wind power generation and a nearly fivefold increase in solar by 2026, the report found. 

Digging in: This legislation, negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), includes $369 billion in energy and climate stimulus spending. 

That sum could make now the ideal time for homeowners to consider installing solar energy, Bloomberg reported. 

Cutting emissions, creating jobs: A summary of Princeton’s analysis by infrastructure news site Utility Dive found that the bill would: 

  • Cut national greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 percent below 2005-levels — estimates in line with those of other researchers. 
  • Create at least 1.4 million new jobs and — by cutting air pollution — avoid 3,600 American deaths per year by 2030.  

Smaller package, smaller impacts: The emissions cuts, job growth and reduction in deaths are all substantially smaller than those Princeton had projected for Biden’s original Build Back Better program last September. 

Based on Princeton’s data for the two packages (as calculated by Equilibrium) the new package would produce: 

  • 44 percent fewer jobs 
  • 30 fewer tons of avoided emissions 
  • 88 percent fewer avoided annual deaths 

Big deal moving: The original deal was proposed in September, but stalled in the Senate after opposition from Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Fires put forest offset program at risk of collapse

Wildfires are threatening to wreck a key part of California’s climate mitigation plans: the trading of carbon “offsets” pulled from the atmosphere into the state’s forests. 

The ravages of destructive fire have destroyed enough of the state’s “buffer pool” of forests that California’s offset programs are at risk of insolvency, according to a study published on Friday in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change. 

  • The findings call into question the use of forest-based financial tools to counterbalance the emission of planet-heating greenhouse gases.   
  • “Fossil CO2 emissions have permanent consequences, but carbon stored in trees won’t last forever,” Danny Cullenward of climate research nonprofit CarbonPlan said in a statement. 

The scientists cautioned that any fossil fuel emissions dependent on California’s existing forest offset program need to stop now, as those forests cannot be guaranteed to remain standing. 

Gambling with uncertainty: California’s forest carbon offset program requires companies to guarantee that their trees — and the carbon that makes them up — would remain intact and out of the atmosphere for 100 years, according to the state’s Air Resources Board. 

Forecasting doom: Making such a promise is no longer a safe bet, the team found. Forest losses in just a decade have brought the program to the point that a single disease- or insect-related die-off would wreck the program. 

  • “In just 10 years, wildfires have exhausted protections designed to last for a century,” said co-author Oriana Chegwidden, of CarbonPlan. 
  • “It is incredibly unlikely that the program will be able to withstand the wildfires of the next 90 years, particularly given the role of the climate crisis in exacerbating fire risks,” she added. 

There were already concerns: Previous studies by CarbonPlan already suggested that the math around California’s forest offset program doesn’t work, as ProPublica reported last year. 

CarbonPlan’s findings at the time showed that the state had allowed companies to create tens of millions of “ghost credits” that generated no actual climate benefits.   

In reality, these credits enabled companies to produce tens of millions of tons of additional greenhouse gas pollution, according to ProPublica. 

Burning buffers: California’s forest offset program depends on an intact “buffer” of trees that can be substituted for losses in the forests that companies have paid to protect. 

This can be thought of as a form of tree-based “self-insurance” for the loss of other tree-based assets. 

  • These backup landscapes have lost nearly 20 percent of their carbon in just a decade, the Frontiers study found. 
  • If those forest stocks cannot be guaranteed to remain standing, that would wreck the assumption of “permanent” storage that the whole system rests on.  

Broader alarm: “The problems we observe here aren’t unique to the California program and raise broader concerns about the integrity of offsets’ permanence claims,” concluded co-author Freya Chay, of CarbonPlan. 

Climate change reducing kid’s physical fitness: study 

Rising global temperatures — fueled by climate change — are making children less physically fit and more obese than ever before, a new study has found. 

And it’s a two-way street: Physical fitness is also key to tolerating those higher temperatures. A less-active lifestyle is putting kids at greater risk of suffering from heat-related health problems, according to the study, published in the journal Temperature on Friday. 

  • Some such issues include dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 
  • “As the world warms, children are the least fit they have ever been,” author Shawnda Morrison, an environmental exercise physiologist at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana, said in a statement

Failing children’s health: Today’s climate change policies are failing to address child health needs, according to Morrison. 

  • Children’s aerobic fitness is 30 percent lower than that of their parents at the same age, Morrison found.  
  • Most kids are failing to meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines of partaking in about an hour of physical activity each day. 

Making exercise fun: “It is imperative that children are encouraged to do daily physical activity to build up, and maintain, their fitness, so that they enjoy moving their bodies and it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ or ‘a chore’ to them,” Morrison said. 

To read the full story, please click here

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit some issues we’ve covered over the past week.  

Kentucky to face high costs following deadly floods 

Water scarcity rattles both sides of the Atlantic  

These cities show how to fight heat on municipal level 

  • Rising urban heat levels are making it dangerous to do all sorts of outdoor activities, like playing cricket. But by using tactics like planting trees all over, employing fountains for evaporative cooling, painting buildings white and repurposing ancient infrastructure and cooling techniques, some cities are ahead of the curve in keeping citizens safe, CNN reported. 

ICYMI​

🚴 Check out the Photos of the Week.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you next week.

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