One Wildfire is Spewing Enough Smoke to Rival 320,000 Cars
(Bloomberg) -- Wildfires are burning a gaping hole in California’s effort to fight climate change.
Take the Kincade fire raging north of San Francisco. It’s already spewed enough smoke to rival the annual tail-pipe emissions of 320,000 automobiles, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Forest Service. And it’s just one of nearly a dozen major blazes burning statewide.
That poses a huge problem for California, which has some of the most ambitious goals anywhere to cut greenhouse gases. Even as the state aggressively promotes electric cars and forces new homes to install solar panels starting next year, smoke from wildfires is offsetting many of its emissions cuts.
“The increase in fires makes it incredibly difficult to meet our goals,” said Jim Randerson, professor of earth system science at University of California, Irvine.
In 2017, for instance, California cut its carbon dioxide output from from power generation, transportation and other sources by about 5 million metric tons, or about 1% from the previous year. Wildfires, meanwhile, spewed 36.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the California Air Resources Board.
While there are at least 10 major blazes right now in California, this has been a relatively uneventful wildfire season for the state. About 200,000 acres have burned so far, which is below the five-year average. But fire season isn’t over. Last year’s catastrophic Camp Fire, which burned over 150,000 acres, didn’t begin until November.
Measuring the net impact of wildfires on climate change is complicated because blazes make forests regrow, which helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. But the long-term trend is troubling. Over the last half-century, the number of acres burned annually in California has increased five-fold, according to Park Williams of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.
“We are not necessarily going to be able to control wildfire emissions,” said Sim Larkin, a climate scientist at the U.S. Forest Service. “It may increase the urgency or necessity for having reductions in other areas.”
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