Environment

‘We can’t ignore reality’: Colorado fires highlight urgency of US climate legislation | Climate crisis

yBiden ended his tour of neighborhoods ravaged by Colorado’s most devastating fire by emphasizing the link between America’s surging wildfires and the global climate crisis, saying the United States “can no longer ignore the reality” of the weather conditions that led to the “super fires.”

Biden’s trip to Boulder County on Friday marks his sixth round of climate disasters since taking office a year ago, underlining the growing threat of global warming in the United States and the need for drastic action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Prairie grass fires last week destroyed nearly 1,100 homes and some businesses after hurricane-force winds set two densely populated Denver suburbs ablaze, forcing 35,000 people to flee.

The cumulative effect of unusually wet conditions last spring followed by extremely dry and warm conditions during December – weather patterns associated with global heating – enabled the rare winter fire to burn more than 6,000 acres, engulfing residential neighborhoods and commercial areas alike.

After meeting with some of the affected families, Biden praised the bravery of the survivors and said, “We cannot ignore the fact that these fires are burning. They are being fueled by changing weather.”

Biden vowed not to abandon families as they try to rebuild, saying “we are here with you and we are not leaving.”

The Colorado disaster capped a disastrous year for the United States in which at least 650 people were killed by weather disasters including heat waves, hurricanes, fires and floods. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the estimated economic cost of the destruction had exceeded $100 billion even before the Colorado fire.

Construction worker Robert Sharp, 69, has been confirmed dead, while another person is still missing. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Biden’s latest disaster round underscores the dangers of faltering “Build Back Better” (BBB) ​​legislation, which allocates $550 billion to tackle the world’s largest source of heating gases — energy and transportation. The bill’s passage was stymied by fossil fuel-friendly Senator Joe Manchin, who angered fellow Democrats by opposing a historic social spending package that includes major investments in forest restoration, wildfire resilience, and mitigation as part of what will be the largest in the country. Ever investment climate crisis.

Without the bill, experts say, it would be impossible to meet the administration’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Globally, the United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and scientists warn that halving emissions by 2030 may not be enough to avoid a catastrophic rise in atmospheric and ocean temperatures, increasing the risk of wildfires, It exacerbates dehydration. And rainstorms exacerbate flooding.

“In the past few months, we’ve seen vivid examples of the extraordinary costs to the country of climate change, and the problem is getting worse by the day,” said Vijay Lemay, a climate and health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. (NRDC) Science Center. “The enormous benefits of adaptation and mitigation measures in the BBB will far outweigh the costs.”

As the Biden administration struggles to salvage the legislation and pass it through the Senate, there are growing calls to accelerate reforms needed to modernize government agencies so they are ready for climate disasters and extreme weather events. Manchin’s vote is crucial as Republicans oppose the bill.

On Friday, Colorado Democratic Congressman Joe Negus, co-chair of the bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, unveiled a new bill to help prevent future wildfires, fund the latest firefighting equipment and programs, and support recovery efforts for fire-affected communities and forests across the West.

Representative Joe Negos speaks during a news conference about the Colorado wildfires Jan. 2 in Boulder. Photo: Jack Dempsey/The Associated Press

“As we endure wildfire seasons that are getting worse, it is critical for the federal government to help stop fires before they start, fight them if they spread, and help our communities fully recover after they are contained… We cannot expect communities to bear the burden of these disasters. on her own,” said Negus.

The Western Fire Support Act, co-sponsored by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, will direct the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to develop plans to prevent, manage, and restore fires to federal lands throughout the western United States. It will also provide $100 million in funding to help bushfire-affected communities conduct long-term rehabilitation projects.

Neguse, whose county includes Boulder County, launched the Wildfire Caucus gathering after the unprecedented 2020 season, when more than a thousand fires destroyed 665,454 acres of land in Colorado. Last year, more than 8,600 fires were recorded in California – a historic high that burned more than 2.5 million acres.

Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause serious health problems such as asthma attacks and pneumonia, can exacerbate chronic heart and lung disease, and can increase the risk of low birth weight if pregnant women are exposed. However, while property damage is well tracked, there are no national statistics on hospitalizations or other health effects of bushfires — or any climate disasters.

“Tracking climate-related health is in a very bad position nationally. We are hardly dealing with the implications for physical health, let alone the impact on mental health,” LeMay said.

However, the scale of the health and social costs is likely to be significant given that in 2021 alone, more than four in 10 Americans lived in a province hit by a climate disaster, according to a Washington Post analysis.

The Post’s analysis found that about 15% of Americans live in counties where fire disasters were declared in 2021, and that the conditions needed for fires — high temperatures, low rainfall, high winds — last on average more than a month, more than four. decades ago. If the planet continues to warm, research suggests that by mid-century the fire season could last another 23 days.

As BBB stalls and fossil fuel drilling continue to be in full swing, it is a race against time to ensure that government agencies, regulations and standards are fit for purpose as droughts, floods and other extreme weather events will almost certainly continue to escalate.

Biden has brought back some climate-smart standards that Trump has scrapped, such as requiring all federally funded projects to take into account long-term risks to flooding and sea-level rise, but most building and land-use standards remain woefully outdated, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Analyst Rob Moore.

Learning from past mistakes is also key.

A group of lawmakers from states that bear the brunt of extreme weather events (Hawaii, Louisiana, and California) are supporting the creation of a National Disaster Safety Board (NDSB), modeled on the body that investigates aviation accidents, to help identify and correct factors that contributed to a risk, such as a storm or wildfire. , turns into a complete climate catastrophe.

“The council would be a huge addition to dealing with climate disasters at the national level and accelerating climate adaptation efforts,” Moore said. “Extreme weather events are no longer a divine order, they are systemic and endemic problems that we need to plan for.”

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