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Report: Wildfires Cutting Into Greenhouse Gas Reductions

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California’s frequent wildfires are hurting efforts to stem climate change.

Speaker 1: 00:00 As progressive as California is on combating climate change, we're not doing nearly enough. That's the conclusion of a new report. It says at our current pace of emissions, we will hit 20, 30 climate targets in 2060 and we'll be a hundred years late in hitting the 20, 50 climate targets. Adam follower is director of research for beacon economics, the firm that compiled the report. I spoke with Fowler as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk. First up, what about the reports? Primary findings,

Speaker 2: 00:31 the last few years have seen reductions of about 1.15% across all the economic sectors. We measure that, uh, emissions reduction rate is going to need to push up to closer to 4.5% each year. I'm moving from 2020 to 2030. We've not seen anything at that rate in the recent past, so, uh, it is, it's going to be a heavy lift. Um, historically we've had some very good luck moving, uh, especially our electricity sector, uh, away from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Um, or renewable energy has hit a tipping point, uh, with solar and wind. Increasingly being cost competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts. And in our report we flagged that to 2017 Mark the first time that a greater proportion of our power mix came from renewable sources like wind and solar than it did from fossil fuels. That being said, the electricity grid, uh, was a bit of an easier lift. It's not quite as consumer facing as for example, our transportation, uh, emissions sector, uh, that involves, uh, consumer purchases of automobiles, uh, in the free market space. Whereas, um, some of our mandates to our utilities, um, are a little bit more top down in terms of the ability to change behavior.

Speaker 1: 01:55 Yeah, it's interesting. The industrial residential transportation sectors are only seeing slight declines according to your report. And surprising to see we weren't seeing more gains in the transportation sector with the increased adoption of electric cars. Why do you think that is?

Speaker 2: 02:09 We are making some good progress on electric cars and it's exciting. Um, uh, in 2020, there are a dozen or so full battery electric vehicles that will be on the market in California. Those are from auto makers like Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Volkswagen, even luxury brands like Audi, Jaguar, and pores. So we're increasing the number of opportunities and consumer choices. Uh, folks in California will have moving into the 2020 model year, uh, we've seen an uptick in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, both our rapid charging kind of public, uh, stations around, uh, many of our major metropolitan areas in California. And we've seen utilities help incentivize at home, uh, adopting F, uh, electric, uh, charging infrastructure around the States. So those been, um, some important infrastructure steps to try to close the gap, really inconvenience that folks have had historically about being able to pull over to a gas station. Um, trying to make that a little bit more one-to-one with, uh, what folks, uh, experienced with the, uh, electric battery vehicle market.

Speaker 1: 03:17 A bottom line here and in relation to this report is what will we need to do to see the kind of reduction needed to meet California's goals? I mean, you say it's a heavy lift. Why aren't we talking about drastic changes in lifestyle, for example?

Speaker 2: 03:31 Um, I guess you could think about it that way. That's an interesting framing. I mean we are at the heart of it moving an economy away from fossil fuels to different sources of energy. So there really isn't a lot that kind of is left unimpacted. Uh, in one frame. A big part of our, um, uh, our challenges around transportation, the way we build our cities in California has not allowed for folks to be able to live very close to where our dense job centers are in many of our urban areas. So we've seen the rise of super commuters, people that are traveling more than 90 minutes one way to their place of work, uh, increase year over year in the last number of years. Um, we've seen new development, the, the little bit that has been occurring in this state be farther away from urban centers for land use and other reasons. I do think getting folks a little bit closer to where they work, whether that be through transit oriented development or other kind of density and uh, urban cores where we're seeing broad-based economic growth coming out of the great recession is going to be important.

Speaker 1: 04:42 Now we know we're seeing more wildfires, more intense wildfires as a result of climate change. And although emissions from wildfires aren't factored in in terms of meeting the state's goals, they do impact emissions have been in the news this week. How big is the impact from these wildfires?

Speaker 2: 04:57 That's very true. Um, while wildfires are not included in the official inventory, our report, uh, uses them, uh, against other economic sectors to draw some context. So for example, those wildfires in 2018 produce more than nine times the emissions we reduced across the entire economy in the year prior. That's a very large number. That's distressing. Yeah, it is. It is. And, uh, the, they're not included in the official inventory for a lot of very good reasons. By no means are we advocating that they be part of that official inventory. But there is a, a subset of those fires that are very much, um, rooted in human cause. So while now mother nature, um, has a fires, is have kind of a part of her toolkit to keep our forest and uh, natural lands healthy. Um, there is a percentage of the wildfires, uh, Cal fire and other, uh, official, uh, agencies flag as being human caused. And so I think as we try to understand and better manage our wildfire risk in the state, it is important to understand that for those where human error or human causes at the heart, those, those are emissions. We need to think about trying to do better control, controlling just as we would in any other economic sector. All right, I've been speaking with that. I'm followed director of research for beacon economics. Thanks very much. Absolutely. Take care.

Speaker 3: 06:29 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.