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Huge Fire In California Probably Due To Climate Change: Experts

The California summit will look at ways to build consensus and avoid worst-case scenarios. Protesters who have gathered in San Francisco, however, say it is not enough.

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Climate change, california, economic
Climate Change Fuels California Fires. Flickr

California has experienced record heat waves and catastrophic fires in recent years, and climate experts say it is likely to get worse.

A report released Aug. 27 by the state of California, the fourth in a series of assessments, puts the blame squarely on climate change.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is hosting an international summit, beginning Wednesday, in San Francisco to search for solutions.

The worst fires in California’s history came this year and last, with the 2018 Mendocino Complex Fire scorching 186,000 hectares. Parts of northern California are still burning. The largest of the fires, in Shasta County, has burned more than 20,000 hectares and is only 5 percent contained.

Climate research

The California Climate Change Assessment summarizes current climate research and finds a litany of problems caused by greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, which is emitted by the use of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

If nothing or little is done, the reports say to expect temperature rises of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5.6 to 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100; a two-thirds decline in water supplies from the mountain snow pack by 2050; a nearly 80 percent increase in the area scorched by fires by the end of the century; and up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches eroding in the same time frame.

From flooding to a strained electrical grid and premature deaths and illnesses, the list is extensive.

“I think we’ve reached the point where the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” said Michael Mann, who directs the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mann was not involved in the study, but said he thinks its finding are, if anything, conservative.

“We are literally seeing them play out in real time in the form of record heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires,” he said.

 

California
A firefighter sprays the smoldering remains of a vehicle on Interstate 5 as the Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, VOA

 

The Trump administration, however, has pledged to overturn emissions curbs and has promised to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, an accord of nearly 200 countries that requires national targets for emission cuts but which lacks enforcement powers.

President Donald Trump said the pact is ineffective and kills jobs. Climate expertssay something must be done to slow the climate shifts that are underway.

“A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so there’s the potential for greater rainfall events, worse flooding,” Mann said. “A warmer atmosphere also dries out the soils, causing drought.”

He added, “You’re moving the probability curve, and at the tail of the curve are the extreme weather events.”

Health effects of climate change

Epidemiologists are tracking health effects of the changes, from more pollutants emitted by fires to warming in the cities, said epidemiologist Rupa Basu of the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Basu was a contributing author to California’s climate assessment.

“There’s a larger population living in urban areas, and more importantly, a larger vulnerable population living in urban areas,” said Basu, which she said become “urban heat islands” as temperatures rise. The report says that many rural communities, and Native Americans and other minorities, are disproportionately affected.

 

California
In this Sept. 5, 2018, photo released by the U.S. Forest Service, a truck drives next to the Delta Fire burning on Interstate 5 near Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Calif. VOA

 

Researchers are seeing more emergencies and deaths among the very young, elderly and poor. Analysts compare hospital and emergency room visits, infant birth weights, death and illness rates to temperature and relative humidity, researcher Xiangmei Wu said.

On a global level, climate change can increase the ferocity of tropical storms because of changes to the jet stream that determine weather patterns, although hurricanes are not an issue in California.

Mann, of the Earth System Science Center, said one of most destructive storms in U.S. history, Hurricane Harvey on the Gulf Coast, released huge amounts of rainfall as it stalled in its path over Houston in 2017. He said, “You’re moving that probability curve over” on the graph of weather patterns, “and at the tail of the curve are the extreme warm events.”

 

California
Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the goals of the global climate summit he is hosting in San Francisco and legislation he signed directing California to phase out fossil fuels for electricity by 2045 during an interview with The Associated Press. VOA

 

Extreme weather events

Dan Cayan, a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a coordinating lead author of the California report, said climate change exaggerates natural cycles such as El Nino, the periodic warming of equatorial oceans that leads to storms in the Pacific. He said more extreme weather events may well be on their way.

“State and local governments and other players are taking this seriously. And I think that trend will grow as climate change symptoms continue to bubble up,” Cayan said, adding that he is cautiously optimistic that the world can mitigate the worst effects of the changes.

Gov. Brown, who is hosting the three-day summit that ends Friday, has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in his state to 40 percent below 1990 levels.

Monday, Brown signed a bill requiring California to obtain all of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2045.

Brown is a key figure in a coalition of local and regional governments that have committed to achieving the Paris accord’s limiting of global warming in this century to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, whether or not the United States remains in the agreement.

California
The Delta Fire burns in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. VOA

The California summit will look at ways to build consensus and avoid worst-case scenarios.

Also Read: Smoke From Wildfire Makes Weather in West US Worse

Protesters who have gathered in San Francisco, however, say it is not enough.

“There have been many climate summits with a lot of rhetoric but not enough commitment,” activist May Boeve told The Associated Press. She was one of thousands who marched through San Francisco last Saturday, calling for a transition to renewable energy sources and protections for workers and minority groups as the world braces for dramatic changes to its weather.

Next Story

Here’s why Americans Prefer Single-Family Homes

Are Americans Ready to Let Go of Single-Family Homes?

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Homes
This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their homes. VOA

By Dora Mekouar

For decades, many Americans have viewed owning their own home as a tangible symbol of the American Dream. But the question of whether that dream includes dividing one single-family home into two — along with other higher housing density options — is about to be tested in a handful of states nationwide.

Virginia is one of the latest states to tackle the affordable housing crisis by considering zoning rules to allow denser — and, potentially, more affordable — housing, in any area now zoned for single-family homes.

“If a property owner feels it fits their need to upgrade to a duplex from a single family’s owned property, then they will go about it through a local approval process,” says Virginia House Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who represents a district in suburban Washington, D.C. “After the local approval process is completed, then they can create their two families’ owned property as they see fit.”

Homes
Virginia lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow an accessory dwelling, for example, a separate structure, basement apartment or garage apartment, on lots zoned for single homes. VOA

Samirah introduced a bill to allow duplex homes, like townhouses and cottages, in any place that’s currently zoned for single-family homes. The specifics of what those multi-family properties would look like will be left to local governments. The bill does not ban single-family homes.

It’s the kind of move toward creating more affordable housing that’s already been introduced on the West Coast of the United States. Oregon was the first state in the country to ban restrictive single-family zoning in July 2019.

Planning experts and local officials say suburban sprawl has negative impacts on the environment, puts a heavier burden on local services, isolates people, and excludes lower income households and households with people of color from certain communities through economic means.

Homes
In Virginia, builder Carrington Homes offers an accessory dwelling unit, a second living unit (left), as an option for their new homes. VOA

A 2019 Harvard housing report found a “relative lack of smaller, more affordable new homes.” The same report finds that about half of all renter households nationwide spend almost one-third of their income on housing.

But the move away from single-family zoning won’t be an easy one.

“At some level, that development pattern is really uniquely American,” says Robert Parker, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement at the University of Oregon.

“People who have lived, and grew up, in low-density suburban developments have a strong preference for that. They can’t really envision a future that’s substantially different than that.”

The size of the average house has more than doubled since the 1950s. In 2019, the average size of a new single-family home was 240 square meters (2,584 square feet), according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Americans clearly like their space. But millennials — people in their mid-20s to late 30s who make up the nation’s largest living generation — have their own ideas about what the ideal home looks like, according to a Portland, Oregon-area survey cited by Parker.

Homes
Christine Minnehan sweeps up in front of her “granny flat” located in the backyard of her Sacramento, Calif home . VOA

“Eighty percent of them would prefer to live in a detached, single-family residence, and so it really begins to become a matter of scale and amenity,” Parker says. “A lot of those those younger households are really looking for smaller units in walkable neighborhoods and, increasingly, the development community is beginning to recognize that and thinking about ways that they can build those environments.”

Samirah, the Virginia delegate, expects some pushback from people who are worried their neighborhoods could become less desirable, but he says correctly organizing density can benefit property owners, including those who are struggling financially.

“People think it’s going to be a major shift in the landscape of suburbia. I think that’s a false narrative,” Samirah says. “This is a great way for (homeowners) to rent out their basement, or rent out half their house, or whatever it may be…If you’re thinking of retiring, instead of selling your house and moving out to another area, it also helps them keep their families in place.”

“You can have a mixture of densities that’s not detrimental to a set of lifestyles that people hold very dear, that will allow housing choice for households that are struggling to find housing that’s affordable to them in environments that are conducive to the lifestyles that they would like to lead,” Parker says.

Also Read- 2000-2019: The Hottest Decade Measured

He adds that the suburban way of life isn’t going anywhere in the near future.

“There’s little that we can do to retrofit suburbia moving forward so that land use pattern is pretty well ingrained and it’s going to be there for generations.” (VOA)