Climate Denial Is Driving Up The Costs Of Western Wildfires
News of record-breaking heat is starting to sound like a broken record. But, we’ve done it again. Yesterday, the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that last month was the hottest September ever recorded in 136 years of global temperature data. With yet another record-breaking month, 2015 is well on its way to passing 2014 as the hottest year on record.
One of the consequences of this record-breaking heat is a longer and more severe wildfire season. By any measure, the 2015 wildfire season in the West was among the most expensive and damaging on record. In the first nine months of this year, wildfires burned more than 9 million acres of land across the U.S.—an area four times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Fighting wildfires has always been expensive, but as climate change contributes to longer and more severe fire seasons, the cost of battling these blazes is rising rapidly. A new report from the Center for American Progress projects that the cost of fighting wildfires will increase by 80 percent across the American West in the next decade.
To make matters worse, the U.S. Forest Service’s budget already can’t keep up with the current costs of wildfires. By early September this year, the U.S. Forest Service spent its entire annual firefighting budget, forcing the agency to take money from other essential programs that help communities prepare for and prevent wildfires from starting in the first place. Part of the reason the Forest Service remains consistently underfunded is because many Congressmen refuse to accept the fact that human-caused climate change is contributing to longer, hotter, and more dangerous wildfire seasons.
Unfortunately, members of Congress aren’t the only ones who have had trouble acknowledging the impacts of climate change. So far this campaign season, GOP presidential candidates have barely mentioned climate change at all, much less offered realistic plans for how to fight it. In fact, of the three candidates in the crowded field to have come out with an energy proposal—Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich—not one of their plans offers real solutions to combat climate change. In fact, none of the three plans ever even mentions the words climate change. Also absent from all three plans is a mention of clean energy jobs, despite the fact renewable energy is the fastest growing sector of the industry.
While Republican candidates are ignoring the problem, many policymakers and industry experts are taking action to address man-made climate change. In Colorado today, the Center for American Progress Action Fund partnered with The New Republic and the University of Colorado’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute to hold a forum on climate. The event focused on solutions for climate change at the state level and brought together a unique cross-section of climate change thinkers and leaders from government, industry, academia, and the non-profit sector. At the event, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, was focused on the future of energy production, not the past: when asked if he envisioned a time with no coal production in Colorado, he responded “yes.”
Inside the beltway, leaders are also getting serious about protecting the environment and investing in clean energy solutions. CAP hosted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who spoke about efforts to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. In August, the EPA proposed the first-ever methane pollution standards that will require new and modified oil and gas facilities to use readily available technology to curb these harmful and wasteful leaks (methane is the second most common greenhouse gas to carbon dioxide). This proposal marks another step toward achieving the goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025. “These rules will help with long-term investment targets and build sustainable economic momentum,” McCarthy said. And businesses are responding: McCarthy praised the “companies out there who are already choosing to make ambitious commitments” to cut methane.
BOTTOM LINE: While conservative politicians continue to deny climate change, wildfires are growing bigger and more dangerous. Republican presidential candidates may propose energy plans that double down on dirty energy policies while ignoring the future of the energy industry. But serious leaders are looking to forward, not back, and are promoting solutions that will help protect the planet, improve public health, and grow the economy.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.