Working to keep the West special

This is our latest monthly newsletter with information about news and developments on climate disruption and its impacts and on climate action in the West. You can sign up for our newsletter, which is sent out by email, by sending your own email to admin@rockymountainclimate.org. To see more, previous newsletters, continue clicking on "Next" on the bottom right of this and subsequent pages.

 
 

November 2017

Featured Item

 California Wildfire Season One of Worst Ever

California's vulnerability to late season wildfires is well known but what is being called its worst wildfire season ever has certainly captured the attention of the nation. One reporter described it in particularly stark terms: "The wildfires in northern California created scenes from a sci-fi horror movie: Obliterated neighborhoods; thousands evacuated or made homeless; fire authorities stunned by fast-moving blazes and tinderbox conditions that, as Gov. Jerry Brown said, 'we've never seen.' " (California's new normal? Ever more-intense heat, fires, droughts and floods, McClatchy, October 13, 2017)

The latest estimates are that losses from the northern California wildfires now top $3 billion and that 14,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, but that those numbers will continue to rise, according to a November 1st Los Angeles Times article.

What is the role of climate change? The climatic conditions that set the stage include heavy winter rains followed by record-setting summer heat, leading to abundant vegetation that became tinder-dry. Why the 2017 fire season is shaping up to be one of California's worst, Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2017. Both extreme precipitation and extreme heat are on the increase as humans change the climate. "There's a clear climate signal in these fires because of the drought conditions connected to climate change," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

But the Napa-Sonoma wildfires surprised experts in some ways. These fires were more like the fires southern California typically endures, driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds from the state's interior. (Will northern California soon have southern California's climate?, Atlantic, October 17, 2017) Some observers noted that the extremely hot temperatures in northern California this year resemble projections for future temperatures under a changed climate, as well as the current temperatures typical of southern California.  

As Stephen Pyne, a renowned fire historian and author from Tempe, Arizona, observes, "We're not seeing something utterly new or alien, just a ramping-up of what has gone on for a long time." California's deadliest wildfires were decades in the making. 'We have forgotten what we need to do to prevent it', Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2017. His assessment, which seems to us at RMCO to be right on the mark, comes with three major recommendations that are easily stated but not so easily carried out: develop fire-adapted communities, create fire-resilient landscapes, and increase capabilities to fight fire.

RMCO adds to Pyne's three recommendations our all-important fourth: reduce heat-trapping emissions enough, and soon enough, to head off the ever-worsening impacts of climate change, which include projections of continuing increases in wildfire across the American West.

News About RMCO and Partners

Bags were packed, but then the wind shifted. Emergency over-for this time, Mountain News, October 29, 2017. Cited in coverage of climate-change-stoked wildfire threats and forest management challenges in Colorado's Summit County is Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk, the 2014 joint report of RMCO and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

An ambitious new climate plan for Denver, North Denver Tribune, October 27, 2017, reports on stakeholder review of the City and County of Denver's prospects for meeting its 2015 Climate Action Plan goal of 80 percent emissions reductions by 2050, and includes reference to RMCO's June 2017 Future Extreme Heat in the Denver Metro Area report commissioned by Denver's Department of Environmental Health.

News About Climate Action

Regional, State, and Local Climate Policies    

Alaska Gov. Walker announces new climate change task force, Alaska Public Media, October 31, 3017. The Alaska governor, an independent, issues an Executive Order charging a 15-person task force to propose by September 2018 a plan that addresses emission reductions, adaptation, research, and emergency response across nine sectors. Recommendations for statutory and regulatory actions may be included. 

National Climate Policies

Stories following the Environmental Protection Agency's October 10th announcement that administrator Scott Pruitt had signed a measure to repeal the Clean Power Plan:  

E.P.A. scrubs a climate website of 'climate change', New York Times, October 20, 2017. Following its release of a Draft FY 2018-2022 Strategic Plan that does not include any reference to climate, the EPA removes a website titled Climate and Energy Resources for State, Local and Tribal Governments. See also The Interior Department scrubs climate change from its strategic plan, The Nation, October 25, 2017.

Government scientist blocked from talking about climate and wildfires, ClimateWire, October 31, 2017. A research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station is denied approval to deliver his talk about the role that climate change plays at a November conference featuring fire experts from around the country. A research ecologist was also denied, and three U.S. Geological Survey researchers may also suffer the same fate.

Public Opinion

Poll: Americans blame wild weather on global warming, Associated Press, October 12, 2017. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that two-thirds of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening, and 85 percent of that group think human-caused climate change is mostly or partly responsible. (Count us in on both of these.)

Americans are willing to pay $177 a year to avoid climate change, Vox, October 13, 2017. The Yale Program on Climate Change Communications news release about its survey says that when asked "If a tax on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to help reduce global warming were to cost your household $X more each year in higher energy bills, would you support or oppose it?," respondents indicated a willingness to pay $177 more per year, and that the number one use of the taxes collected should be for clean energy. 

Fossil Fuels

Trump administration scrambles to save largest coal plant in the West, Washington Examiner, October 23, 2017. The multi-utility consortium that owns the Navajo Generating Station continues to say that natural gas is simply cheaper than coal, and therefore their 2017 closure plans remain in place, even as the administration tries to find ways to keep it open.   

Clean Energy

Solar industry sighs in relief at small import tariff proposals, Bloomberg, October 31, 2017. The U.S. International Trade Commission decides to recommend tariffs on imported solar panels of as much as 35 percent to President Trump, substantially less than what was being sought by a U.S. company facing bankruptcy that had appeared to have caught the attention of the commission. See also Colorado solar firms anxiously await trade commission, Trump moves on imports, Colorado Public Radio, October 30, 2017.

Where clean energy jobs are growing the fastest, CBS Moneywatch, October 27, 2015. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that solar PV installers and wind turbine service technicians were the two fastest growing types of job in the past year, particularly in the West and the South. See also Free wind training begins in Casper, an adventure for some, a lifeboat for others, Casper Star-Tribune, October 28, 2017. Some companies are offering free wind technician training as they attempt to shift a reluctant Wyoming work force's fossil-fuels mindset.  

Preparedness

San Francisco bolsters flood resilience in face of climate change, San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2017. Sea level rise and the persistent threat of stronger winter storms, like the ones last season, spur grant programs for flood-proofing homes and businesses, beefed-up building codes, and storm-drainage infrastructure upgrades.  

News About Climate Disruption

Heat

Southern California is breaking heat records by alarming margins, Huffington Post, October 25, 2017 and Heat wave sets new records and sparks brush fires as World Series begins, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2017. Not just breaking temperature records but smashing them, with up to double-digit margins in some locations. The hottest World Series game ever - not the quality of play, but the amount of heat!

Frequency of excessive summertime heat seen rising across U.S., Reuters, October 24, 2017. A Natural Resources Defense Council analysis looks at the average number of summertime extreme heat days on a county-by-county basis from 2007-16 and finds that Interior West states are among the most impacted. 

Ecosystems

Southwest Colorado forests under attack by pine beetle, Denver Post, October 30, 2017. The forests in that part of the state have already seen large spruce beetle infestations in Engelmann spruce forests, but now pine beetles are now spreading through Ponderosa forests stressed by overgrowth and climate-driven drought and heat.

Fire and ice: Glacier superintendent details climate change challenges facing park, Missoulian, October 18, 2017. Climate change indicators he cites include: the past winter snowpack peaked at 140 percent of normal, yet the melt-out date coincided with the same melt-out date of the year with the lowest snowpack in the park due to hotter temperatures; wildfire behavior never before seen; and disappearance of glacier-fed springs for water sources.

Wildlife

Whither the mighty wolverine?, Mountain Journal, October 22, 2017. In recent years none of the elusive critters have been observed in northwest Wyoming's Tetons, their southernmost range in the United States. Modeling suggests that the late spring snow that wolverines depend on for denning will decline by up to 60% in the northern Rockies over the coming century, potentially driving wolverines north.

Resource of the Month

Strategies for Successful Low-Income Energy Efficiency Programs
American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy

This report delves into programs that can help relieve the energy costs faced by low-income families and also provide benefits like increased comfort and healthier homes. Examples from utility and electric cooperative programs, including in Colorado and southern California, show how they have addressed barriers to participation by low-income customers in efficiency programs, ranging from lack of money for efficiency upgrades to aging housing stock that may need health and safety improvements.

Support RMCO and this Newsletter!

Help keep the RMCO newsletter coming to your in-box. Please make a contribution to RMCO, in whatever amount you can afford, to help us continue to research, write, and deliver our monthly newsletter. Your contribution will also help with our other programs so we can continue working to keep the West special by reducing climate disruption and its effects here. And your contribution is tax-deductible, too. Use the "donate" button at the top of this page to make a contribution through PayPal. Thank you!

Suggestions and comments are welcome!

Stephen Saunders, RMCO president: saunders@rockymountainclimate.org
Tom Easley, RMCO director of programs: easley@rockymountainclimate.org
Suzanne Farver, RMCO director of outreach: farver@rockymountainclimate.org

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