This is the Dec. 30, 2021 edition Boiling Point, a weekly newsletter on climate change and the environment of California and the American West. Register HereTo receive it in your inbox
What is there to say about 2021 that hasn’t already been said?
The atmosphere continued to accumulate heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Peaking419 parts per billion, an increase from 280 parts/million in the Industrial Revolution. Hundreds of people Extreme heat caused deathIn the Pacific Northwest, many states suffered their losses. hottest summers on record2.6 Million acres of infernos were burned in another instance Unprecedented wildfire seasonCalifornia’s drought emptied reservoirsIt prompted a unique first-ever shortage declarationOn the Colorado River. An oil spillage marredThe Pacific coast.
Despite the fact that there were effective vaccines to stop COVID-19 from spreading, the pandemic continued to spread. Many people were unable to protect themselves and their loved ones due to fear-mongering, misinformation, and delay in recognizing the dangers.
I wish that I could tell you that 2022 will bring any different results, but I doubt it. Even with record-breaking snowfall this month in parts of California — which may not bring the drought to an end but should at least alleviate it — I’m expecting next year’s top stories to look a lot like this year’s. Expect deadly heat waves and wildfires as well as occasional COVID-19 surges. These will be accompanied by a surge in lies that will make your blood boil but will still be believed.
Here’s the thing, though — about climate and coronavirus both.
April 2020, when L.A. Times launchedThis newsletter revealed that stay-at-home orders and vaccines were still in place. The federal government was unsure whether to treat climate change as a minor inconvenience or as a hoax. Renewable energy technologies like solar panels and batteries were embraced. More expensiveThey aren’t as good as they used to be, and the toilet paper was not in use. Short supply.
If I had my choice between living in April 2020 and January 2022, it wouldn’t be a difficult decision.
Yes, Congress hasn’t been able to pass President Biden’s climate bill — and there’s Plenty to criticize in the Biden administration’s climate performance thus far. Vaccines seem to be a success. Effectiveness is reducedOmicron is more effective than earlier versions.
But as easy as it is to live and die with each day’s news — with every disappointing headline, frustrating tweet and panicked proclamation by the talking head on your TV screen — the story of climate change is long, as is the story of the pandemic.Both crises were decades in preparation. Neither of these crises will be resolved in the near future, certainly not by 2022.
The best we can hope for is incremental progress — two steps forward, one step back, a string of little victories that slowly add up to something more. David Roberts is a climate journalist. Recently wrote, global warming “remains stubbornly uncathartic.”
“There will be no final moment of recognition and no clear line between success and failure,” he wrote. “The result will be an unsatisfying muddle at every stage, with more suffering than there should have been but less than there could have been.”
The world is in dire straits right now and will continue to be so in the future.But it was in terrible shape even before 2021. We are still pushing forward, celebrating It’s good news when it comesAnd hopefully, you’ll remember to Find joy in the people and the experiencesThat makes life worthwhile. Whatever happens next — scary as it may be in the moment — it won’t be the end.
Goodbye to the unsatisfying muddle of 2021 and toast to the muddle of 2022.
For the last time this year, here’s what’s happening around the West:
A newly protected “home on the eco-range” for wildlife in the Tehachapi Mountains north of L.A. helps link together the Sierra Nevada, San Joaquin Valley grasslands, the Mojave Desert and the Baja Peninsula.You can find some hope as you head into the New Year by reading this article this story by my colleague Louis Sahagún about the Nature Conservancy’s Randall Nature Preserve, which protects creatures such as mountain lions and bobcats from pressures including urban sprawl, climate change and wind farms.
In the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — where agriculture is thought to have begun — climate-fueled drought and upstream diversions by Iran and Turkey are drying up some of the world’s most fertile farmland in modern-day Iraq. Here’s the Nabih Bulos, chief of Middle East Bureau, tells a fascinating storyWith photos by Marcus Yam, our globe-trotting photographer. It’s a reminder that the human tragedies wrought by climate change also have the potential to fuel geopolitical conflict.
There’s a crazy amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada right now.Donner Pass has experienced more than 250% (!) With 210 inches of snowfall, Donner Pass has seen more that 250% of its average snowfall in the water year. December the area’s third-snowiest month on recordAccording to Melody Gutierrez, Hayley Smith and Melody Gutierrez, this is true. One Sierra resident described it as “snowmaggedon.” Many highways were shut down, with Lake Tahoe California’s only remaining state.Hayley reports. Check out These wild images compiled by our photo department, as well as Francine Orr’s gorgeous picturesYosemite National Park covered in snow In the Southland, however, it has been experiencing intense rains. They can cause havocWith evacuation warnings in wildfire areas and cars being swept up in rising rivers, this is all very worrying. This is it. Good for water supplyHowever, the drought is not over. And as the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese note, one upstate reservoir is actually Release waterTo protect against flooding in the Sacramento River.
WATER IN THE WEST
There’s a room with millions of pieces of paper documenting more than a century of California water rights, and it’s so heavy that the floor had to be reinforced. Yes, that’s right, the birthplace of the computer age keeps track of its most precious resource using filing cabinets crammed with pages that can be as delicate as tissue paper. The state has Finally, a digital record system was finally orderedAri Plachta reports on The Times, which should make it easier to enforce water restrictions more consistently.
“Without the tribes, there’s no deal.”Jaweed Kaleem and Ian James, my colleagues, wrote about the topic Native American nations play an important roleThe latest Colorado River negotiation ended with California, Arizona, and Nevada agreeing that more water will be left in Lake Mead. Looking ahead, tribes might help end a history of “exploitation, extraction and development at all costs” on the Colorado, to quote one Indigenous elder. The federal infrastructure bill, which was recently passed, includes $2.5 Billion to bring long-promised water supplies to tribal nations, including from the Colorado, the AP’s Suman Naishadham and Felicia Fonseca report.
The Associated Press asked sports teams in the Colorado River Basin with grass or ice playing surfaces what they’re doing to conserve water.Chase Field was cleared by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who replaced it with artificial turf. Erica Hunzinger, a reporter, found that most teams are satisfied with artificial turf. aren’t doing anything transformative. While professional sports are only a small fraction of the overall water use and climate pollution problem, they have an opportunity for society to be a strong example. wrote last month.
Santa Monica will offer affordable housing for Black families that have been displaced due to construction of the 10 Freeway. The city has Today, there are fewer Black residents than in 1960., in part due to the decision to bulldoze the Pico neighborhood, my colleague Liam Dillon reports; it’s one of many examples of low-income communities and people of color being shoved aside for highways, as Liam and Ben Posted recently chronicled in a powerful investigation. A judge is also mentioned in this news. A Westside group was ruled outAccording to City News Service, that was an attempt to stop L.A. building 6,000 condos and apartments within half a mile of Expo Line transit stations.
In a 3-2 vote, the West Basin Municipal Water District killed a desalination plant in El Segundo it had been considering building for 20 years, after deciding it doesn’t actually need the water.Concerns expressed by environmentalists about marine life The decision was celebratedKristy Houtchings reports for Daily Breeze. Poseidon Water is planning to build a separate desalination facility in Huntington Beach. still alive. Another coastal news story: Another oil sheen in Orange County’s waters, The Times’ Priscella Vega reports. Unlike October’s major oil spill, this one was caused by the small Oxnard-based company DCOR.
What do you need to know about California’s new law requiring everyone to compost their food waste?James Rainey, my colleague, has a comprehensive explainer that spells out what’s expected of you, whether you live in a house or an apartment. The law takes effect Jan. 1 but will be phased in over the next few years, so cities and counties don’t have to worry about fines just yet.
AROUND THE WEST
Jay Calderon, a photographer and photojournalist, started taking pictures of Salton Sea in 1999. He was there as the lake became an ecological disaster. “The changes are happening so quickly now, it’s a shock…. But as my photos show, the sea isn’t dead,” Jay Writes for the Desert SunJay created an online exhibit to showcase his photography. Check out Jay’s photos of Fish die-offs and migratory bird deathsCaptured by wading through mud and floating down the Whitewater River; Geothermal power plants and lithium extract; of dust-control efforts that create “ugly and dead-looking landscapes”; and of Structures that are in declineThe former shoreline. These are also available. mind-bending before-and-after photosThis shows how some spots have changed drastically.
“In a sense, the Forest Service is the nation’s largest water company.” Most of Utah’s water comes from forest snowpack, but state and federal officials aren’t tracking how much water is diverted from forests or even reviewing expired permits, Joan Meiners reports in a Conducting a thorough investigation for the St. George Spectrum & Daily News. This is the most recent entry in a USA Today Network series on the Forest Service’s failure to protect Western water supplies, even though that’s supposed to be part of its mission.
Global warming and coastal development are threatening the sunflower sea star, which lives along the West Coast in tidal or sub-tidal areas. The Biden administration is considering protecting the sea star under the Endangered Species Act — and if it does, California might have to Modify its plans for seawallsBobby Magill reports for Bloomberg Law on the importance of sea level rise barriers. Elsewhere in the West, federal officials say the 6-inch cactus ferruginous pygmy owl — which nests in saguaro cacti in Mexico, Arizona and Texas — should be The Endangered Species Act protects these species, Michael Doyle reports for E&E news.
A FINAL THING
This summer I wrote about a surprising obstacle to America’s biggest wind farm: The Biden administration. A federal agency helped to block construction on a 730-mile transmission cable that would have carried power from a Wyoming windfar of 3,000 watts to the West Coast. It was a fascinating example of the increasing tension between conservation efforts and combating climate change.
The conflict is now over. An energy company owned by the billionaire Phil Anschutz — who is developing both the wind farm and the TransWest Express power line — sent me a Settlement signed last week, in which Colorado’s Cross Mountain Ranch and federal officials agreed to allow construction. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had previously funded a “conservation easement” on the Colorado property, which supporters said would Protect sage grouse habitat, and create a wildlife migration corridor.
The settlement will also allow construction of a power line developed by PacifiCorp, an arm of Warren Buffett’s energy empire.
ACTUALLY, JUST A ONE MORE THING
Harry Reid This week, a death. The longtime Nevada politician not only got President Obama’s Affordable Care Act passed as Senate Majority Leader but also played an influential role in Western environmental issues, Helping to establishGreat Basin National Park Protect millions of acresWilderness, killing Coal plantsThe Yucca MountainThe nuclear waste facility brokering deals to settle water disputes while allowing the Las Vegas Valley to keep growing — a controversial tradeoff in the nation’s driest state.
Reid was raised in Searchlight, a small mining town just a few miles from Colorado River but far from the Strip lights. I had the pleasure of passing through this town a few decades ago. Local history museum that I bought a copy of Reid’s book, “Searchlight: The Camp That Didn’t Fail.” I finally started reading it this week, because it’s never too late.
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