This is the Dec. 9, 2021 edition, of Boiling Point. A weekly newsletter about climate change in California and the American West. Sign up hereTo receive it in your inbox
If you’re looking for evidence that the climate crisis is taking a toll, look no further than a new survey of Angelenos.
The University of Southern California reports that fifty-one percent of Los Angeles County residents have avoided going outside during the summer 2020-2021 due to concerns about inhaling wildfire smoke. survey found. More than one quarter of Angelenos reported having suffered from it. psychological distressbecause of a disaster like a fire, flood, or extreme heat during that period.
Particularly heat storms are affecting quality of life. Fifty-four percent of local residents said they had gone to a mall, library, community center or other cool location for the sole purpose of getting out of the heat — a startling number, at least to me.
Rising temperatures don’t affect everyone equally.The survey revealed that 27% of Black Angelenos work outside with no cover, more than any other racial groups. 62% of white respondents to the survey said that their neighborhood has enough trees to provide for them, while 62% said they have. adequate shade for walking on a hot, sunny dayOnly 51% of Latino, Asian, and Black residents agreed.
More than three quarters of the respondents stated that climate change poses a threat to Angelenos’ well-being.
It’s not hard to see what’s giving people that idea. Los Angeles County recorded a record-highAfter a decade in California in which heat caused the deaths of an estimated 3,900 Californians each year, temperatures reached 121 degrees during a heat wave in summer 2020. L.A. Times investigation. Southern California officials have issued air quality advisories due to wildfire smoke on 17 days so far this year — and 55 days last year, when the Bobcat fire ragedIn the San Gabriel Mountains.
Kelly Sanders, an energy and climate expert at USC who was not involved with the survey, told me it’s more than wildfires to blame for filling the air with smoke and keeping people indoors. California is in drought — and lack of rainfall not only primes the landscape for fire but also allows lung-damaging particles to linger in the air longer. High temperatures can also lead to high temperatures. exacerbate smog.
All those forces — heat, drought, wildfires, air pollution — are made worse by the burning of fossil fuels.
Sanders pointed out that Californians are experiencing an increasing number of experiences. ash falling out of the sky.
“It’s not just a one-off — it’s happening every year, multiple times a year at this point,” she said. “We always talk about these apocalyptic events in the future, but ash falling out of the sky — it doesn’t get more apocalyptic than that.”
The USC survey also offers hope. I was encouraged to see that 40% Angelenos think their next car will likely be an electric one. (I wasn’t one of the 1,244 people to take the survey, but I would have said the same.) Large majorities of Angelenos also try to limit their electricity and water use, the amount of time they spend driving and how much meat they eat — all good for the climate.
Interestingly, older people were more likely to say their individual actions can make a difference in tackling global warming — a sign that younger generations, such as my own, are fed up with decades of inaction by corporations and government and are sick of being told their lifestyles are to blame. Respondents aged 18 to 39 were more likely than 75%, 71%, and 65% to make a difference in their lives.
Younger people “have a different idea about who are the humans that are causing climate change,” said Kyla Thomas, director of the LABarometer survey at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, which conducted the polling.
Another important finding is that only 17% of Angelenos believe local government does enough to combat climate change.
To be fair, I don’t know of any local government that’s truly doing enough, given the science showing that global emissions need to be cut roughly in halfIn less than a decade. But it’s not hard to point to places where Los Angeles is falling short. Just to offer one example from my previous reporting, the city still doesn’t have a plan for reducing planet-warming emissions from residential gas heating and gas stoves, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti setting targets for net-zero-carbon buildings way back in April 2019.
Garcetti did join with three City Council membersThis week, we will introduce a motionL.A.’s climate office was instructed to make recommendations for reducing emissions from gas appliances in homes. The emphasis is on affordability. Environmental justice activists raised concerns that electric heating and electric cooking could increase energy costs and housing prices.
The new initiative “will ensure that the people who are most impacted by climate change and housing insecurity are the ones leading the conversation, and that the solutions proposed lead to strong labor, housing, and health protections,” said Martha Dina Argüello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, in a written statement.
Sanders stated that switching from gas to induction cooking will be crucial as wildfire smoke and higher temperatures will force people to spend more time at home, with the windows shut. That’s because cooking with gas can lead to high levels of indoor air pollution. And gas stoves aren’t the only problem — the air outside has a big effect on the air inside.
“We need to focus more on improving our homes and buildings to promote safe indoor air quality, as well as access to adequate air conditioning. People are spending a lot more time at home,” Sanders said. “Communities living closer to pollution sources like highways, wildfires, industrial centers, the ports — they’re really disproportionately impacted by this poor air quality.”
Check out the detailed survey results here. They’ve really got me thinking about how many politicians still talk about climate change as a problem to be solved for the sake of future generations, as opposed to a disaster that is here now and making the planet progressively less livable for current generations. President Biden, for instance, recently pitched his “Build Back Better” legislation by describing the fight against global warming as an “obligation to our children and to our grandchildren.”
Although admirable, this attitude is outdated.We live in a world that sees a growing number of people staying indoors to protect their lungs against wildfire smoke, going shopping to keep cool, and feeling anxious about climate calamity.
The survey shows that people want action and they want it immediately.
Here’s what else is happening around the West:
California’s biggest source of water supply — the Sierra Nevada snowpack — could be close to zero for five straight years as soon as the 2040s, new research finds. Here’s the storyHayley Smith, my colleague, spoke out about the critical importance to use water more carefully. And as scary as conditions might get in a few decades, they’re already bad now. As of Friday, only 6% of the US was covered by snow. lowest coverage since researchers started tracking that figure, according to AccuWeather’s Mark Puleo. There’s so little powder in the Rocky Mountains that one Colorado ski town is holding a four-day “snow dance” to ask Ullr, the Norse God of Snow, to please help them out, the Associated Press’ Thomas Peipert and Brittany Peterson report.
President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill includes the largest-ever federal investment in U.S. forests — $27 billion overall, with $14 billion for fuels reduction to limit wildfire severity.This would be a sea change from the current approach of throwing tons of money at firefighting and neglecting prevention, The Times’ Jennifer Haberkorn reports. Here in California, meanwhile, Pacific Gas & Electric has agreed to pay $125 million for sparking the Kincade fireGregory Yee reports. Local officials claim that the horrible stench in Carson was caused by a warehouse fire. ignited by illegally stored flammable materialsAndrew J. Campa reports on the topic, which includes antibacterial wipes and hand soap, Hailey Branson Potts reports.
As part of a settlement agreement with environmental groups, a massive home development at Tejon Ranch in northern L.A. County won’t have natural gas hookups.Instead, homes are built with electric heat pump and induction stoves. details here from my colleague Louis Sahagún. Many Tejon Ranch residents will also drive for several hours daily to commute to Los Angeles, adding carbon to the atmosphere. While state lawmakers have attempted to reduce emissions and make housing more affordable by encouraging density, some cities are not. racing to restrict new housing ahead of a law that would require them to allow duplexes and fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods, The Times’ Liam Dillon reports. Despite being opposed by the majority of L.A.’s City Council, that law was rejected. new polling from The TimesIt was supported by a strong majority of voters.
California is likely to mandate water-saving measures like not watering lawns after rains. Failure to comply will result in $500 fines. In the meantime, conservation is ticking up — Californians cut their water use by 13.2% in OctoberHayley Smith, reporting for The Times, reports that this is an increase of 3.9% from September. Out in the desert, Cadiz Inc. has pitched its plan to pump groundwater and ship it to coastal cities as a drought solution — but the Biden administration isn’t buying it. Officials want to reverse a Trump administration decision that cleared the way for the Cadiz Pipeline, which has been long opposed by critics. an environmentally damaging water grabAlex Wigglesworth, Ian James and I report. Columnist Michael Hiltzik was pleased by the federal government’s change of course, writing of the Cadiz project, “It’s time to bury it in the desert grave where it belongs.”
Hiltzik also slammed a ballot initiative backed by agribusiness that could require California to spend $100 billion on water infrastructure, calling it “a majestically cynical ploy being foisted on taxpayers by some of the state’s premier water hogs.”Poseidon Water could also benefit by the ballot initiative get around the California Coastal CommissionColumnist Steve Lopez writes about Huntington Beach’s quest to build a seawater desalination facility. Water officials are in Coachella Valley. basically shrugging their shouldersJanet Wilson reports on developments in surf parks.
A powerful new ocean and atmosphere simulator at UC San Diego could help unravel one of the biggest climate science mysteries — the role of clouds in slowing or speeding up global warming.Joshua Emerson Smith, reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune describes the simulator as “like a giant aquarium — minus the fish but capable of growing a microscopic jungle of marine organisms.” It’s capable of generating “near hurricane-force winds at sub-zero temperatures,” which is pretty wild.
THE ENERGY TRANSITION
Southern California Edison plans to demolish the San Onofre nuclear power plant. This will take place over eight years and will cost $4.5 billion. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Rob Nikolewski has a detailed explainerOn the teardown, critics questioned whether Edison will manage it safely. In other nuclear news, Biden’s administration is looking for communities that might want to store the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. And President Biden’s energy secretary said she might talk with California officials about extending the life of the state’s last nuke, Diablo Canyon, Reuters’ Timothy Gardner reports. Supporters of keeping Diablo Canyon open beyond 2025 held a rally last weekendRachel Showalter reports for KCBX. Also, see my deep dive on DiabloFrom earlier in the year.
The Interior Department has issued more onshore oil and gas drilling permits per month under President Biden than it did during any of President Trump’s first three years in office. Here’s the story from the Washington Post’s Maxine Joselow. You may recall that last week in this newsletter I wrote about the Biden administration’s slow pace of approving solar and wind farms on public landsThis makes for an interesting contrast. And although the timing is probably a coincidence, the day after that newsletter was published the federal Bureau of Land Management announced it’s planning to lower the feesSolar and wind farms pay for these services.
The U.S. government has plans to build a wind farm near the former Minidoka incarceration camps in Idaho, angering the descendants of Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II.They claim that the towers of great height would be a disaster. irrevocably alter the desolate and isolated landscapeKylie Mohr reports that part of it is preserved as an historic site national that allows people to imagine what it was like to live there. In a similar controversy in Colorado, there’s opposition to a plan for transmission lines to facilitate clean energy within a few miles of Sand Creek Massacre National Historic SiteKevin Simpson reports from Colorado Sun on the killing of hundreds of Native Americans by the U.S. Cavalry, 1864.
AROUND CENTRAL AMERICAN LANDS
Cheatgrass is displacing native vegetation in the Great Basin more quickly than people are chopping down trees at the Amazon. That’s according to new research finding that cheatgrass and similar nonnative plants now cover one-fifth of the Great BasinBrianna Randall is a Science News writer. It’s making wildfires worse, and global warming is at least partly to blame, by allowing cheatgrass to outcompete native grasses at higher elevations where it wasn’t previously viable.
There are so many bison in Yellowstone National Park — 5,400 after they were hunted nearly to extinction a century ago — that they’re causing overgrazing and hurting other species. The National Park Service will allow 900 bisons be killed or otherwise removedEduardo Medina reports from New York Times. Yellowstone is just one example of a tension playing out across Western landscapes over the role of bison and wild horses, Indigenous stewardship, cattle ranching, the legacy of colonization and the meaning of “wilderness,” a topic that Stephen Lezak explores beautifully in this piece for High Country News.
Hollywood helped make Los Angeles what it is today — and so did oil. “Oil, motion pictures and real estate were like the trifecta of forces that were attracting migrants to come west to L.A. Oil was kind of right up there with the glamor of Hollywood,” one expert told my colleague Rachel SchnalzerThe latest entry in our series is. answering reader questionsLearn more about local business. Although oil was a boon for many, it also brought about wealth and employment for others. However, oil had safety hazards for workers. Many of them died when they fell into oil tanks.
One more thing
As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, I’m a huge Disney fan. It was obvious that Geoff Morrell (Walt Disney Co.’s incoming head for public relations), is currently employed by BP, an oil and gas giant. As Disney’s chief corporate affairs officer, Morrell will also oversee environmental issuesKim Masters and Alex Weprin are the writers for the Hollywood Reporter.
At some point, I’ll write more about the intersection of Disney and climate. If you’ve got thoughts on that, let me know.
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