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‘We can’t ignore reality’: Colorado fires highlight urgency of US climate legislation | Climate crisis
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‘We can’t ignore reality’: Colorado fires highlight urgency of US climate legislation | Climate crisis

Representative Joe Neguse talks during a news conference on the Colorado wildfires on 2 January in Boulder.


Joe Biden ended his tour of neighborhoods devastated by Colorado’s most destructive blaze by emphasizing the link between America’s escalating wildfires and the global climate crisis, saying that the US can “no longer ignore the reality” of weather conditions that have “supercharged” blazes.

Biden’s trip to Boulder county on Friday marked his sixth climate disaster tour since taking office a year ago, underscoring the growing threat of global heating in the US and the need for radical action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week’s prairie grass fire destroyed almost 1,100 homes and some businesses after hurricane-force winds drove flames through Two densely populated Denver suburbs35,000 people fled.

The cumulative effect of unusually wet conditions last spring followed by extremely dry and warm conditions through December – Weather patterns linked to global heating – enabled the rare winter fire to scorch over 6,000 acres, engulfing residential neighborhoods and commercial districts alike.

After meeting some of the affected families, Biden praised the courage of survivors and said: “We can’t ignore the reality that these fires are being supercharged. They’re being supercharged by changing weather.”

Biden pledged not to abandon families as they try to rebuild, saying “we’re here with you and we’re not going away”.

The Colorado disaster was the culmination of a terrible year in the US, which saw at least 650 deaths from climate disasters such as heatwaves, floods, and hurricanes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationEven before the Colorado blaze, the economic damage had been estimated to have cost more than $100 billion.

Robert Sharpe (a 69 year-old construction worker) has been confirmed dead. An additional person remains unaccounted. Investigations continue into the cause of this fire.

Biden’s latest disaster tour underlines the stakes of his teetering Build Back Better (BBB) legislation, which earmarks $550bn to tackle the largest sources of global heating gases – energy and transportation. The bill’s passage has been impeded by the fossil-fuel friendly senator Joe Manchin, who angered his Democratic colleagues by opposing the historic social spending package that includes major investments in forest restoration, wildfire resiliency, and mitigation as part of what would be the country’s largest ever climate crisis investment.

Experts say that without the bill it will be impossible to meet the administration’s target of reducing Greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by at least half of 2005 levels by 2030.

The US is second in greenhouse gas emissions globally, after China. Scientists warn, however, that even halving US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 may not suffice to prevent a catastrophic rise of atmospheric and oceanic temperatures. These extremes increase the risk for wildfires, intensify droughts, and cause flooding.

“In the last few months we’ve seen vivid examples of the extraordinary costs the country is shouldering because of climate change, and the problem is worsening day by day,” said Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Science Center. “The tremendous benefits of the adaptation and mitigation measures in BBB would far outweigh the costs.”

As the Biden administration fights to save the legislation and get it through Senate, there is growing pressure to accelerate reforms necessary to modernize government agencies to be ready for extreme weather events and climate disasters. Manchin’s vote is crucial as the bill is opposed by Republicans.

Joe Neguse, a Colorado Democratic congressman and co-chair of bipartisan Wildfire Caucus (the Colorado Democratic Congressman), presented a new bill Friday to help prevent future wildfires and fund state-of the-art firefighting equipment, programs, and support recovery efforts in communities and forests that were affected by fires throughout the west.

Representative Joe Neguse talks during a news conference on the Colorado wildfires on 2 January in Boulder.
Representative Joe Neguse speaks during a news conference about the Colorado wildfires, held in Boulder on 2 January.Photograph: Jack Dempsey/AP

“As we endure increasingly worse wildfire seasons, it is critical for the federal government to lend a hand in stopping fires before they start, fighting them if they spread, and helping our communities fully recover after they’ve been contained … We cannot expect our communities to bear the burden of these disasters on their own,” said Neguse.

The Western Wildfire Support ActSenator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada would co-sponsor the legislation. She would direct the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture in creating plans for fire prevention, management and recovery on federal land across the western US. It would also provide $100m of funding to support long-term rehabilitation projects in communities affected by wildfires.

The Wildfire Caucus was created by Neguse, whose Boulder county district includes Boulder County. It was established after the unprecedented 2020 season when more than a thousand wildfires destroyed 665.454 acres of Colorado land. Last year, more than 8,600 fires were recorded in California – a historic high that caused More than 2.5m acres available to burn.

Wildfire smoke can cause serious health issuesAsthma attacks and pneumonia can worsen chronic heart or lung diseases. Pregnant women can also be at greater risk for lower birth weights due to exposure. Yet while damage to property is well tracked, there are no national statistics on hospital admissions or other health impacts of wildfires – or any climate disasters.

“Climate-related health tracking is in very poor shape nationally. We barely have a handle on the physical health implications, never mind the impact on mental health,” said Limaye.

However, the scale of the social and medical costs will be substantial. According to an analysis by The Associated Press, more than four out 10 Americans lived in a country affected by climate change in 2021. Washington Post.

The Post’s analysis found that about 15% of Americans live in counties where fire disasters were declared in 2021, and the conditions necessary for fire – high temperatures, low rainfall and high winds – On average, they last for more than a monthThey are much more advanced than they were 40 years ago. If the planet continues its heat, research suggests By mid-century, the fire season could be extended by 23 more days.

As BBB stalls and the drilling of fossil fuel continues apace, it’s a race against time to ensure government agencies, regulations and standards are fit for purpose as drought, flooding and other extreme weather events will almost certainly continue to escalate.

Biden has restored some climate-smart measures that Trump had canceled, like requiring federally funded projects to consider the long-term risks of flooding and sea-level rise. However, most building and land use standards are still woefully outdated. Rob Moore, NRDC analyst

It is also important to learn from past failures.

A group of lawmakers representing states that experience the most extreme weather events (Hawaii (Louisiana), and California) are in favor of creating a National Disaster Safety Board. This board is modeled after the body that investigates aviation accidents. It will help to identify and correct the factors that led to a hazard like a storm or wildfire becoming a full-blown climate catastrophe.

Moore said: “The board would be a tremendous addition to coping with climate disasters nationally and accelerate climate adaptation efforts. Extreme weather events are no longer an act of God, they are systemic and endemic problems which we need to plan for.”


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