Wildfires offsetting California’s expensive cap-and-trade emissions cuts

Reposted from Junk Science

California’s failure to manage its forests so as to limit wildfires offset much if not all of the state’s expensive efforts to reduce its greenhouse emissions. Three charts from the California government and some back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate this.

First, here is the burn acreage for 2000-2019. Note that in 2019, for example, wildfires consumed 280,000 acres of California’s forests.

Next, here are the CO2 emissions caused by those wildfires. Note that in 2019, for example, wildfires produced 6.5 million tons of CO2.

Now, so far in 2020, about 3.4 million acres of California forests have burned. If 280,000 acres of burned forests produced 6.5 million tons of CO2 in 2019, then using the same proportion, 3.4 million burned acres have produced about 79 million tons of CO2 in 2020 alone.

Now, here is the chart of California emission reductions between 2000-2017 (the latest available from the state). Note that California emissions as of 2017 were slightly below the state’s 2020 emissions goal of 430 million tons.

Let’s assume that the state is still around the same level of emissions as 2017. If you add back in the emissions from this years fires (79 million tons), California is not only about 79 million tons above its emissions goal, but California’s emissions are slightly higher than the state’s emissions peak of 493 million tons in 2004.

But there’s more.

California began it cap-and-trade system for emissions in 2012. The state has raised and spent about $5 billion from that program.

Assuming that emissions cuts for 2018 and 2019 amounted to a total of 10 million tons and the total emissions cuts under the cap trade program from 2012-2017 amount to about 25 tons, the 2020 forest fire emissions (79 million tons) more than double the emissions cut since cap-and-trade was implemented in 2012 (35 tons).

And we haven’t even added back in the emissions from other post-2012 wildfires (a total of about 182 million tons).

Here are some concluding points:Businesses and consumers have paid $5 billion since 2012 to cut emissions. Instead, emissions have never really been cut and are now higher than ever. Money for nothing.Although we don’t actually know the cause of the drought that has turned California’s forests into tinderboxes, it could very well be entirely natural. As such, we know the drought could last another 200 years. So unless California’s 33 million acres of forests are managed, they could burn until there is nothing left to burn. At the 2020 (so far) rate of 3.4 million acres, that’s about 10 years of forest fire emissions on the order of 79 million tons per year. In that case, California won’t meet its emissions goals for a long time.

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September 18, 2020 10:14 am

Unfortunately, this argument won’t register with the loony left which which has trouble with simple arithmetic, especially if it undermines their narrative.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
September 18, 2020 11:42 am

Yeah, any loony leftie coming on here and reading the phrase “back-of-the-envelope calculations” will probably break out in hives.

Reply to  philincalifornia
September 18, 2020 12:55 pm

Soon they will install smart toilet bowls with sphincter recognition software connected to a central database. They measure everyone’s “carbon output” and debit your bank account with the appropriate amount of taxes.

This will be called CRAP and TRADE.

If you are constipated, you will be sent an email reminder or SMS and your health insurance company will be informed.

Reply to  Greg
September 18, 2020 2:27 pm

Greg September 18, 2020 at 12:55 pm
Soon they will install smart toilet bowls …
H2G2 Bethselamin

For years, the fabulously beautiful planet of Bethselamin increased its booming tourist industry without any worries at all. Alas, as is often the case, this was an act of utter stupidity, as it led to a colossal cumulative erosion problem. Of course, what else could one expect with ten billion tourists per annum? Thus today the net balance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave; so every time you go to the lavatory there, it is vitally important to get a receipt.

Reply to  Greg
September 21, 2020 5:23 pm

Sidewalks and Pelosi’s driveway will have no such sphincter recognition systems. A silent, but odoriferous, protest and tax avoidance.

Reply to  philincalifornia
September 18, 2020 1:01 pm

Back of the envelope is still better than the wags produced by leftists.

Leo Smith
Reply to  philincalifornia
September 19, 2020 1:05 am

Always make your calculations on the back of some fanfold. Its more convincing, even if its the soft cool kind that is kind to haemorrhoids.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
September 20, 2020 6:30 am

The loony left does not respond to logic or reason but can be reached with emotional appeals.
Therefore if you have any chance to reach them present your case with examples like bambi’s family getting killed by wildfires and well as the loss of habitat for bambi’s friends like bumper.
You should present other themes such as irreparable harm to endangered species. You must show them a scene cut of the forest fire from the Disney movie, photos of charred animals as well as videos of animals that have suffered from the fires, such as burned bodies with little to no fur, missing limbs, and pitiful animal faces. Do not show them human suffering and never try to reach them with fact base data.
But you can make up some statistics such as that 59% of the deer population died in the fire and the remaining deer population will never recover.

You must always remember that the loony left has high moral standards and they are far superior to your morals.

Reply to  David
September 25, 2020 9:02 am

A big fan of sarcasm and irony here. And, this post is especially on-point as the delightful silliness is rings so very true!

That said, I am convinced this approach would actually work! (Donations to the cause, will yield your choice of a cuddly stuffed teddy bear, a hug-able thumper bunny, or a bambi-family action play set to run from fire).

Splitdog Homee
September 18, 2020 10:20 am

Black trees matter.

Splitdog Homee
September 18, 2020 10:22 am

Black Trees Matter

Gary Pearse
September 18, 2020 10:22 am

Oh that’s easy. This is CO2 neutral biomass (Too bad they didn’t generate electricity with it when they could). Relax. It will dawn on them that they should actually get rid of the forests. Chip them up, gen electricity and add it to ruinables and meet their 2030 target in a couple of years. They may even give a hat tip to WUWT for this article.

Ron Long
September 18, 2020 10:24 am

Carbon offset, cap-and-trade, bait-and switch, pyramid, all schemes that scoudrels utilize to dupe persons out of their money. In this case, Cap-And-Trade, if you try to follow the money, where does it end up? Somebody’s pocket? Whose? I wonder how our brothers the squirrels feel about this?

September 18, 2020 10:44 am

Never one to argue with mockery of the carbon neutral nonsense, however … I recall reading that something like 79% of the acreage burned in CA thus far in 2020 is grassland and scrub chapparral. I don’t know what that percentage was from 2000-2019 … however let’s assume this wasn’t all “forestland” that burned. Was that taken into account for this BOTE calculation? Would that lower the estimate somewhat?

John F Hultquist
September 18, 2020 10:46 am

California’s failure to manage its forests

Recognize the problem?
The forests have been managed!
They have been managed with the goal of increasing the fuel load.
Not just in CA, but across and up and down.
This has been quite successful, with more Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, and relentless.
Not all, but most of that fuel will burn.

Larry Hamlin
September 18, 2020 10:47 am

There major long standing state government policies that have created both California’s electricity debacle that was caused by excessive reliance on unreliable renewable power as well as the states ever escalating wildfire destruction and deaths caused by failures to provide effective forest management largely because of costly and time consuming excessive regulatory and environmental impediments.
The state enactment of AB 32 the “global warming solutions act” in 2006 started the ill-advised renewable energy use mandates allegedly to fight “ climate change” with the target to reduce California CO2 emissions by about 54 million metric tons by year 2020. The state has failed to achieve these AB 32 reductions because it assumed that wildfires would be emissions neutral which has proven to be a totally flawed assumption. The USGS has estimated that California’s year 2018 wildfire emissions of CO2 amounted to about 68 million metric tons which overwhelms the states AB 32 CO2 emissions reduction goal. Further the 2019 and 2020 California wildfire years will continue and grow these wildfire emissions outcomes.
During this period the world’s developing nations led by China and India have increased global CO2 emissions by about 4.5 BILLION metric tons showing that California’s “fighting climate climate change” claims are totally absurd. Additionally these developing nations are committed to increased use of fossil fuels in the future resulting in increased growth of BILLIONS of more metric tons of CO2 emissions. The state has committed tens of billions of dollars to achieve mandated use of renewables to “ fight climate change” and has completely failed in this effort. California’s government policy of “fighting climate change” is a total catastrophe.
The state has shutdown over 8,500 MWs of reliable, cost effective firm capacity natural gas power plants since 2013 while adding over 8,600 MWs of unreliable renewables during this same period to meet its AB 32 failed emissions reduction schemes. This action has destroyed the reliability of the states electric system by forcing the use of non firm spot energy markets to try and meet peak energy demands with this outcome leading directly to the recent rolling blackouts.
In March 2019 Governor Newsom declared a wildfire state of emergency so that forest management agencies could proceed with modest actions targeted toward clearing excessive forest undergrowth, removal of dead and dying trees, clearing excessive tree growth, etc. This state of emergency was utilized because California’s excessively complicated, expensive and time consuming regulatory procedures would likely require at least 2 years to complete before even this modest work could be under taken.
The tragic Berry Creek wildfire in Northern California in September of this year which destroyed the town and resulted in 10 deaths presents a clear example of the flawed and out of control regulatory process in California that resulted in the states forest management debacle.
The Berry Creek town officials had put together a plan to gain approval of forest clearing-thinning projects to help this community avoid the fire-devastated town of Paradise outcome in 2018.
The town had received funding approval to proceed with its plan from Cal Fire but California’s CEQA driven regulatory approval process was going to take another 2 years before these actions could take place. Now its too late.
California’s regulatory and environmental procedures and approval schemes are a disaster and have directly led to the wildfire debacle that the state is now facing.
The state government is in need of a major overhaul and the reality behind California’s renewable energy electric power and wildfire debacles need to be brought into the open and fully addressed. This real world situation that needs to be dealt with before any meaningful improvements can be achieved.

Shawn jaeger
Reply to  Larry Hamlin
September 18, 2020 6:11 pm

You are quite correct about “management.” Most CA bureaucrats are Democrats, most California voters are Democrat, most elected officials are Democrat. Democrats have essentially “Managed” CA for 50+ years (and don’t count the rinos). The Democrat bureaucrats, elected officials, and Democrat voters welcomed policies and bureaucracy that killed 10 people and burned down a town (plus innumerable more deaths for other sacred Democrat policies and laws).

California bureaucrats have blood on their hands and the Democrat voters too are murderers as they support these policies and the people who implement them. And if they deny, they are no less than accessories to murder, and denier*s. EOS

September 18, 2020 10:53 am

Cap and trade is a huge scam, within a scam. Like EVs “saving the environment” all it does is move the point of emissions to a different geography while using the same atmosphere. It’s a money grab tax scheme for the Leftists so they can redistribute wealth.

Reply to  markl
September 18, 2020 11:46 am

to themselves.

Peter W
September 18, 2020 10:56 am

Why would anyone think that the California emissions are significant, given that the Chinese have been busy building more coal-burning power plants for a number of years?

My research has shown that our earth has been carbon-deficient ever since that asteroid hit some millions of years ago, burying the massive forests which were set afire and are now the source of much of the coal we have been mining. The dinosaurs would have starved had they been forced to depend on today’s anemic greenery.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Peter W
September 18, 2020 12:11 pm

Peter W

The end of Cretaceous bolide did not bury forests to any known and significant extent. It did incorporate charcoal fragments into some relatively thin sediment layers.

The long-term (millions of years) burial of significant volumes of sediment occurs as a result of subsidence of the crust of the earth. One continuing and relatively recent example is the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico where up to a 20,000-feet thickness of layers comprised of mud, silt,clay, sand, peat, volcanic ash have subsided and are now deeply buried, all during the past 5 +- million years. (David Middleton will be able to detail this.) The sediment is dumped into the coastal plain and ocean as it is slowly sinking. When there is more space, it is covered by additional sediment. This is also why New Orleans is below sea level- it is sinking.

This subsidence is usually attributed to cooling of the earth’s crust following the thermal rifting episode which opened the Atlantic Ocean and the GOM beginning in the Mesozoic (when dinosaurs lived).

September 18, 2020 11:06 am

Don’t forget the emissions-intensive activity involved in selling and moving out of the state. Big moving trucks are not rented and packed up in normal years with normal leaders and normal policy. Realtors are driving around a lot more too.

Put those thousands that work at California EPA to work clearing brush and fire lines.

Joel O'Bryan
September 18, 2020 11:14 am

Well anyone who is paying attention and has reasoning skills understands that climate change policy has nothing to do with climate and everything to do with change. And thus CO2 emissions are red herring for the real agenda.

It’s all about a change to socialism for Western capitalist countries, Big Government control, crony capitalism for the GreenSlime billionaires, and raw political power for Democrats. Climate change is thus nothing but a scam, a Big Hustleustle on the People.

The accounting on CO2 emissions is just the façade, putting lipstick on the Change pig called Socialism to lull the ignorant into being sheep led to their fleecing and ultimate slaughter. However what most socialist-Democrats don’t realize is that their push for power means they are unleashing Marxist forces within their ranks that will consume them. What they bring, if given power to do so, won’t stop at benevolent socialism, but on to full-blown Marxism and tyrannical rule.

Any wonder why the Democrats are so desperate to end the 2nd Amendment and confiscate guns from law abiding citizens? It’s not about gun control for Democrats, it’s about People control for the Socialists come Marxists. And the First step to dismantling the Bill of Rights has to go through the 2nd Amendment to get to 1st Amendment that the Democrat-Socialists despise.

September 18, 2020 11:31 am

Most of these “Why doesn’t California manage it’s forests properly!” statements, could be better understood by looking at a Cal topographic map online.
Most people know about the High Sierras, but apparently, not many about the Coastal Ranges. 3000 foot high peaks are everywhere, and then as you scan your map, you notice 4000 ft, 5000 ft, and higher, many mountains over both Northern and Southern California. Whoever heard of Mt. Eddy and Mt. Thompson, the 9000 foot elevation peaks in the Trinity Alps? Whoever heard of Cone Peak, the highest peak in Big Sur, whose 6600 ft elevation is equal to the highest peak in the Appalachians? When there was an extensive wildfire in the Appalachians some years back, the News acknowledged it could not be controlled due to the mountainous terrain. So why is this same standard, not applied here in California? California topography is extremely rugged, mountains and ridges everywhere. These extensive high areas apparently are totally unknown to the news media and the general public. This is not Iowa, or Florida, or Minnesota. You are not going to get guys with brooms and tractors to police these rugged areas. It can’t be done. Over thousands of years, the way forests get managed in California, is by wildfires. The only reason they are better known now, is that recently, there are more small towns…and by now, we know they are at high risks from fires.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  joe
September 18, 2020 12:29 pm

California is cursed with lots of ambulance chaser lawyers. Any controlled burn that gets out of hand and destroys lives and property, the vulture lawyers descend on the “victims” for a feeding. They sue the “guilty” parties for 40% contingency plus fees (=50%).

And inevitably some controlled burns will get away from the fire crews and property is damaged and people are “injured.” California’s problems go much deeper than just bad environmental policy. It goes to the very tort litigation friendly climate there. Tort reform needs to be addressed to have sufficient controlled burns. Tort reform is badly needed in California, but the legal profession lobby is only second to public unions in their influence* on Sacramento legislators. And many of the Sacramento legislators are tort attorneys doing a few years there to protect their ambulance chasing racket.

* by “influence” I mean cash for Democrats’ campaigns that greases the wheels to ensure Cal remains lawsuit friendly.

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 18, 2020 2:07 pm

Agree with your summary of Calif. tort machine.

Reply to  joe
September 18, 2020 1:09 pm

San Gabriel Mountains average 10,000 foot peaks.

Reply to  chemman
September 18, 2020 2:32 pm

More reason why California has trouble controlling fires…Mt. Baldy is 10,000 feet high, and is very visible from Los Angeles. Every year, dozens of people who attempt to climb the San Gabriel Mountains, fall, and need hospitalization. It’s a great climb up Baldy, but the slopes are very steep and unstable – one mistake and you will pay.
So, once again, how are fire crews supposed to get up there, to control fires? If you can’t even traverse these slopes, hanging over steep drops, without danger of falling, how are you supposed to do that with a fire hose?
In short, let’s end the “better management” fable. It’s as tough for California to control their wildfires, as it is for Florida to control hurricanes.

David A
Reply to  Joe
September 18, 2020 9:15 pm

Nonsense. California used to be better managed and most of the terrain is accessible.

When you get into extreme elevations the trees thin and stop. Rock takes over.
Your assertion ignores what us known and accessible, and was better managed in the past with fewer people and less technology.

I responded in more detail above to your wrong assertions.

Reply to  David A
September 19, 2020 11:56 am

Spoken like a true flatlander from Iowa. I gather you have never experienced a Santa Ana wind, or realize the steep slopes above LA are covered with brush, and heavy forests in some areas. You are ignoring these factors. And as for controlling fires with technology, and better forest management, I experienced a firestorm within Oakland city limits. It started with a tiny wisp of smoke, on one of those dry windy days. Inside of half an hour, it blew into a major firestorm which covered the sky with dark clouds. More than a thousand homes in this city burned, and scores died – within a well controlled, largely forest free, city with excellent fire control.
Yes, a very well managed environment….

David A
Reply to  David A
September 19, 2020 12:50 pm

I lived in my home at 6ooo feet in California, just off of the 108 near the immigrant wilderness. I sold my home there due to leftist policy limiting clearing and controlled burns, causing immensely overgrown forrests.

I watched my assertions with my own eyes. You are simply wrong.

David A
Reply to  joe
September 18, 2020 9:09 pm

They can certainly be managed. There are loads of trails and loving roads into most of our forrests. The emigrant wilderness is very accessible. It is simply a matter of willpower hitched to intelligence to achieve an appropriate amount of clearing and controlled burns.

Take a drive up the 108 in Touleme County.
Many thousands live at five to six thousand feet. Yet most if the Forrest just off the 108 is extremely overgrown. Why? Leftist no nothing “environmental” policy.

September 18, 2020 12:02 pm

There is always the stand excuse from Ed Markey of “Who could have known?” That one works in all decades of bad public policy from Jimmy Carter to today, right Ed?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  ResourceGuy
September 18, 2020 12:21 pm

Blaming climate change is just Democrats “go to” excuse for their bad policies and inept leadership.

September 18, 2020 12:33 pm

“WILDFIRES” sounds emotional and extremist, maybe even politicized. Let’s call them “bushfires” or maybe the early 20th century name “forest fires”.

September 18, 2020 1:36 pm

The forests will grow again and bind the same amount of CO2
This is not an issue.

Larry Hamlin
Reply to  Alex
September 18, 2020 1:52 pm

Tens of billions in property damage, thousands of structures lost and hundreds of lives taken – this is a big problem.

Reply to  Alex
September 18, 2020 3:23 pm

Much better if you bound all that CO2 in useful things like houses, furniture, or even heating homes in winter.

David A
Reply to  Alex
September 18, 2020 9:19 pm

CO2, bound or not is not an issue. However due to poorly managed forrests and therefore much more severe Forrest it will take at least a century for many areas to reach firmer mature Forrest growth.

Also the alarmists say we only have a few years to save the planet.

Joel Snider
September 18, 2020 2:50 pm

Guess they’ll have to raise taxes to compensate.

September 18, 2020 4:43 pm

Interesting article from No Tricks Zone.

Scientists: No Correlation Between Climate Change And Wildfires In California – Or Anywhere Else On Earth

A “potential connection” between anthropogenic global warming and the frequency or intensity of wildfires in California has yet to emerge in the trend observations.

Scientists have found a “lack of correlation between late summer/autumn wildfires” and “summer precipitation or temperature” in coastal California. In fact, “there is no long-term trend in the number of fires over coastal California” in the last 50 years (Mass and Ovens, 2019).


Mike Dubrasich
September 18, 2020 9:43 pm

Modelling CO2 emissions from wildfires is not simple. One factor is the amount of green and dead fuel on a given acre. Another is the percentage combustion of that fuel. Another is the amount of newly dead but unburned fuel that decays subsequently. Another is the amount of carbon recapture from new growth while that decay occurs.

Various studies have hypothesized that total net CO2 emissions from CA wildfires range from 25 to 75 metric tons per acre, depending on the size or amount of the factors above.

The article uses the term “forests” loosely. Not all 3.4 million acres burned this year in CA had the same pre-fire biomass, obviously. However, if we apply an average of 50 metric tons per acre to 3.4 million acres we get 170 million tons of CO2 emitted, twice that estimated in the article and 40% of the emissions goal.

I’m not arguing. The article was great. It’s just that my envelope gives a different answer.

September 19, 2020 1:16 am

I wonder how many carbon offset trees were planted.
If they burned up, do people have to return their carbon credits.

September 19, 2020 9:52 am

Readers need to look at Google Maps, satellite view, of these fire areas. The resolution of Google Maps is good enough to easily tell these are DEAD pine trees. In a simple 5 – 10 minute perusal of the areas where these fires are I found a staggering number of brown spots that were dead pine trees in the forests. Many of these brown spots have a diameter larger than the width of a nearby road. These trees need removed. Worse, and much more expensive, is that the forests need thinning, the underbrush cleared, and the many “Volunteer” / invasive species cleared out of the forests. The fires will continue until the forests are returned to the density and lack of undergrowth that they were over 100 years ago. They are presently so overgrown that a rainy year without a summer would still have numerous forest fires.

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