California Burning – How the Greens Turned the Golden State Brown

In October 2016, in a coordinated act of terrorism that received fleeting attention from the press, environmentalist activists broke into remote flow stations and turned off the valves on pipelines carrying crude oil from Canada into the United States. Working simultaneously in Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota, the eco-terrorists disrupted pipelines that together transport 2.8 million barrels of oil per day, approximately 15 percent of U.S. consumption. The pretext for this action was to protest the alleged “catastrophe” of global warming.

These are the foot soldiers of environmental extremism. These are the minions whose militancy receives nods and winks from opportunistic politicians and “green” investors who make climate alarmism the currency of their political and commercial success.

More recently, and far more tragic, are the latest round of California wildfires that have consumed nearly a quarter million acres, killed at least 87 people, and caused damages estimated in excess of $10 billion.

Opinions vary regarding how much of this disaster could have been avoided, but nobody disputes that more could have been done. Everyone agrees, for example, that overall, aggressive fire suppression has been a mistake. Most everyone agrees that good prevention measures include forest thinning (especially around power lines), selective logging, controlled burns, and power line upgrades. And everyone agrees that residents in fire prone areas need to create defensible space and fire-harden their homes.

Opinions also vary as to whether or not environmentalists stood in the way of these prevention measures. In a blistering critique published earlier this week on the California-focused Flash Report, investigative journalist Katy Grimes cataloged the negligence resulting from environmentalist overreach.

U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, whose Northern California district includes the Yosemite Valley and the Tahoe National Forest, told Grimes that the U.S. Forest Service 40 years ago departed from “well-established and time-tested forest management practices.”

“We replaced these sound management practices with what can only be described as a doctrine of benign neglect,” McClintock explained. “Ponderous, byzantine laws and regulations administered by a growing cadre of ideological zealots in our land management agencies promised to ‘save the environment.’ The advocates of this doctrine have dominated our law, our policies, our courts and our federal agencies ever since.”

All of this lends credence to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s fresh allegations of forest mismanagement. But what really matters is what happens next.

Institutionalized Environmental Extremism

California’s 2018 wildfires have been unusually severe, but they were not historic firsts. This year’s unprecedented level of destruction and deaths are the result of home building in fire prone areas, and not because of wildfires of unprecedented scope. And while the four-year drought that ended in 2016 left a legacy of dead trees and brush, it was forest mismanagement that left those forests overly vulnerable to droughts in the first place.

Based on these facts, smart policy responses would be first to reform forest management regulations to expedite public and privately funded projects to reduce the severity of future wildfires, and second, to streamline the permit process to allow the quick reconstruction of new, fire-hardened homes.

But neither outcome is likely, and the reason should come as no surprise—we are asked to believe that it’s not observable failures in policy and leadership that caused all this destruction and death, it’s “man-made climate change.”

Governor Jerry Brown is a convenient boogeyman for climate realists, since his climate alarmism is as unrelenting as it is hyperbolic. But Brown is just one of the stars in an out-of-control environmental movement that is institutionalized in California’s legislature, courts, mass media, schools, and corporations.

Fighting climate change is the imperative, beyond debate, that justified the Golden State passing laws and regulations such as California Environmental Quality Actthe Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, and numerous others at the state and local level. They make it nearly impossible to build affordable homes, develop energy, or construct reservoirs, aqueducts, desalination plants, nuclear power plants, pipelines, freeways, or any other essential infrastructure that requires so much as a scratch in the ground.

Expect tepid progress on new preventive measures, in a state so mired in regulations and litigation that for every dollar spent paying heavy equipment operators and loggers to do real work, twice that much or more will go to pay consultants, attorneys, and public bureaucrats. Expect “climate change” to be used as a pretext for more “smart growth,” which translates into “stack and pack,” whereby people will be herded out of rural areas through punishing financial disincentives and forced into densely populated urban areas, where they can join the scores of thousands of refugees that California is welcoming from all over the world.

Ruling Class Hypocrisy

Never forget, according to the conventional wisdom as prescribed by California’s elites, if you don’t like it, you are a climate change “denier,” a “xenophobe,” and a “racist.”

California’s elites enjoy their gated communities, while the migrants who cut their grass and clean their floors go home to subsidized accessory dwelling units in the backyards of the so-called middle class whose taxes pay for it all. They are hypocrites.

But it is these elites who are the real deniers.

They pretend that natural disasters are “man-made,” so they can drive up the cost of living and reap the profits when the companies they invest in sell fewer products and services for more money in a rationed, anti-competitive environment.

They pretend this is sustainable; that wind farms and solar batteries can supply adequate power to teeming masses crammed into power-sipping, “smart growth” high rises. But they’re tragically wrong.

Here the militant environmentalists offer a reality check. Cutting through their predictable, authoritarian, psychotically intolerant rants that incorporate every leftist shibboleth imaginable, the “Deep Green Resistance” website offers a remarkably lucid and fact-based debunking of “green technology and renewable energy.” Their solution, is to “create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary.”

These deep green militants want to “destroy industrial civilization.” At their core, they are misanthropic nihilists—but at least they’re honest. By contrast, California’s stylish elites are driving humanity in slow motion towards this same dire future, cloaked in denial, veiled coercion, and utopian fantasies.

This is the issue that underlies the California wildfires, what causes them and what to do about them. What is a “sustainable” civilization? One that embraces human settlements, has faith in human ingenuity, and aspires to make all humans prosperous enough to care about the environment, everywhere? Or one that demands Draconian limits on human settlement, with no expectation that innovation can provide solutions we can’t currently imagine, and condemns humans to police-state rationing of everything we produce and consume?

That is the stark choice that underlies the current consensus of California’s elites, backed up by dangerous and growing cadres of fanatical militants.

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To Reduce Wildfire Dangers, Focus on What Matters

Political leaders and pundits have been quick to link this month’s horrific wildfires to climate change, leading to the conclusion that California should continue and even double down on its carbon reduction policies. But the evidence suggests that these policies will make little difference in the frequency and severity of these disasters, and our scarce resources would be better spent elsewhere.

While lack of rainfall is clearly the major cause of the wildfire crisis, it is less clear that dry weather conditions can be attributed to global warming.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is “low confidence” in the relationship between global warming and droughts.

Further, historical records show that California has experienced repeated droughts before anthropogenic climate change became a factor. San Francisco climate records show two years in the nineteenth century with less than 10 inches of rainfall, but no year in the 21st century with so little precipitation.  The state experienced a severe drought between 1929 and 1934, with runoff falling to levels below those seen in this decade’s water crisis.

So even if we were able to stop global warming, there is no guarantee that steady rainfall would ensue. Further, we in California, cannot stop global warming by ourselves. Since California only produces about 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions even an outright ban on fossil fuel use within our state would have minimal impact on future warming – and, of course, no impact on the warming that has already occurred.

Further, our policies come nowhere near a total ban (which would cause an economic disaster). Instead, our approaches to climate change often amount to costly tinkering around the edges. Most notably, we’re spending billions of dollars on mass transit projects in hopes of getting people to do less driving – but these efforts are producing dubious results.

Consider, for example, high-speed rail. Ideally, a bullet train linking northern and southern California would eliminate millions of automobile and airplane trips, greatly reducing carbon emissions. But the reality is that the project is way behind schedule and ridership may never reach the lofty heights projected in High Speed Rail Authority business plans.

Worse, construction in the rail corridor is producing greenhouse gas emissions now, which may not be offset for decades – if ever. The High Speed Rail Authority reported that contactor vehicles generated 1400 metric tons of CO2 in 2015 alone. But that is only a small fraction of the impact, which includes energy used to produce concrete and steel. The Authority’s stated intention is to offset these carbon impacts by planting trees, but that could be done without building a new rail system.

With the date of initial service falling back and plans for blended service impacting travel times and train frequency, it is evident that HSR will take fewer travelers off the roads much later than originally planned. Indeed, it appears that California’s passenger vehicle fleet will be primarily electric by the time HSR is ready to transport large passenger loads.

Given the project mismanagement recently identified by the State Auditor, the time seems ripe to truncate the high-speed rail effort. Money saved by downsizing the project could instead be reallocated to two projects that would immediately reduce wildfire risk:  separating trees from powerlines and thinning our overgrown forests. Reducing the likelihood of ignitions and cutting the amount of fuel available to forest fires are obvious solutions to the current crisis. By contrast, spending billions on mass transit projects whose carbon savings may not offset construction phase emissions, and which are an infinitesimal fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn, may not even be responsible for current and future droughts, seems like a very inefficient way of saving us from forest fires.

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