The 2017 wildfires that ravaged California not only claimed lives and destroyed property, they released millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases that affect us all.
Like thousands of others, we were forced to evacuate Santa Barbara because of the Thomas Fire. Thankfully, this was merely an inconvenience. Others in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, however, were not so lucky. They have been personally and professionally displaced because the Thomas Fire destroyed their homes and workplaces. And tragically, the Thomas Fire has led to the mudslides that have devastated Montecito and claimed at least 18 lives. As our community and others across California continue to grapple with the aftermath of a catastrophic and seemingly endless wildfire season, we wanted to shed light on one of the less obvious consequences of wildfires – increased CO2 emissions – and offer recommendations for how we can all pull-together to offset these additional greenhouse gas emissions by shrinking our carbon footprints in 2018.
The effects of greenhouse gases emitted from the California wildfires are felt everywhere. Similarly, reduced carbon footprints outside California benefit everyone, including Californians. For this reason, California’s innovative carbon cap and trade program allows California emitters to pay for carbon mitigation efforts outside the State, and The Nature Conservancy has encouraged Washington, Oregon, and California to create a single West Coast carbon market. Simply put, we are all in this together when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
A decade ago, Southern California experienced one of the worst fire seasons on record, the fires in October alone burned a total of 972,147 acres. As trees and vegetation are burned, they release carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and many other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. A researcher with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) estimates that in the week of October 20-27, the 507,677 acres burned released 7.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This translates to approximately 15.56 tons of CO2 per acre burned, almost four times the amount emitted by a car per year. So how much carbon dioxide did the fires release this past year?
The 2017 fires burned 1,381,392 acres, an area that is larger than the state of Delaware. Many of the negative environmental and public health effects of these fires have been well-documented: We have seen forests reduced to ashes; we have been warned of air that can be unsafe to breathe and water that can be unsafe to drink; and we have witnessed first-hand the catastrophic mudslides in Montecito. But the fires also have less obvious, yet problematic environmental impacts: At 15.6 tons of CO2 per acre burned, the 2017 fires released approximately 21.5 million tons of CO2 into our atmosphere, accounting for roughly 5% of our average annual CO2 emissions.
Although fires are part of the natural environment, and emissions are eventually taken up by new plant growth, this natural process take years to complete. In the meantime, we have significantly more emissions to offset.
Therefore, we at Driving2Save are urging everyone, whether they reside in California or elsewhere, to consider following these tips to help offset the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the 2017 wildfires. Reducing your emissions will mean cleaner air for you and your family (fewer particulate matter emissions) and help keep California, the West Coast, and the rest of the country on track to meet our public health and environmental goals. It will also save you money.
- Generating power accounts for 20% of California’s annual emissions and 29% nationally. So, please do everything you can to conserve energy at home. Simply reducing your heating and air conditioning usage, and turning off your lights when you do not need them, will greatly help. For other tips for conserving energy at home, take a look at this Energy Saver Guide.
- The transportation industry accounts for 36% of California emissions and 27% nationally. So, please consider walking, biking or taking public transportation whenever possible.
- If you must drive, then please Drive2Save. We have literally dozens of simple and easy driving tips that will enable you to improve your fuel economy and save money on gas, which in turn will substantially reduce your particulate matter and CO2 emissions. You don’t need to be a hypermiler or drive an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid to reduce your carbon footprint when driving. It can be as easy as properly inflating your tires and reducing unnecessary idling. To see our Top 5 Tips for increasing your miles-per-gallon (MPG), click here. To see our Top 10 Tips for improving your fuel efficiency, click here.
Our hearts go out to those affected by wildfires in 2017 and the Montecito mudslides. And our thanks go to the firefighters and first responders who worked so hard to save lives. We encourage everyone to support the people and organizations (like the Red Cross and United Way) that are helping communities across our State recover from these devastating fires and slides. And we urge you to take simple and easy steps to save money and reduce your carbon footprint. If we take small steps in large numbers around the country, we can more than offset the greenhouse gas emissions from the 2017 wildfires.
Thank you for Driving2Save and we wish you a safe and healthy 2018.
This Post was updated and revised on January 13, 2018.