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

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


Story by Nina Lakhani

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Published on January 8, 2022 9:05 AM
 
oe 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 suburbs, forcing 35,000 people to flee.

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 capped a catastrophic year for the US in which at least 650 people died from climate disasters including heatwaves, hurricanes, fires and floods. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the estimated economic cost of the destruction had topped $100bn even before the Colorado blaze.

A 69-year-old construction worker, Robert Sharpe, has been confirmed dead, while another person remains unaccounted for. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Authorities Still Investigating Origins Of Deadly Fire In Boulder County, CO
LOUISVILLE, CO - JANUARY 04: In this aerial view, burned homes sit in a neighborhood decimated by the Marshall Fire on January 4, 2022 in Louisville, Colorado. Officials reported that 991 homes were destroyed in the fire, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images) "Urban fire storm': suburban sprawl raising risk of destructive wildfires Read more 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 to at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Globally, the US is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and scientists warn that even halving emissions by 2030 may not be enough to avoid a catastrophic rise in atmospheric and oceanic temperatures, which elevate the risk of wildfires, intensify drought and rainstorms, and exacerbate 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 battles to rescue the legislation and get it through the Senate, there are growing calls to accelerate reforms needed to modernize government agencies so that they are equipped for...