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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Global Warming"

U.S. and European Oil Giants Go Different Ways on Climate Change

HOUSTON — As oil prices plunge and concerns about climate change grow, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other European energy companies are selling off oil fields, planning a sharp reduction in emissions and investing billions in renewable energy.

The American oil giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil are going in a far different direction. They are doubling down on oil and natural gas and investing what amounts to pocket change in innovative climate-oriented efforts like small nuclear power plants and devices that suck carbon out of the air.

The disparity reflects the vast differences in how Europe and the United States are approaching climate change, a global threat that many scientists say is increasing the frequency and severity of disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. European leaders have made tackling climate change a top priority while President Trump has called it a “hoax” and has dismantled environmental regulations to encourage the exploitation of fossil fuels.

As world leaders struggle to adopt coordinated and effective climate policies, the choices made by oil companies, with their deep pockets, science prowess, experience in managing big engineering projects and lobbying muscle may be critical. What they do could help determine whether the world can meet the goals of the Paris agreement to limit the increase of global temperatures to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.

The big American and European oil and gas companies publicly agree that climate change is a threat and that they must play a role in the kind of energy transition the world last saw during the industrial revolution. But the urgency with which the companies are planning to transform their businesses could not be more different.

“Despite rising emissions and societal demand for climate action, U.S. oil majors are betting on a long-term future for oil and gas, while the European majors are gambling on a future as electricity providers,” said David Goldwyn, a top State Department energy official in the Obama administration. “The way the market reacts to their strategies and the 2020 election results will determine whether either strategy works.”

To environmentalists and even some Wall Street investors, the American oil giants are clearly making the wrong call. In August, for example, Storebrand Asset Management, Norway’s largest private money manager, divested from Exxon Mobil and Chevron. And Larry Fink, who leads the world’s largest investment manager, BlackRock, has called climate change “a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects.”

European oil executives, by contrast, have said that the age of fossil fuels is dimming and that they are planning to leave many of their reserves buried forever. They also argue that they must protect their shareholders by preparing for a future in which governments enact tougher environmental policies.

BP is the standard-bearer for the hurry-up-and-change strategy. The company has announced that over the next decade it will increase investments in low-emission businesses tenfold, to $5 billion a year, while shrinking its oil and gas production by 40 percent. Royal Dutch Shell, Eni of Italy, Total of France, Repsol of Spain and Equinor of Norway have set similar targets. Several of those companies have cut their dividends to invest in new energy.

BP tried a transition in the late 1990s and early 2000s under the leadership of John Browne, then chief executive, but financial results from renewables were disappointing and the company eventually dropped its moniker “Beyond Petroleum.”

In an interview, Mr. Browne said this time would be different. “There are many more voices now,” he said, adding that the Paris agreement was a watershed, the economics of renewables have improved and investor pressure was building.

This month BP and Equinor announced a partnership to build and operate wind projects along the coasts of New York and Massachusetts. The governors of those states want to reduce their reliance on natural gas and coal, which this effort will aid.

American oil executives say it would be folly for them to switch to renewables, arguing that it is a low-profit business that utilities and alternative energy companies can pursue more effectively. They say it is only a matter of time before oil and gas prices recover as the pandemic recedes.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_152711022_07cd3610-d462-4d85-bb95-48c55807ad3b-articleLarge U.S. and European Oil Giants Go Different Ways on Climate Change Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline natural gas Hydrocarbons Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming Exxon Mobil Corp Chevron Corporation Carbon Dioxide Carbon Capture and Sequestration BP Plc Alternative and Renewable Energy
Credit…Alana Paterson for The New York Times

For now, Exxon and Chevron are sticking to what they know best, shale drilling in the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, deepwater offshore production and trading natural gas. In fact, Chevron is acquiring a smaller oil company, Noble Energy, to increase its reserves.

“Our strategy is not to follow the Europeans,” said Daniel Droog, Chevron’s vice president for energy transition. “Our strategy is to decarbonize our existing assets in the most cost-effective way and consistently bring in new technology and new forms of energy. But we’re not asking our investors to sacrifice return or go forward with three decades of uncertainty on dividends.”

Chevron says it is increasing its own use of renewable energy to power its operations. It also says it is reducing emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And the company has invested more than $1.1 billion in various projects to capture and sequester carbon so it isn’t released into the atmosphere.

Its venture capital arm, Chevron Technology Ventures, is investing in new-energy start-ups like Zap Energy, which is developing modular fusion nuclear reactors that release no greenhouse gases and limit radioactive waste. Another, Carbon Engineering, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to convert into fuel.

All told, Chevron Technology Ventures has two funds with a total of $200 million, about 1 percent of the company’s capital and exploration budget last year. The company has a separate $100 million fund to support a $1 billion investment consortium that aims to reduce emissions across the oil and gas industry.

“We need breakthrough technology, and my job is to go find it,” said Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, which employs 60 of Chevron’s 44,000 employees. “The transition is not an 11:59-on-Tuesday event. It’s going to be gradual, and evolving and continual over decades.”

Exxon has also largely steered away from renewables and has instead invested in roughly one-third of the world’s limited carbon-capture capacity, which has been so expensive and energy intensive that few companies have been willing to underwrite large-scale projects.

It spends about $1 billion a year on research and development, much of which goes to developing new energy technologies and efficiency improvements that reduce emissions.

One project involves directing carbon emitted from industrial operations into a fuel cell that can generate power. That should reduce emissions while increasing energy production.

In a separate experiment, Exxon recently announced a “big advance” with scientists at University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for developing materials that help capture carbon dioxide from natural-gas power plants with less heating and cooling than previous methods.

Credit…Alana Paterson for The New York Times
Credit…Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times

The company is also working on strains of algae whose oils can produce biofuel for trucks and airplanes. The plants also absorb carbon through photosynthesis, which Exxon scientists are trying to speed up while producing more oil.

“Step 1, you have to do the science, and it is impossible to put a deadline on discovery,” said Vijay Swarup, Exxon’s vice president for research and development.

Research into fusion, algae and carbon capture has been going on for decades, and many climate experts say those technologies could take decades more to commercialize. That’s why many scholars and environmentalists feel the American oil companies are not serious about tackling climate change.

“Oil companies don’t do things that put themselves out of business,” said David Keith, a Harvard professor of applied physics who founded Carbon Engineering. “That is not the way the world works.”

But some energy analysts argue that the American oil companies are right not to rush to change their businesses. They argue that U.S. lawmakers have simply not given them enough incentives to make a radical break.

“If this is the sunset time for oil and gas, someone forgot to tell consumers,” said Raoul LeBlanc, a vice president at IHS Markit, a research and consulting firm. He said while sales of electric cars may have picked up, it will take decades to replace the more than a billion internal-combustion cars on the road now.

It will probably take just as long, if not longer, to replace the large fleets of trucks, airplanes and ships that run on fossil fuels. There ought to be enough demand for oil over the next 30 to 40 years for Exxon and Chevron to exploit their reserves and make money, though the profits will decline over time, said Dieter Helm, an Oxford economist who studies energy policy.

“Investors can invest in Tesla or any renewable or electric company,” he said. “Why should an oil firm with the skills for large-scale hydrocarbon developments be able to compete against these new players?”

But Mr. Helm, who published the book “Burn Out: The End Game for Fossil Fuels” in 2017, said he believes that all oil companies have a dim future beyond the next few decades because technology advances will make them obsolete in a world economy dominated by electricity, battery storage, three-dimensional printing, robotics and other breakthroughs. “These companies, in the end, will die.”

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A New Front in the Biden-Trump Battle for the Suburbs: Wildfires

LOS ANGELES — The explosion of wildfires across the West has opened a new battleground in the critical competition for suburban voters between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., with growing evidence that climate change is an acute concern for many Americans, particularly women, viewing the nightly images of destruction and thick blankets of acrid air.

Mr. Trump has sought to combat his sharp decline among suburban voters by asserting that Democratic control of the White House would be a threat to the safety of the suburbs, raising the specter of crime, rioting and an “invasion” of low-income housing that many view as seeking to stoke racist fears.

But Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, is seeking to redefine what “safety” means for an electorate swept by fear amid a pandemic, social unrest in the streets and now deadly wildfires. He is casting climate change as a more real and immediate threat to the suburbs than the violence portrayed in Mr. Trump’s ads and public remarks, seizing in a speech on Monday on the devastating fires ripping through forests, destroying homes and taking lives.

“It’s particularly tangible for people right now,” said Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager.

Mr. Biden’s speech came as Mr. Trump paid a last-minute trip to California to meet with officials struggling with the catastrophe, and disputed their assertion that there was any connection between the fires sweeping the state and climate change.

The developments suggest that an issue that has always been on the sidelines in national presidential campaigns — and had seemed eclipsed this time by the pandemic and social unrest — may be coming to the forefront with only seven weeks until Election Day.

For at least some suburban voters, particularly those who live in the West, the threat of losing their homes to fire or the health risks to their families of skies clouded with smoke seem more immediate than the social unrest spotlighted by Mr. Trump in his speeches and advertisements.

“We’re not seeing changes in crime,” said Representative Katie Porter of California, a Democrat who represents a once solidly Republican district in Orange County. “People are trying to stay home, trying to stay safe.”

More broadly, the fires in the West — and Mr. Trump’s “it’ll start getting cooler, you just watch” disparagement of climate science during his visit to California — have reinforced the perception of the president as anti-science, particularly after his open skepticism toward experts advising him to act more aggressively against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Those fires in the West are obviously blue states and most of the country is not experiencing it,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. “But it is a reminder for a lot of people — especially for these better educated suburban voters who he thought would react to law and order — of how he is against science.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_177025455_898cfce1-7acf-4987-8128-e5f7d22e1eba-articleLarge A New Front in the Biden-Trump Battle for the Suburbs: Wildfires Women and Girls Wildfires Western States (US) Voting and Voters United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Suburbs Presidential Election of 2020 Polls and Public Opinion Global Warming Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) California Biden, Joseph R Jr
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican strategist critical of Mr. Trump, said the swing suburban voters who delivered Democrats the House of Representatives in 2018 were “repulsed by the way the president talks about climate” specifically and science generally.

“I don’t think these suburban voters are going to become climate change voters in 2020,” Mr. Stutzman said, “but the discussion around all of this highlights this Trump Neanderthalism that is offensive to them.”

The importance of the battle was underscored again on Tuesday as Senator Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, returned to assess the damage to her home state, meeting with Gov. Gavin Newsom near Fresno and examining the rubble of a home and a school playground destroyed in the Creek Fire.

The wildfires have helped to illustrate a critical difference between the Trump White House and a potential Biden presidency. And Mr. Biden signaled what is emerging as a pivotal competition — to define the biggest looming threats to the nation, and particularly to people living in the suburbs — as the candidates approach three debates.

“Donald Trump warns that integration is threatening our suburbs. That’s ridiculous,” Mr. Biden said on Monday. “But you know what’s actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning the suburbs in the West. Floods are wiping out suburban neighborhoods in the Midwest. Hurricanes are imperiling suburban life along our coasts.”

In an election in which the gender gap was already a severe problem for the president — with polls showing women supporting Mr. Biden in far greater numbers than men — a renewed focus on climate could prove politically problematic for Mr. Trump’s efforts to win over a voting bloc he memorably has labeled “the ‘suburban housewife.’”

“Women are much more concerned than men,” said Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication. “The one holdout group in American not concerned about climate change are conservative white men.”

In a survey earlier this year, the Pew Research Center found Republican women were more supportive of addressing climate change than their male counterparts. For instance, 47 percent of Republican women said the government was doing too little to protect air quality, compared with only 32 percent of Republican men. There were similar splits on addressing water quality, emissions restrictions on power plants and tougher fuel-efficiency standards.

“To the extent there is a swing vote in this election, it’s a lot of Republican-leaning women, many of whom are in the suburbs,” said John D. Podesta, a top adviser to former President Barack Obama on climate change who also served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. “And this is an issue they care about.”

Another Pew poll released last month showed 69 percent of people in the suburbs said climate change would be at least somewhat important in determining their 2020 vote, with 41 percent calling it very important.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The fires and the hazardous air they have produced have so far been concentrated in Democratic parts of the nation, and, with the exception of Arizona, are not highlighted on the campaign battleground maps in the Biden and Trump headquarters.

But Mr. Biden’s advisers, as well as environmentalists who have watched in frustration for years as their issues were relegated to the back of a drawer, believe that the sheer destruction of the fires has further elevated this into a powerful issue.

That is especially true in a season of hurricanes, dramatic temperature fluctuations and wild weather in other parts of the country. As the fires raged, the Gulf Coast was preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Sally and the torrential rains and flooding it would bring.

Mr. Biden has notably framed climate change as one of four simultaneous crises facing the nation, along with the pandemic, the economic downturn and the reckoning over race and policing.

“For the first time, the average American is likely to see climate change as a here, now, us problem,” said Mr. Maibach, who studies public opinion on the environment.

“They saw it as a distant problem,” Mr. Maibach said of voters previously. “Distant in time — maybe 2100 but not today. Distant in space — maybe Bangladesh and not Boston. And distant in species — polar bears, for sure, but not people.”

The climate change debate reflects what has been another critical difference between these two candidates: The value they placed on science-based data. Once again, as with the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Trump is denying the assertions of scientists as he seeks to minimize a threat to the nation’s well-being.

That emphasis could face a backlash among suburban voters: 84 percent of suburbanites said in an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll last month that they trusted public health experts to provide accurate information on the coronavirus, considerably more than people living in other areas. And just 23 percent of suburbanites said they trusted Mr. Trump’s statements on the virus, the lowest of any geographic group.

Ms. Porter, who is one of the freshman suburban Democrats elected in 2018, said that she had seen a huge change in the political environment since Mr. Trump was elected president.

“You now need to explicitly address climate change,” she said. “And this is an important change from like four years ago.”

Mr. Podesta argued that while Mr. Trump has sought to turn climate change into a “culture war issue of the elite versus regular people” — by linking Mr. Biden to aggressive policy proposals like the Green New Deal — that has backfired in the face of the raging wildfires.

“Guess what,” Mr. Podesta said, “the regular people are fleeing for their lives in Oregon.”

Adam Nagourney reported from Los Angeles and Shane Goldmacher from New York. Lisa Friedman and Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.

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Conservative Media and Trump Dismiss Climate Change as Cause of Fires

Rush Limbaugh told millions of his radio listeners to set aside any suggestion that climate change was the culprit for the frightening spate of wildfires ravaging California and the Pacific Northwest.

“Man-made global warming is not a scientific certainty; it cannot be proven, nor has it ever been,” Mr. Limbaugh declared on his Friday show, disregarding the mountains of empirical evidence to the contrary. He then pivoted to a popular right-wing talking point: that policies meant to curtail climate change are, in fact, an assault on freedom.

“Environmentalist wackos” — Mr. Limbaugh’s phrase — “want man to be responsible for it because they want to control your behavior,” the conservative host said on the show. He added that they “want to convince you that your lifestyle choices are the reason why all these fires are firing up out on the Left Coast.”

Hours later, that message leapt to prime time on Fox News, where the host Tucker Carlson said those who blamed climate change for the fires were merely reciting “a partisan talking point.”

“In the hands of Democratic politicians, climate change is like systemic racism in the sky,” Mr. Carlson told viewers. “You can’t see it, but rest assured, it’s everywhere, and it’s deadly. And like systemic racism, it is your fault.”

Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Carlson are two of the most prominent commentators in the right-wing media sphere, where a rich history of climate denialism has merged with Trump-era cultural warfare to generate a deep skepticism of the notion that climate change is a factor in the fires devastating the West Coast.

Like President Trump, conservative media stars dismiss climate change — which scientists say is the primary cause of the conflagration — and point to the poor management of forestland by local (and, conveniently, Democratic) officials. Fringe right-wing websites, like The Gateway Pundit, have blamed left-wing arsonists, fueling false rumors that authorities say are impeding rescue efforts.

Visiting California on Monday to witness the destruction firsthand, Mr. Trump took Western states to task for failing to manage the forests properly and asserted, with no evidence, that the climate “will start getting cooler.” “Just watch,” he added. “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

The president’s comments echoed his overly optimistic promises this year about the coronavirus — “it’s going to disappear,” Mr. Trump said in February — but were likely to resonate with fans of the conservative media personalities who routinely defend his agenda.

“This has nothing to do with climate change, it has nothing to do with man-made climate change, and it sure as hell would help if these forests in these timber areas were free to be properly managed, but they’re not,” Mark Levin, another popular right-wing radio host, said on his nationally syndicated show on Friday.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_166273443_a8671763-fdc2-48c9-bc8c-4331a6c0fc93-articleLarge Conservative Media and Trump Dismiss Climate Change as Cause of Fires Wildfires Right-Wing Extremism and Alt-Right Presidential Election of 2020 Limbaugh, Rush Levin, Mark Reed Hoft, Jim Global Warming Gateway Pundit (Blog) Fox&Friends (TV Program) Carlson, Tucker
Credit…Leah Millis/Reuters

Like Mr. Carlson, Mr. Levin drew a link between climate advocacy and recent demonstrations for racial justice, suggesting that both causes — widely associated with liberals — offered a cloak for more sinister intentions.

“They want to talk man-made climate change because, out of this, they want to control you,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s just like the race stuff — ‘systemically racist’ — well, what do you want to do about it? Control you. Beat you down. You need to change your lifestyle, need to confess to something.”

Some right-wing writers see even darker origins in the outbreak of a lethal blaze.

The Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy website with a healthy online following — its chief writer, Jim Hoft, was welcomed to the White House by Mr. Trump — published posts asserting that left-wing anarchists were to blame, not the environment.

“Many arsonists have already been arrested in Oregon, Washington and California, but the Democrats continue to blame the wildfires on climate change,” a Gateway Pundit story said on Monday, alongside a video purportedly showing a woman in Oregon confronting an arsonist on her property. The site claimed that mainstream news outlets were ignoring this story because “it goes against their global warming and anti-gun narrative.”

A man in Oregon was charged last week with starting the destructive Almeda Fire in a small town that was under orders to evacuate. But the authorities say rising temperatures are a predominant cause of this year’s outbreak.

For the president’s political supporters, the notion that rogue firestarters are causing havoc is an enticing echo of a key message adopted by Mr. Trump and Republican in the presidential race: that regions of the country have been consumed by left-wing violence.

And Mr. Trump continues to play down environmental factors. Asked on Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends” about his policy plans for fighting climate change, the president replied: “You have forests all over the world. You don’t have fires like you do in California.”

Californians have been debating how to reduce the risk of deadly blazes, with some officials arguing for more controlled burns. An August news release from the office of Gavin Newsom, the California governor, noted that the state’s forests were “highly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire and in need of active, science-based management,” in part because of hotter and drier conditions created by climate change.

Mr. Newsom has called for the federal government to play a more active role in managing the state’s forests. About 58 percent of California forestland is controlled by the federal government; the state owns 3 percent.

For environmental advocacy groups, problematic media coverage of the wildfires is not limited to platforms associated with the right.

The Environmental Defense Fund, in a scathing post, said many mainstream news outlets had failed to draw a direct link between the widespread destruction and the dangerous consequences of a changing climate.

“It is like talking about the increased spread of Covid while ignoring the reason it is spreading,” the group wrote.

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Who Chooses Hurricane Names, and What Happens if They’re All Used?

MIAMI — As Hurricane Sally gained strength and churned toward the Gulf Coast this week, Tropical Storms Teddy and Vicky were designated in the Atlantic as the season’s 19th and 20th named storms, each moving closer to the end of the alphabet.

The Atlantic hurricane season this year has stirred up storms at such a rapid rate that there is now only one entry — Wilfred — left on the 21-name list that meteorologists use for each season.

Forecasters say they are likely to exhaust the current list, given that this is the height of the season, which began on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30. This week, there were five named storms at once in the Atlantic, a phenomenon that has not happened since 1971, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Tropical Depression Rene dissolved on Monday.)

“Considering we are at 20 named storms now — we’re just barely past the halfway point of the season — that’s a lot,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman and meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “We still have two and a half months of the season to go.”

Once forecasters reach a storm past Wilfred, they will have to turn to names based on the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet, beginning with Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

“We’ve only done it once,” Mr. Feltgen said, “and that was 2005.” That year, meteorologists used six Greek names in the hurricane season, which had 28 storms, he said.

Mr. Feltgen described the 2020 hurricane season as “hyperactive” compared with the average hurricane season, which usually produces 12 named storms, including three that develop into major hurricanes.

In May, NOAA predicted an above-normal season in the Atlantic, with as many as 19 named storms, with up to 10 that could become hurricanes. And as many as six of those could develop into Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricanes, it forecast.

The season was off to a record pace by July 30 with nine named storms, the most ever recorded since the satellite era began in 1966, according to NOAA. Before the official start of the season, Arthur, the first named storm, formed off the coast of Florida in May followed by Bertha, which made landfall near Charleston, S.C., later that month.

Last month, government scientists updated their outlook.

“It’s shaping up to be one of the most active seasons on record,” Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service, said at the time.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00xp-hurricane-names2-articleLarge Who Chooses Hurricane Names, and What Happens if They’re All Used? World Meteorological Organization National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Hurricane Center Hurricanes and Tropical Storms Hurricane Sally (2020) Global Warming
Credit…NOAA, via Associated Press

Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster with the climate prediction center of NOAA, said last month that there could be as many as 25 named storms before the end of the season. And seven to 11 of the storms could be hurricanes, with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, including three to six major ones.

In recent decades, scientists have seen increased hurricane activity in the North Atlantic, by a measure that combines intensity with characteristics like duration and frequency of storms. Climate scientists say there are links between global warming and at least the intensity of hurricanes. As ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes grow stronger as warm water serves as the fuel that powers them.

Cyclones and hurricanes are named “for people easily to understand and remember” each storm, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the international group that now maintains and assigns the lists of names.

“Many agree that appending names to storms makes it easier for the media to report on tropical cyclones, heightens interest in warnings and increases community preparedness,” the W.M.O. said.

The organization said that storms are “named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence.” The group added that the selected names are “familiar to the people in each region.”

The lists are recycled every six years with male and female names alternating alphabetically. For example, the 2019 list will be used again in 2025.

The practice of naming Atlantic tropical storms dates at least back to 1953, when the National Hurricane Center began to compile lists of names in the United States. The original lists featured only women’s names until 1979, when men’s names were added.

Although there are 26 letters in the English alphabet, the W.M.O. does not use names that begin with the letters Q, U, X, Y or Z because “there aren’t enough of them,” said John Morales, the chief meteorologist at WTVJ-TV, the NBC station in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

“You need to have enough names,” said Mr. Feltgen, noting that there needed to be at least six names per letter as well as backup names, and that the names needed to include male and female options.

Hurricane names are typically retired when the storms become history-making for causing destruction and death; reusing the name would be insensitive to people who were affected by the storm. More than 80 names have been retired from the Atlantic list, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Credit…Sophia Germer/The Advocate, via Associated Press

Hurricane Andrew, for example, the Category 5 storm that pummeled south Miami-Dade in 1992, was blamed for 61 deaths and about $27 billion in damage at the time, according to NOAA.

And Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that deluged New Orleans, killed more than 1,500 people. That high storm season also produced Dennis, Rita, Stan and Wilma — names that have been dropped by meteorologists. More storm names were retired from the 2005 season than any other, according to the W.M.O.

In 2018, the international hurricane committee announced it was retiring four hurricane names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate from its roster of Atlantic tropical cyclone names because of their devastating tolls in the 2017 season. They were replaced with Harold, Idalia, Margot and Nigel, which will appear on the 2023 list.

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As Trump Again Rejects Science, Biden Calls Him a ‘Climate Arsonist’

Westlake Legal Group as-trump-again-rejects-science-biden-calls-him-a-climate-arsonist As Trump Again Rejects Science, Biden Calls Him a ‘Climate Arsonist’ Wildfires United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Suburbs Presidential Election of 2020 Newsom, Gavin Global Warming Forests and Forestry California Biden, Joseph R Jr Air Pollution

WASHINGTON — With wildfires raging across the West, climate change took center stage in the race for the White House on Monday as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called President Trump a “climate arsonist” while the president said that “I don’t think science knows” what is actually happening.

A day of dueling appearances laid out the stark differences between the two candidates, an incumbent president who has long scorned climate change as a hoax and rolled back environmental regulations and a challenger who has called for an aggressive campaign to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for increasingly extreme weather.

Mr. Trump flew to California after weeks of public silence about the flames that have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes, wiped out communities and forests, burned millions of acres, shrouded the region in smoke and left at least 26 people dead. But even when confronted by California’s governor and other state officials, the president insisted on attributing the crisis solely to poor forest management, not climate change.

Mr. Biden, for his part, assailed Mr. Trump’s record on the climate, asserting that the president’s inaction and denial had fed destruction, citing not just the current emergency on the West Coast but flooding in the Midwest and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. In an outdoor speech at a museum in Wilmington, Del., the Democratic presidential nominee sought to paint a second Trump term as a danger to the nation’s suburbs, flipping an attack on him by the president.

“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Mr. Biden asked. “How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms? If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?”

The politicking came as firefighting teams across the West Coast battled shifting winds and drier weather on Monday, sparking additional fire fronts that threatened to make new kindling out of forests and cover more of the country with hazardous smoke and falling ash. By Monday afternoon, haze had spread across much of the United States and could be seen over New York and Washington.

Heavy smoke kept some firefighting aircraft grounded as fire pushed into new areas, prompting fresh evacuations in Idaho, Oregon and California.

In Oregon, with a confirmed death toll of 10 along with 22 others missing, Gov. Kate Brown said the state was getting firefighting support from as far as North Dakota and Michigan. She expressed gratitude for the national assistance, saying the state could use all the help it could get. “Without question, our state has been pushed to its limits,” Ms. Brown said.

Doug Grafe, the chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said crews had made progress containing fires. But he said rains anticipated to fall Monday were not materializing and winds threatened to exacerbate fire conditions in some areas. Mr. Grafe said the rains that may now come on Wednesday or Thursday could also include lightning, raising the danger of new fires.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_176995938_63402b57-a1b8-44ec-ab84-88596d265094-articleLarge As Trump Again Rejects Science, Biden Calls Him a ‘Climate Arsonist’ Wildfires United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Suburbs Presidential Election of 2020 Newsom, Gavin Global Warming Forests and Forestry California Biden, Joseph R Jr Air Pollution
Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Mr. Trump, who had come under intense criticism for barely addressing the crisis before, interrupted a western campaign swing to make a two-hour visit to an airport in McClellan Park outside Sacramento, where Air Force One descended through a smoky haze. Not far away, one of the biggest fires, now largely contained, recently burned more than 363,000 acres.

As soon as the president disembarked from the plane at Sacramento McClellan Airport, where the stench of smoke filled the air, he did not wait for his scheduled briefing to tell reporters that the cause of the conflagration was poor forest management, not climate change.

“When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry — really like a matchstick,” Mr. Trump said. “And they can explode. Also leaves. When you have dried leaves on the ground, it’s just fuel for the fires.”

At his subsequent briefing, however, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his top environmental adviser pushed the president to acknowledge the role of climate change. Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, made a point of doing so exceedingly politely, reaffirming his working relationship with the president, thanking him for federal help and agreeing that forest management needed to be improved.

But Mr. Newsom noted that only 3 percent of land in California is under state control while 57 percent is federal forest land, meaning under the president’s management as governed by federal law.

“As you suggest, the working relationship I value,” Mr. Newsom said. But he said climate change clearly was a factor. “Something’s happening to the plumbing of the world, and we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.”

He went on: “And so I think there’s an area of at least commonality on vegetation, forest management. But please respect — and I know you do — the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue on the issue of climate change.”

Mr. Trump did not argue the point. “Absolutely,” he said, and then turned the floor over to another briefer.

But Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, pressed Mr. Trump more bluntly. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” he told the president.

This time, Mr. Trump rejected the premise. “It’ll start getting cooler,” he insisted. “You just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Mr. Crowfoot replied.

“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Mr. Trump retorted, maintaining a tense grin.

Other California officials who were not present rejected Mr. Trump’s view. Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento said it was a positive development that the president made the trip to demonstrate concern. “Showing up matters,” he said in an interview. “But more important is what you actually do. The country desperately needs national leadership around the climate emergency.”

Some environmental specialists said that Mr. Trump had a point about forest management but that it should not be an excuse to deny climate science and refuse to take action.

“Raking the leaves and forest floors is really inane. That doesn’t make sense at all,” said Ralph Propper, the president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. “We’re seeing what was predicted, which is more extremes of weather.”

Mr. Trump got some backing from hundreds of supporters who gathered outside the airport, some of them echoing his point about culling forests to prevent the kind of outbreak consuming the region. “I think they should have been cutting trees” ahead of fire season, said Rachel Moses, 43, of Roseville, Calif., who was wearing a pink Trump hat and brought her two sons with her.

Experts say climate change, the management of public lands and decisions over where to site housing all contribute to wildfires. Mr. Trump has exclusively blamed poor forest management and last year issued an executive order directing agencies to cut down more trees, arguing that expanding timber harvesting would reduce forest fires.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Biden, on the other hand, has proposed spending $2 trillion over four years to escalate the use of clean energy and ultimately phase out the burning of oil, gas and coal. He has pledged to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and eliminate carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035.

In his speech at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Mr. Biden accused Mr. Trump of making the country more vulnerable by denying the science of climate change. He also made a case for treating the reduction of fossil fuel emissions as a nonpartisan issue that could create manufacturing jobs while preserving the planet.

“We have to act as a nation,” Mr. Biden said. “It shouldn’t be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky, and they’re left asking: ‘Is doomsday here?’”

Mr. Biden also sought to tie Mr. Trump’s rejection of the scientific consensus on climate to his dismissal of public health experts on the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think this is a larger narrative that you’re just now starting to see emerge out of the Biden campaign,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “Climate change becomes Exhibit A in a much broader case he’s making about the fact that Donald Trump is out of touch with reality.”

Whit Ayres, a Republican political consultant, said Mr. Trump was not helping himself politically by continuing to reject climate science. “It’s gotten to the point,” he said, “where denying the fundamental reality of climate change is no longer a credible position.”

Peter Baker and Lisa Friedman reported from Washington, and Thomas Kaplan from Connecticut. Kellen Browning contributed reporting from McClellan Park, Calif., and Dave Philipps from Colorado Springs.

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In Visiting a Charred California, Trump Confronts a Scientific Reality He Denies

Westlake Legal Group in-visiting-a-charred-california-trump-confronts-a-scientific-reality-he-denies In Visiting a Charred California, Trump Confronts a Scientific Reality He Denies Wildfires United States Politics and Government United States Economy United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Trump, Donald J States (US) Science and Technology Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Presidential Election of 2020 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Greenhouse Gas Emissions Green New Deal Global Warming Fuel Emissions (Transportation) Environmental Protection Agency environment Disasters and Emergencies Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Carbon Dioxide California Biden, Joseph R Jr Air Pollution

WASHINGTON — When President Trump flies to California on Monday to assess the state’s raging forest fires, he will come face to face with the grim consequences of a reality he has stubbornly refused to accept: the devastating effects of a warming planet.

To the global scientific community, the acres of scorched earth and ash-filled skies across the American West are the tragic, but predictable, result of accelerating climate change. Nearly two years ago, federal government scientists concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels could triple the frequency of severe fires across the Western states.

But the president has used his time in the nation’s highest office to aggressively promote the burning of fossil fuels, chiefly by rolling back or weakening every major federal policy intended to combat dangerous emissions. At the same time, Mr. Trump and his senior environmental officials have regularly mocked, denied or minimized the established science of human-caused climate change.

Now, as he battles for a second term in the White House, Mr. Trump has doubled down on his anti-climate agenda as a way of appealing to his core supporters. At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, he blamed California’s failure to “clean your floors” of leaves, threatening to “make them pay for it because they don’t listen to us.”

The lethal fires spreading across the West — like the coronavirus that has ravaged the country for months — are a warning for the president that many voters may hold him and his administration accountable for brushing aside scientific experts and failing to effectively mobilize the government to minimize natural disasters that have claimed lives, damaged property and threatened economic prosperity.

“Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real,” Mayor Eric M. Garcetti of Los Angeles, a supporter of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.”

Mr. Trump’s climate record is far more aggressive than the laissez-faire environmental policy promoted for years by business interests in his party. Indeed, as he has sought to zealously roll back regulations, even some of the world’s largest oil companies and automakers have opposed the moves, saying that they will lead to years of legal uncertainty that could actually harm their bottom lines.

“As an historic figure, he is one of the most culpable men in America contributing to the suffering and death that is now occurring through climate-related tragedy,” Jerry Brown, the former California governor who made climate change his signature issue, said in an interview on Sunday, though he was careful not to blame Mr. Trump specifically for the fires ravaging his state.

The president’s record is also more consequential, experts say, because the amount of planet-warming carbon dioxide trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere has now passed the point at which scientists say it would be possible to avert many of the worst effects of global warming — even if tough emissions policies are later enacted.

Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign is hoping to use Mr. Trump’s climate positions as a cudgel against him with independents and moderate Republicans. Christine Todd Whitman, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, is backing Mr. Biden’s candidacy in large part because of the president’s environmental policies.

“It’s mind-boggling, the ignorance that he displays on this subject,” Ms. Whitman said in an interview on Sunday. “He doesn’t understand climate change. He doesn’t particularly believe in science. It’s all about him and his re-election.”

“He doesn’t govern for all Americans,” she said.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump abruptly added the trip to McClellan Park, Calif., near Sacramento, to be briefed on the fires to an already scheduled West Coast fund-raising and campaign swing. He had come under intense criticism for weeks of silence on the increasingly deadly blazes that are consuming parts of California, Oregon and Washington — three Democratic-led states that he has feuded with for years.

White House officials noted that Mr. Trump had signed an executive order in 2018 to minimize the risk of wildfires and urged California and other states to improve forest management.

“Other countries around the world are obsessed with the Paris climate accord, which shackles economies and has done nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and those on the radical left are pushing the Green New Deal, which would outlaw cows, cars and planes,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. He said Mr. Trump had put in place “common sense policies that have kept our air, water and environment clean.”

But the president has often treated climate change and the environment as a deeply partisan issue, not unlike his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the recent racial upheaval in some cities, in which he has frequently lashed out at Democratic officials while praising the actions of Republicans.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_176967219_d120e206-94ba-47fe-9e06-d743ceb16f8c-articleLarge In Visiting a Charred California, Trump Confronts a Scientific Reality He Denies Wildfires United States Politics and Government United States Economy United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Trump, Donald J States (US) Science and Technology Regulation and Deregulation of Industry Presidential Election of 2020 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Greenhouse Gas Emissions Green New Deal Global Warming Fuel Emissions (Transportation) Environmental Protection Agency environment Disasters and Emergencies Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Carbon Dioxide California Biden, Joseph R Jr Air Pollution
Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times

In Florida last week, Mr. Trump extended a ban on offshore oil drilling supported by the Republican governor in a key election-year state, even though he has refused to do the same for Democratic-led states in the Northeast.

At the event in front of supporters in Jupiter, Fla., Mr. Trump declared himself “a great environmentalist.”

In fact, Mr. Trump has repeatedly mocked the science of climate change since long before he ran for president. In 2012, he tweeted: “In the 1920’s people were worried about global cooling — it never happened. Now it’s global warming. Give me a break!” He also tweeted that the concept of climate change “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The president has continued to take a dim view of climate science throughout his tenure, even as the government he oversees has reinforced the accepted threats to the future of the planet.

In 2017 and 2018, the federal government published a sweeping, two-volume scientific report, the National Climate Assessment, that represents the most authoritative and comprehensive conclusions to date about the causes and effects of climate change in the United States.

The report is clear about the causes — burning fossil fuels — and the effects: It found that the increased drought, flooding, storms and worsening wildfires caused by the warming planet could shrink the American economy by up to 10 percent by the end of the century.

Two days before the White House published the 2018 volume of that report, Mr. Trump mockingly tweeted, “Brutal and Extended Cold Blast could shatter ALL RECORDS — Whatever happened to Global Warming?”

In an interview a month before, he said of global warming, “I don’t know that it’s man-made,” and suggested that even as the planet warmed, “it will change back again” — an idea scientists have long debunked.

Mr. Trump has also stocked his administration with senior officials who have openly questioned the basic science of climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which conducts scientific research on climate change, this year hired as a deputy assistant secretary David Legates, a scientist at the University of Delaware who has questioned human-caused global warming. The hiring of Mr. Legates was first reported by NPR.

William Happer, a former senior White House adviser and a Princeton physicist who had gained notoriety in the scientific community for statements that carbon dioxide was beneficial to humanity, began an effort last year to ensure that the next National Climate Assessment did not include worst-case scenarios. Although Mr. Happer left the White House last year, that effort is continuing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

And Mr. Trump’s first appointee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, declared early in his tenure that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming, a statement starkly at odds with the scientific consensus.

“It’s interesting to draw the parallels between Covid and climate change,” said Philip B. Duffy, the president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the National Climate Assessment. “In both of those cases, Trump personally has refused to recognize the threat.”

“In both cases, there is no plan to deal with crisis,” he added.

Moreover, Mr. Trump has steadily dismantled the climate change plan that was already in place by effectively gutting the federal government’s authority to do anything to lower greenhouse gas pollution.

“We had at the end of the Obama administration the first-ever federalwide regulatory regime on climate,” said David G. Victor, the director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at the University of California, San Diego. “Most of that, the Trump administration has actively rolled back.”

In his first months in office, Mr. Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord, under which nearly every country in the world had pledged to reduce emissions of planet-warming pollution.

Domestically, Mr. Trump directed Andrew Wheeler, the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to dismantle a suite of major climate change regulations put in place by the Obama administration, which had been designed to target pollution from the nation’s three largest sources of greenhouse emissions: coal-fired power plants, auto tailpipes and oil and gas drilling sites. Taken together, those rules represented the country’s first significant step toward reducing greenhouse gases, while putting the world’s largest economy at the forefront of the global effort to fight climate change.

Now they are in shambles.

In August, the E.P.A. completed the legal process of rolling back rules on methane, a powerful climate-warming gas emitted from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells. In April, it completed its rollback of the rules on tailpipe greenhouse pollution. And in June 2019, it replaced the Obama-era rule requiring coal plants to reduce emissions with a new rule devised to allow the plants to continue to release far more pollution.

If Mr. Biden is elected, he has vowed to rejoin the Paris agreement and reinstate those rules, while pushing to enact even stronger policies, spending up to $2 trillion to promote the development of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

But experts said it may take far more than that to rebuild the American climate change legacy — or its ability to persuade other governments to take similar action. That is a profound consequence, the experts said, because climate change is a global problem and cannot be meaningfully mitigated unless the world’s largest polluters all work in concert.

“The really big effect of what Trump has done is to send a message to the rest of the world that the United States is not credible on climate change,” said Mr. Victor of the University of California, San Diego. “The rest of the world is not going to know if we’re serious because we keep swinging back and forth.”

“Over the past 50 years, the effectiveness in creating international deals came from U.S. leadership,” he added. “And now nobody knows if we’re going to do that anymore.”

Adam Nagourney contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

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In Oregon, a New Climate Menace: Fires Raging Where They Don’t Usually Burn

The blazes that raced across western Oregon this week could be the most unexpected element in a fire season that’s full of surprises: Not just more wildfires, but wildfires in places that don’t usually burn.

The forests between Eugene and Portland haven’t experienced fires this severe in decades, experts say. What’s different this time is that exceptionally dry conditions, combined with unusually strong and hot east winds, have caused wildfires to spiral out of control, threatening neighborhoods that didn’t seem vulnerable until now.

“We’re seeing fires in places that we don’t normally see fires,” said Crystal A. Kolden, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Merced. “Normally it’s far too wet to burn.”

The fires in Oregon, which have led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and are approaching the Portland suburbs, stand out from what has already been an extraordinary fire season in the West, where global warming, land-use changes and fire management practices have combined to create a hellish mix of smoldering forests, charred homes and choking air.

Before this week, Oregon was grappling with a much more contained problem, a series of smaller fires on both sides of the Cascade Range, which divides the state between east and west.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 00CLI-OREGONCLIMATE2-articleLarge In Oregon, a New Climate Menace: Fires Raging Where They Don’t Usually Burn Wildfires Oregon Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming environment Cascade Mountains
Credit…Adrees Latif/Reuters

Fires are common in the east, which is normally dry, according to Philip Mote, a climate scientist at Oregon State University. In some areas of eastern Oregon the “return period,” or length of time between major fires, is as little as 20 years, he said.

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But the western slope of the Cascades, which catches most of the moisture that blows in from the Pacific Ocean, is normally wetter. “Out here, the return period can be hundreds of years,” he said.

That protective moisture has faded, in large part because climate change has altered precipitation and temperature patterns.

Tim Brown, director of the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., said the extreme warmth had caused vegetation to become exceptionally dry and to burn more readily. Temperature, humidity, wind and solar radiation combine to dry out brush and are the key elements for fire. “We call it evaporative demand,” he said. And in recent weeks, he added, “the west Cascades have been really dry from the evaporative demand.”

Those dry conditions were most likely exacerbated by climate change, according to Meg Krawchuk, a professor at Oregon State’s College of Forestry. And they had the effect of “teeing up the landscape” for a wildfire, she said.

The critical moment came Monday and Tuesday, when a windstorm carried hot air from the high desert in the eastern part of Oregon over the mountains, rapidly spreading the fires in the more populated western part of the state, according to Josh Clark, fire meteorologist at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Those winds were the strongest the state has seen in at least 30 years, Mr. Clark said. And when they crossed the mountains, the winds raced down through river canyons, which compressed the air, warming it further and pushing it westward like a bellows.

As those fires raced west, they met unusually dry conditions, said Dr. Kolden, which in turn allowed the fires that were already burning to spread rapidly. “The fire’s able to move very quickly and just explode down these canyons,” she said.

Credit…Zak Stone, via Reuters

The fires now threatening Oregon’s cities and towns could be worse than anything in that part of the state in decades, said Cassandra Moseley, chief research officer at the University of Oregon and a professor at its Institute for a Sustainable Environment.

The Tillamook Burn, a series of fires that began in 1933 and destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, was probably as bad as this week’s fires, Dr. Moseley said. It’s hard to know for sure, she said, because “no one’s alive to tell the tale.”

And what’s different this time, Dr. Moseley said, is that far fewer people lived in those areas 90 years ago. “Tillamook didn’t have people in it,” she said. By comparison, this week’s fires seem likely to cause large numbers of casualties.

Already, several mountain communities had been destroyed by flames that roared though the surrounding forests. State officials received reports of dozens of missing people. And as some of the largest blazes neared Portland’s southern suburbs, the authorities warned residents thinking of staying behind in some communities that there would be no firefighters to protect them.

The lesson of this week is that the state must now prepare for more of the same, said Dr. Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, who recalled that extreme warmth had also led to a record low snowpack in 2015.

“This situation of large fires, and that low snow year — these are both things that I and my colleagues who’ve studied climate change in Oregon for 20 years have been saying would happen eventually,” he said. “And now they’re happening.”

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Wildfire Smoke Is Dangerous. Here’s How to Protect Yourself.

Westlake Legal Group wildfire-smoke-is-dangerous-heres-how-to-protect-yourself Wildfire Smoke Is Dangerous. Here’s How to Protect Yourself. Wildfires Respiratory Diseases Research Global Warming environment Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) California Air Pollution

SAN FRANCISCO — Jennifer Krasner’s 4-year-old daughter had been coughing for days. Ms. Krasner and her family live 20 minutes north of San Francisco, in Mill Valley, Calif., not close to any fire but wreathed in smoke nonetheless, with her house and car dusted with ash.

“I had to get her tested for Covid because she’s been coughing so much,” she said Thursday, “but it turned out her lungs were just irritated from all the smoke.”

Across San Francisco Bay to the southeast, in Alameda, Monica Chellam’s daughter, also 4, asked Wednesday why it was so dark. “I told her the sun was blocked by smoke,” Ms. Chellam said.

“She turned to me and asked, ‘Is this how the dinosaurs died?’”

Children aren’t the only ones coughing. And they’re not the only ones with questions about the smoke that is spreading misery around the West. Here are some key facts and tips on what you can do.

The health effects of wildfire smoke are not fully understood, and the particles differ in some ways from other air pollution, which has been shown to cause disease. But wildfire smoke, which can include toxic substances from burned buildings, has been linked to serious health problems.

“When this is happening people’s health is suffering,” said Sarah Henderson, senior scientist in environmental health services at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control. “There is no doubt.”

Studies have shown that, when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospital visits rises and many of the additional patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes.

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Dr. Henderson said smoke exposure could have lifelong health implications for babies, though she said more research on the question was needed. “This may do damage to the developing lungs that they may never recover from,” she said.

The risks are greater for people of color, who tend to live in areas already exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. According to a 2017 study, older Black people are three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory conditions because of smoke.

Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard and an author of the study, said, “Underrepresented minorities are experiencing a much higher health burden from pollution and wildfire smoke and, now, Covid.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which has also hit people of color disproportionately, adds further problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that “people with Covid-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_176128734_c7e73023-c09e-4d42-a27a-5adc34f3b919-articleLarge Wildfire Smoke Is Dangerous. Here’s How to Protect Yourself. Wildfires Respiratory Diseases Research Global Warming environment Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) California Air Pollution
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

And the health effects of wildfire smoke don’t go away when skies clear. A recent study on Montana residents suggested a long tail for wildfire smoke exposure.

Erin Landguth, an associate professor in the school of public and community health science at the University of Montana and the lead author on the study, said research had shown that “after bad fire seasons, one would expect to see three to five times worse flu seasons” months later. The study’s findings, she added, fit what is already known about pollution and disease.

“Decades of research have shown that elevated air pollution exposure is associated with a number of adverse health impacts, including compromised immune systems,” Dr. Landguth said.

The underlying causes of the rising fire risks in the American West are complex. They include past forestry practices that created abundant fuel for fires and the expansion of communities up to the edges of forestlands.

Underlying all of that, however, is climate change, which warms and dries out the vegetation fuel so that a spark — whether from downed power lines, lightning or even a gender-reveal party gone terribly wrong — can lead to a vast scorched landscape.

Even with the most aggressive effort to fight global warming, the inherent lag time in the climate system means that worsening fires and their health effects will be with us for decades. With less vigorous action, the effects of warming will become even more disastrous. “Into the climate future, we’re just going to keep seeing situations that set new records,” Dr. Henderson said.

Credit…Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times, via Associated Press

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that many of today’s fires, even with a measure of containment, “are going to be going for weeks, if not months, and are going to be generating smoke for weeks, if not months.”

Normally, Dr. Swain said, what finally extinguishes the fires are autumn rains and snowfall, which historically come in October or November. However, he added, “recently, it’s been coming later than that,” and climate change, again, appears to be part of the reason.

The C.D.C. recommends limiting exposure to smoke by staying indoors with windows and doors closed and running air-conditioners in recirculation mode so that outside air isn’t drawn into your home.

Portable air purifiers are also recommended, though, like air-conditioners, they require electricity. If utilities cut off power, as has happened in California, those options are limited.

If you do have power, avoid frying food, which can increase indoor smoke.

Experts say it is especially important to avoid cigarettes. They also recommend avoiding strenuous outdoor activities such as exercising or mowing the lawn when the air is bad. When outside, well-fitted N95 masks are also recommended, though they are in short supply because of the pandemic.

Some do-it-yourself options are available, Dr. Henderson said, noting that masks made from different layers of fabrics, “particularly tightly woven cotton and silk together,” can provide “pretty good filtration” if they are fitted closely to the face.

Asked the best way to protect yourself in an area shrouded in smoke, Dr. Dominici said the question was a difficult one because many people don’t have the ability to move or the luxury of choice about whether to work outside.

But the safest option? “I would just leave,” she said.

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A Climate Reckoning in Wildfire-Stricken California

Westlake Legal Group a-climate-reckoning-in-wildfire-stricken-california A Climate Reckoning in Wildfire-Stricken California Wildfires Global Warming federal emergency management agency Environmental Protection Agency California

SAN FRANCISCO — Multiple mega fires burning more than 3 million acres. Millions of residents smothered in toxic air. Rolling blackouts and triple-digit heat waves. Climate change, in the words of one scientist, is smacking California in the face.

The crisis facing the nation’s most populous state is more than just an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It’s also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but which few expected to see so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.

“You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,” said Roy Wright, who directed resilience programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018 and grew up in Vacaville, Calif., near one of this year’s largest fires so far. “It’s apocalyptic.”

The same could be said for the entire West Coast this week, to Washington and Oregon, where towns were decimated by infernos as firefighters were stretched to their limits.

California’s simultaneous crises illustrate how the ripple effect works. A scorching summer led to dry conditions never before experienced. That aridity helped make the season’s wildfires the biggest ever recorded. Six of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred this year.

If climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, today it is all too real for Californians. The intensely hot wildfires are not only chasing thousands of people from their homes but causing dangerous chemicals to leach into drinking water. Excessive heat warnings and suffocating smoky air have threatened the health of people already struggling during the pandemic. And the threat of more wildfires has led insurance companies to cancel homeowner policies and the state’s main utility to shut off power to tens of thousands of people preemptively.

“If you are in denial about climate change, come to California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said last month.

Officials have worried about cascading disasters. They just didn’t think they would start so soon.

“We used to worry about one natural hazard at a time,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who oversaw resilience planning on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “The acceleration of climate impacts has happened faster than even we anticipated.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_176674653_7d9b30fb-cf08-460b-b0e9-49cea75e3cfe-articleLarge A Climate Reckoning in Wildfire-Stricken California Wildfires Global Warming federal emergency management agency Environmental Protection Agency California
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Climate scientists say the mechanism driving the wildfire crisis is straightforward: human behavior, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, has released greenhouse gases that increase temperatures, desiccating forests and priming them to burn.

Mark Harvey, who was senior director for resilience at the National Security Council until January, said the government has struggled to prepare for situations like what’s happening in California.

“The government does a very, very bad job looking at cascading scenarios,” Mr. Harvey said. “Most of our systems are built to handle one problem at a time.”

In some ways, this year’s wildfires in California have been decades in the making. A prolonged drought that ended in 2017 was a major reason for the death of 163 million trees in California forests over the past decade, according to the U.S. Forest Service. One of the fastest moving fires this year ravaged the forests that had the highest concentration of dead trees, south of Yosemite National Park.

Further north, the Bear Fire became the 10th largest in California history — burning through an astonishing 230,000 acres in one 24-hour period.

“It’s really shocking to see the number of fast moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I’ve spoken to maybe two dozen fire and climate experts over the last 48 hours and pretty much everyone is at a loss of words. There’s certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale.”

While the state mobilizes to deal with the immediate threats, the fires will also leave the state with difficult and costly longer-term problems, everything from the effects of smoke inhalation to damaged drinking water systems.

Wildfire smoke can in the worst cases be deadly, especially among older people. Studies have shown that when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospitalizations rises, and patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes.

The coronavirus pandemic adds a new layer of risk to an already perilous situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued statements warning that people with Covid-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.

“The longer we have bad air in California, the more we’ll be concerned about adverse health effects,” said John Balmes, a spokesman for the American Lung Association and a professor of medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

As for drinking water, scientists have known for years that runoff from burned homes can put harmful chemicals into ground water and reservoirs. But research in the aftermath of the 2017 wildfires in wine country north of San Francisco and the 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in the foothills of the Sierra discovered a different threat: benzene and other dangerous contaminants were found inside water systems, possibly from heat-damaged plastics in the water infrastructure.

“Communities need to recognize this vulnerability,” said Andrew J. Whelton, a professor in environmental engineering at Purdue University, a co-author of a study on water contamination in Paradise.

“Dangerous chemicals can leach from inside water systems for months after a fire.”

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies water with benzene levels above 500 parts per billion as hazardous. Some samples in Paradise after the fire were found to have 2,000 parts per billion. In Sonoma County after the wine country fires some samples had 40,000 parts per billion, Dr. Whelton said.

Before now, many Californians assumed it would be an earthquake that might knock out their power, damage their homes and render their neighborhoods uninhabitable.

Susan Luten, a retired lawyer in Oakland, Calif., lives near the Hayward fault, an area that seismologists warn is due for a major earthquake. But it is the threat of fire that prompted her and her husband to put their go bags by the door — shoes, a change of clothes, flashlights, whistles, medications, small bills and duct tape.

“We have a rope inside the house in case we have to escape down the steep hillside on foot rather than by driving a car,” Ms. Luten said. Her husband studied Google maps for escape routes.

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The whiplash of the multiple crises in California has played out in their living room.

“Two days ago we were roasting inside with the windows closed in a heat wave to avoid heavy smoke,” Ms. Luten said.

“Today we are cool, but unable to see across the street,” she said on Wednesday, when the entire San Francisco Bay Area was shrouded in a faint orange glow, the sun obscured by massive columns of smoke in the atmosphere. “Combine all of this with a pandemic and political menace and it’s hard not to think we are unwitting bit players in some sort of end-of-days movie.”

Emily Szasz, a graduate art history student from Santa Cruz, says she feels like she’s in a strange, unfamiliar land.

“I feel as though I’m somewhere I’ve never been before,” Ms. Szasz said. “There were wildfires occasionally throughout my life here, which would be quickly fought and contained. Never do I remember 23 straight days of orange, oppressive, smoky skies, leaving my house in fear that I’d never return to it, or knowing someone whose home burned down in the mountains near my house.”

Several years ago, as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, a professor explained that California and the West were likely to experience the effects of climate change sooner than the rest of the country, Ms. Szasz said. The words now resonate with her.

“There is no greater proof, nor should we require it, that climate change is here and is changing our lives,” Ms. Szasz said of the wildfires. “I am only 25 years old and I do not know what future there is for me, let alone my potential children and grandchildren.”

Even after this year’s fires are put out, their ripple effects will keep spreading, creating economic shocks — in the insurance industry and with the state’s power grid, to name two examples — well beyond the physical and health damage of the disasters themselves.

This summer millions of Californians’ homes went dark for an hour or more as the smothering summer heat threatened to overload the grid.

Those blackouts are separate from the pre-emptive shut-offs carried out by California utilities in an effort to prevent their equipment from sparking wildfires. This week, PG&E turned off power to about 170,000 customers — a continuation of a program launched last year of massive power shut-offs.

In the insurance industry, years of heavy losses have pushed companies to pull back from fire-prone areas, in what state officials call a crisis of its own. A lack of affordable insurance threatens to devastate housing markets, by making homes less valuable and harder to sell.

Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, which represents insurers, said the industry is now waiting to see how big this year’s losses are, and what the state does next.

“We have to use it as a clarion call,” said Mr. Wright, the former FEMA official who is now president of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, an industry-funded group that looks at how to reduce damage from disasters. “What we can’t do is simply cover our ears, hunker down and go, ‘I just want this to go away.’”

Philip B. Duffy, a climate scientist who is president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, says many people do not understand the dynamics of a warming world.

“People are always asking, ‘Is this the new normal?” he said. “I always say no. It’s going to get worse.”

Thomas Fuller reported from San Francisco, and Christopher Flavelle from Washington. Ivan Penn contributed reporting from Burbank, Calif., and John Schwartz from West Orange, N.J.

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Wildfires Are Worsening. The Way We Manage Them Isn’t Keeping Pace.

Wildfires are ravaging the West — in California alone, five of the largest blazes on record have all struck in just the past four years — offering a deadly reminder that the nation is far behind in adopting policies widely known to protect lives and property, even though worsening fires have become a predictable consequence of climate change.

This summer has brought another horrific run of disasters. “This could be the greatest loss of human life and property due to wildfire in our state’s history,” Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon said on Wednesday, a day after invoking an emergency act to address wildfires that have triggered evacuations along the McKenzie Valley and in the state’s southwest.

Colorado is dealing with infernos like the Cameron Peak Fire west of Fort Collins, with more than 100,000 acres burned. Washington State has seen more than 300,000 acres burn, including 80 percent of the town of Malden. California, with a record 2.5 million acres burned so far, has 14,000 firefighters working to contain 25 major wildfires even though “this year’s fire season has another four months to go,” according to the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire.

The worsening wildfire disasters mean the United States needs to drastically rethink its approach to managing fire in the decades ahead, experts warn. “The first step is to acknowledge that fire is inevitable, and we have to learn to live with it,” said David McWethy, a fire scientist at Montana State University.

Millions of Americans are moving into wildfire-prone areas outside of cities, and communities often resist restrictions on development. A century of federal policy to aggressively extinguish all wildfires rather than letting some burn at low levels, an approach now seen as misguided, has left forests with plenty of fuel for especially destructive blazes. This is all in an era when global warming is creating a hotter, drier environment, loading the dice for more extensive fires.

Some cities and states have taken important steps, such as imposing tougher regulations on homes built in fire-prone areas. And there has been movement toward using prescribed fires to scour away excess vegetation that can fuel runaway blazes in forests and grasslands.

But these changes are still happening too slowly, experts say, and have been overtaken by the rapid increase in wildfires.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_176761437_bb95c049-c6e5-46d6-8320-7419f6626418-articleLarge Wildfires Are Worsening. The Way We Manage Them Isn’t Keeping Pace. Wildfires washington state Oregon Land Use Policies Greenhouse Gas Emissions Global Warming Forests and Forestry environment Colorado California Building (Construction)
Credit…Noah Berger/Associated Press
Credit…Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard, via Associated Press

“At this point we’ve learned a lot about how to engineer homes and communities so that they can be more survivable,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire expert affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But these lessons aren’t being implemented fast enough.”

The root cause of global warming is human behavior, and a major part of the solution is to reduce fossil fuel use, which pumps planet-warming gases into the atmosphere. But meantime there are steps that can lessen the wildfire damage even as countries work to cut emissions.

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One major reason that wildfires are becoming increasingly costly is that more Americans are moving to areas outside of cities near forests, known as the wildland-urban interface. Between 1990 and 2015, one study found, 32 million new homes were built in these areas. Only about 15 percent of the wildland-urban interface has been developed, and further growth is expected.

Some people move to be closer to nature, or because housing costs are lower, and policymakers are unlikely to stop all growth. But, experts said, governments could impose tighter restrictions on future development to ensure that communities are better protected against wildfire when it arrives.

That would include measures like designing subdivisions and homes so that they have more surrounding “defensible space,” cleared of brush and vegetation, to keep blazes at a distance. It would mean building houses so they are protected against drifting embers, which often cause structural fires by blowing into homes through vents in the eaves or sides.

In 2008, California adopted rules requiring new homes in high-risk fire areas to meet minimum standards on fire-resistant construction and access to water for firefighters. But many Western states don’t even have that, and it is up to local communities to adopt their own codes.

Last year, Austin, Tex., one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and at high risk of wildfires, adopted strict rules for new development in the wildland-urban interface. New homes will need noncombustible screens over attic vents, for instance, and safe storage of propane tanks.

Yet progress remains patchy. In many regions, developers have resisted new regulations. And in California, which is dealing with a statewide housing shortage, opponents have warned that more stringent requirements could drive up home costs.

Many communities also underrate the risk that wildfires will come to their doorstep.

“Until it happens in your own backyard, you feel it’s very tangential,” said Kimiko Barrett, a wildfire researcher at Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group. “You don’t think of wildfire risk as something that will happen to you, until it does.”

Some of the communities that have taken the strongest steps to deal with wildfires did so only after suffering their own tragedies.

In 1990, after the Painted Cave Fire hit Santa Barbara, Calif., burning 427 homes and killing one person, the nearby community of Montecito took action. The local fire protection district now works with residents to harden homes against fire, strategically thinning out native shrubs on private property and requiring changes in building codes, such as wider driveways for fire engines.

Credit…Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Those efforts were tested in the Thomas Fire in 2017, when high winds brought flames to Montecito’s doorstep. This time, only seven houses were destroyed by fire.

But even when a community does suffer from wildfire, the pressure to rebuild quickly, and without costly new regulations, is often intense.

In addition, building codes for new construction only go so far, because they don’t address the millions of homes already built. Consider the Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, Calif., in 2010, killing 85 people. One analysis found that about 51 percent of the 350 single-family homes built to California’s new codes escaped damage. But of the 12,100 homes built before then, only 18 percent were undamaged.

Retrofitting millions of existing homes can be expensive. For instance, single-pane windows are at risk of breaking from the heat of a fire, allowing embers in. But replacing those windows with sturdier glass can potentially cost $10,000 for a single home. In California, legislation to retrofit existing homes against wildfires have stalled over questions of funding.

Other communities are coming up with their own creative solutions.

In Boulder, Colo., county officials worked with insurance companies on an incentive program set up after the Fourmile Canyon Fire in 2010 burned dozens of homes. Residents can have a specialist visit and identify steps to reduce fire risk, such as removing certain trees or cleaning dead leaves from gutters. Homeowners who comply have a better chance of getting insured.

Experts also say both the federal government and states will need to rethink their approach to managing forests.

For over a century, firefighting agencies have focused on extinguishing fires whenever they occur. That strategy has often proved counterproductive. Many landscapes evolved to burn periodically, and when fires are suppressed, vegetation builds up thickly in forests. So when fires do break out, they tend to be far more severe and destructive.

The Forest Service has programs to thin out forests, removing smaller trees and brush. But those efforts remain relatively modest, and funding is a hurdle: The share of the Forest Service’s budget devoted to fighting fires has risen from 15 percent to 55 percent in recent years, leaving less money to prevent fires in the first place. And forest-thinning programs can be poorly targeted, researchers have found, as they often support logging efforts, rather than effectively reducing fire risk.

Scientists who study wildfires agree that allowing forests and grasslands to burn periodically — by, say, intentionally setting smaller fires under controlled conditions — can be a more effective way to clear out vegetation. In Ponderosa pine forests, for instance, low-level fire can nurture ecosystems and help prevent destructive large-scale fires from breaking out.

This already occurs in the Southeastern United States, where officials use prescribed fires to burn millions of acres each year. While the region still sees destructive blazes — like Tennessee’s drought-fueled Great Smoky Mountains fires in 2016, which killed at least 14 people — experts credit the use of controlled burns with sparing many Southeastern communities from fire damage.

Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“Today fire is widely accepted as a tool for land management in the Southeast,” said Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at the University of California, Merced.

With rare exceptions, however, the practice remains infrequent in the West. California intentionally burned just 50,000 acres in 2017. In August, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a memorandum with the Forest Service and others recognizing that the state needs more preventive fire, saying “California’s forests naturally adapted to low-intensity fire, nature’s preferred management tool.”

But the scale is daunting: One study found that the state would need to burn or treat 20 million acres to counteract the legacy of fire suppression. (Researchers have estimated that in prehistoric times, around 4 to 12 million acres in the state burned each year, but that has since dropped precipitously.)

The obstacles to using fire this way are considerable: Fire agencies worry about intentional fires raging out of control, as happened in New Mexico in 2000, when a prescribed burn caught by high winds ended up destroying 435 homes. And the smoke can be a concern for nearby communities.

Using prescribed fire as a tool to manage forests will take concerted effort and a cultural shift in acceptance of fire, experts said. Dr. Kolden noted that many Indigenous communities have a long history of using fire to manage the landscape. “We should be empowering the people who know how to do this,” she said.

Finally, there’s climate change. Much of the fire-prone American West is expected to become even warmer and drier in coming decades, said Park Williams, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. In a paper last year, Dr. Williams and colleagues noted that the effects of climate change on California’s fires so far “have arisen from what may someday be viewed as a relatively small amount of warming.”

The effects of climate change on wildfires isn’t linear but exponential, he said, and the climate will respond slowly even to aggressive action to combat warming. Therefore, any lack of strong action on climate will yield far worse wildfires.

“Things could be bad, or really bad, by 2050,” he said.

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