San Francisco forest fires turn orange skies, predicting the future

San Francisco forest fires turn orange skies, predicting the future

Street lights, lighthouses, and apartments come on up close at noon on September 9, 2020 in Russian Hill, San Francisco.

Christina Farr | CNBC

Today was the worst day of my life a year ago.

I have faced personal tragedies and professional setbacks, but there are models for dealing with them. You rely on your friends and family, you feed your grief and anger, you seek guidance. With a little luck and hard work, you recover and move on.

But the day the sky turned orange from smoke from the widespread forest fires in San Francisco was a tragedy of a different kind, precisely because it was not personal, it was communal. It touched us all. No one could help. Everyone was also terrified.

We had been breathing smoke from the wildfires for almost three weeks, and all I could think of was how long this new phase, this deep orange darkness, would last. one day? one week? Three weeks? We had already returned from the Covid pandemic, with children out of school and most businesses closed. The added feeling of isolation from this new phase was almost too much to bear.

Those of us who are elderly will remember a brief period in the 1990s when the environmental movement seemed to be gaining momentum. Politicians and businesses were paying attention. The whole world banned chlorofluorocarbons less than a few years later, when it became clear that they were depleting the ozone layer, exposing us to more solar radiation. The ozone layer is recovering now.

But that moment has faded, with the urgency of the war on terror and the stalemate of radical partisan politics, as well as a global economic expansion that has lifted millions of people out of poverty and joined them in the middle class.

This global economic expansion has been fueled by cheap fossil fuels and a dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in August, paints a very clear picture. We currently have an average of 410 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, well above the figure of 382 ppm that Al Gore used in his famous table of CO2 concentrations in the 2006 film, “A Truth That disturbs”.

Wildfires in the West are not caused by climate change alone – fires have always been a part of the landscape and forest management practices have certainly played a role. But two decades of record heat and drought followed suit, killing millions of trees. According to scientists and firefighters, today’s fires are hotter and spread faster than any recent memory.

Climate change is hard to see and feel for most of us. It’s starting to change. This year, the relentless parade of extreme weather events – floods, hurricanes and wildfires – is a prediction the world is facing. If you haven’t faced your orange day yet, there’s a good chance you will.

The positive side of it all: More people than ever are committed to finding solutions. Personally, Orange Day in San Francisco inspired me to shift some of my attention away from the tech industry, which I have been covering for over 25 years in what I think will be the most important news. the next ones. decade.

Similar incidents inspire people around the world to take action.

Many are arguing for major political changes, and the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, will almost certainly be a lightning rod for the protests.

But while political solutions are a necessary part of the puzzle, these changes may be reversed or their impact blurred by the next electoral cycle.

Even more exciting, the business world is finally on the rise lately. Venture capitalists and billionaires like Bill Gates and Tom Steyer are rushing to fund start-ups tackling everything from clean energy to agriculture to transportation. Companies brag about their intention to achieve net zero carbon emissions. Banks and insurance companies quietly recognize the risks associated with climate change and adapt their practices accordingly. ESG funds with a focus on green solutions are extremely popular, but not always effective. Tesla, the world’s largest automaker by market capitalization, has taken the lead in building a massive zero-emission electric vehicle, sending auto giants and dozens of formidable start-ups to follow the most quickly possible.

At CNBC, we intend to cover the climate crisis from an economic news perspective. We know what the predictions say could be 20, 50, and 100 years in the future – but what happens today? How is climate change affecting businesses and individuals right now? Who is proposing and funding ambitious new solutions to reduce carbon emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and what are their chances of success? How are businesses preparing for an uncertain future? What can you do to prepare yourself and your family financially, physically and mentally?

Commitments are no less important than actions. Instead of focusing on what companies say they intend to do, we’ll focus on what they’re actually doing, where they’re actually spending money, and whether that money is doing well – or is only just right. ‘a timid effort to achieve something positive. Greenwashing is rampant and ripe for risk. We’ll take a close look at trends like ESG investments and carbon offsets to see how they’re working – or not – and discuss with policy experts what alternative financial solutions might be more effective. We’ll treat every startup’s claims with the same kind of cautious ‘show me’ skepticism we’ve learned to embrace in our decades of collective experience in the tech industry.

There are no magic bullets. The carbon we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere isn’t going away anytime soon, and the effects will likely get worse before they get better. Political, cultural and psychological barriers to change are a major challenge – no one likes to be told to consume less. No one likes to be told that they suddenly have to improve their business at great expense without guaranteeing higher profits in the future. Investors will continue to seek returns, as they always have.

But as the world realizes the reality of climate change, more money than ever is pouring into the problem. The collective human ambition and the desire to improve our situation have put us in this mess. They are necessary to get us out of it.

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