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A nearly two-decade effort by Californians to cut their emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide may have been erased by a single, devastating year of wildfires, according to UCLA and University of Chicago researchers.
The state’s record-breaking 2020 fire season, which saw more than 4 million acres burn, spewed almost twice the tonnage of greenhouse gases as the total amount of carbon dioxide reductions made since 2003, according to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Pollution. Researchers estimated that about 127 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent were released by the fires, compared with about 65 million metric tons of reductions achieved in the previous 18 years.
“When we look at the contribution of the 2020 wildfires, it becomes almost like a new sector of emissions in the economy,” said Michael Jerrett, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a lead author of the research. “Really, we’re about double the reductions.”