This year’s wildfire season is already on track to be more active than last year, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center, and that could be very bad news for carbon offset markets.
Image Credit: Flickr/National Parks Service Climate Change Response
From the beginning of the year through July 25, roughly 36,500 fires have burned nearly 2.8 million acres of land, compared with 30,316 fires and 1.9 million acres by the same period in 2020.
Couple those figures with the continued drought affecting most of the West Coast and there’s a recipe for another incredibly destructive fire year for the U.S.
The blazes ravaging the West Coast in Idaho, Montana, Washington, California and Oregon are also posing to be a threat to the viability of American carbon markets.
Oregon’s Bootleg Fire, which has burned through nearly 400,000 acres, has destroyed nearly one fifth of the forestland set aside for carbon offsets in the area, according to a CNN report.
It’s a phenomenon that casts doubt on the viability of forest offsets, among the most popular sequestration choices that companies select to balance out their greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasingly, companies offer forest offsets as the way they’re reducing the environmental footprint of industrial operations. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are all big buyers of forest offsets and they’re not alone.
Improved Forest Management, as these offsets are called, involves setting aside a certain portion of timberland to remain unharvested so that the trees can sequester carbon dioxide.
Companies use those purchases of forestland to balance out their own operations emissions. However, if the forestland goes up in smoke, there’s no way for those emissions to be captured.
In one of the quirks of the market that shows how much more oversight is needed, businesses can still reap the benefits of the offsets they’ve acquired even without the trees to sequester the carbon actually being there, according to the CNN report.
Even as the current crop of wildfires rage, another weather event threatens to make matters worse in the West.
That’s because there’s another “heat dome” expected to form over the U.S. that’s going to cause temperatures in the Western U.S. to skyrocket, according to a report in the Guardian. Temperatures could be 15 to 25 degrees higher than average in some areas, according to the Guardian’s reporting, and could break heat records.
Beverly Law, professor emeritus of Global Change Biology at Oregon State University College of Forestry, told CNN that forest offsets will be under more pressure thanks to a changing climate.
“They expect that will happen sometimes,” Law said about the calculations offset providers make on risks to the project they develop. “There’s going to be a lot more risk with climate change.”
There are a number of early stage technology companies that are looking to help battle these risks by predicting forest fires, better managing forest offsets, and using drones to battle the blaze.
These are businesses like SilviaTerra, a company that’s developed maps of all of the nation’s forests, and is helping determine where townships can remove vegetation. It’s also developed a trading platform for timber in the U.S.
Still other startups, like Chooch AI, are able to remotely recognize fires and help first responders get to blazes before they become towering infernos.
Artificial intelligence is also being used by companies like Ororatech, a Munich-based startup that uses satellite imagery from a network of 100 small cube sats that it hopes to build to identify fires early.
And finally, the robots are doing their parts as well. Especially Squishy Robotics, a company founded by UC Berkeley engineering professor Alice Agogino.
“We interviewed a number of first responders,” Agogino told TechCrunch in a 2019 interview. “They told us they want us to deploy ground sensors before they get there, to know what they’re getting into; then when they get there they want something to walk in front of them.”
These are the kinds of solutions that FootPrint Coalition wants to support — and the kind of predictive tools we’re already backing with investments in companies like ClimateAI, a company that provides weather forecasting to give businesses the information they need to respond to weather threats.
“Adapting to the impacts of climate change is critical to the future of our economy and essential to our future as a species,” said partner, Jon Schulhof, co-founder of FootPrint Coalition Ventures, when FootPrint announced our investment. “ClimateAi is a platform that provides long-term insights into weather and climate impacts, providing businesses the information they need today to take the actions needed now to adapt to the climate disruptions of tomorrow.”