Are Cities Ready for Renewable Skyscrapers?

Every so often a product comes along that presents itself as a “sustainable” innovation, yet has compelling appeal even if sustainability isn’t someone’s top priority. Of course, sustainability has become something of an overused buzzword, but it generally refers to a production process that doesn’t deplete natural resources or damage the environment.

So called “mass timber” is an example of such an innovation. Able to replace reinforced concrete as a building material, it is economically competitive and aesthetically superior. It is perhaps the most profound innovation in building materials since the invention of reinforced concrete over 150 years ago – and it has the power to transform urban development.

By every measure of sustainability, mass timber beats concrete. As a forest product, it is genuinely renewable. Since smaller trees can be used for mass timber than for conventional lumber, more comprehensive forest thinning and fire prevention operations are commercially viable and larger trees can remain untouched.

For those who prioritize these variables, it is also an excellent way to permanently sequester carbon. Manufacturing concrete, by contrast, is a far more energy intensive process, and each year utilizes millions of tons of sand which is – surprisingly – a dwindling and non-renewable resource.

Laminated veneer, commonly known as plywood, has been around for decades. Mass timber (also referred to by the more descriptive term “cross laminated timber”) is where strips of wood are pressed together into large beams and panels, with each layer […] Read More

California’s Prop. 30 Will Not Save the Forests

The television ads are impossible to ignore. A stern man in a firefighter’s uniform stands beside the wasted ashes of an immolated forest. As a harrowing montage of towering flames, skies filled with smoke, and CO2 belching cars on freeways slide across the screen, exuding masculine authority, he explains “we are in a crisis.” His message is compelling. To save our forests, clean our air, and address the climate emergency, we must vote yes on Proposition 30.

Despite the vociferous opposition of the California Teachers Association, and their reliable surrogate, Governor Gavin Newsom, Prop. 30 looks headed for victory in November. This is proof, once again, that you can convince California’s electorate to approve anything so long as you claim it will address the climate crisis.

Prop. 30 is clever. Its popularity relies on the understandable frustration Californians have over worsening wildfires, which most Californians have been convinced is caused by climate change. Its solution? Slap a 1.75% tax on all personal income over $2.0 million per year, and use the money to fund “Zero-Emissions Vehicles and Wildfire Prevention.”

The devil is in the details. Of the estimated up to $4.5 billion annual proceeds, 80 percent will subsidize ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle) charging stations and ZEV rebates, and 20 percent will pay for “wildfire response and prevention.” But of that 20 percent, 75 percent will go to wildfire response, and 25 percent will go to wildfire prevention. Which is to say that out of […] Read More

While California Dries out and Burns, Bureaucrats Hype Diversity

A few months ago, a friend of mine in the water business participated in a lunchtime seminar in Sacramento on the topic of how to increase diversity in the water industry. Being a civil engineer, he thought the discussion would focus on how to develop diverse sources of water in a drought stricken state. Instead, as he later related to me with refreshing clarity, “the whole event was about how to get rid of white men.”

The man who hosted this event was Wade Crowfoot, who enjoyed media adulation in 2020 when he reportedly challenged President Trump on the science of climate change. Trump, who was being briefed by California state officials on the wildfires ravaging the state that summer, had said “It’ll just start getting cooler, you just watch.” Crowfoot responded, “I wish science agreed with you.”

When it comes to who’s running California, there’s nothing unique about Wade Crowfoot. In California, reducing the percentage of white men in any position of responsibility and hyping the “climate emergency” are behavioral prerequisites for any ambitious public servant. But to hear them endlessly parrot these themes can be quite frustrating, since it deflects attention away from their poor job performance.

Crowfoot’s portfolio includes management of California’s forests, which have suffered catastrophic fires in recent years. But the reason these fires have burned with such unprecedented ferocity is not primarily due to heat waves and drought, but due to appalling mismanagement, for which we have hostile bureaucrats and environmentalist extremists […] Read More

Questioning the Political Priorities of the Firefighters Union

As another summer of wildfires approaches, it is in the interest of every Californian to understand that California’s firefighters’ union, the California Professional Firefighters, is one of the most politically powerful unions in the state. This union has the power to help solve the growing problem of wildfires in California, but to more effectively do so they will have to make some tough and selfless political choices.

As it is, California’s firefighters’ union is a partisan political machine that is not standing up to environmental activists that, for decades, have undermined responsible forest management. At the same time, California’s firefighters receive union negotiated pay and benefits that have exempted them from – to use a term favored by the leftists their union aligns with – the “lived experience” of most Californians.

These problems are related. If firefighters received compensation based more on market rates instead of those rates their unions “negotiated” with politicians the unions helped elect, there would be more money to hire more firefighters. There would also be more money left over to spend on programs to prevent wildfires, instead the money running out every year after spending billions to extinguish wildfires.

Before going further, it is important to establish two things: First, to criticize the agenda of public sector unions does not constitute criticism of all unions, in all circumstances. Second, to question whether current pay scales for California’s firefighters are affordable or appropriate in no way diminishes the respect and appreciation we have for their […] Read More

Solutions to Top Issues That California Needs to Fix

AUDIO/VIDEO: We’re all aware by now of the problems facing California, but there isn’t enough discussion of practical solutions. This interview is a review of a nine-part series written for the California Policy Center that offers policy solutions to seven critical challenges: Energy, Water, Transportation, Housing, Homeless and Law Enforcement, Forestry, and Education. Edward Ring with Siyamak Khorrami on California Insider.

Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.

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Newsom’s True Opponents? Water and Fire

Not quite one year ago, Gavin Newsom did something that took political courage. It was also the right thing to do. He removed from one of the state’s local water boards one of the most outspoken critics of a desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach.

Unlike critics of desalination (once referred to as desalinization, and swiftly being rebranded yet again as desalting), Newsom understands a fundamental fact: When the Colorado Aqueduct reduces its annual contribution to the water supply of Southern California from over 1.0 million acre feet to zero, and the Delta pumps stop sending additional millions of acre feet of water down the California Aqueduct, in the midst of a drought that lasts not three years, but twenty years, all the water conservation in the world will not slake the thirst of Southern Californians.

Water conservation, when pushed to the limit, does more harm than good. It raises the price of water, since the entire operational infrastructure delivering water has a relatively fixed overhead that must be paid even when quantities delivered are reduced. It results in rationing, with consequences that are glibly dismissed. When lawns and trees die, more than “culture” is lost. Life is lost. Trees and lawns are life. They filter and cool the air, they nourish the human spirit. And every place you see a lawn, what you are really seeing is water resiliency. Surplus in the water system is healthy. Bend every fraction of surplus out […] Read More

Fixing California – Part Seven, Forest Management

Nobody knew how the fire started. It took hold in the dry chaparral and grasslands and quickly spread up the sides of the canyon. Propelled by winds gusting over 40 miles per hour and extremely dry air (humidity below 25 percent), the fire spread over the ridge and into the town below. Overwhelmed firefighters could not contain the blaze as it swept through the streets, immolating homes by the hundreds. Even brick homes with slate roofs were not spared. Before it finally was brought under control, 640 structures including 584 homes had been reduced to ashes. Over 4,000 people were left homeless.

Does this sound like the “new normal?” Maybe so, but this description is of the Berkeley fire of 1923. In its time, with barely 4 million people living in California, the Berkeley fire was a catastrophe on par with the fires we see today.

When evaluating what has happened nearly a century since the Berkeley fire, two stories emerge. The story coming from California’s politicians emphasizes climate change. The other story, which comes from professional foresters, stresses how different forest management practices might have made many of the recent fires far less severe—and perhaps avoided entirely.

Specifically, California’s misguided forest management practices included several decades of successful fire suppression, combined with a failure to remove all the undergrowth that results when natural fires aren’t allowed to burn.

Back in 1923, tactics to suppress forest fires were in their infancy. But techniques and technologies improved apace with firefighting […] Read More

The Unelected Tyrants Who Burned Down California

If this seems like an unfair title, it isn’t, though some of these tyrants were appointed by elected politicians. And all of these tyrants rely on laws that were passed by elected politicians. But while there is plenty of blame to go around, tyranny is what Californians have endured. A tyrannical system is entirely to blame for apocalyptic fires that are wiping out California’s forests, fouling the air, and killing everything in their path.

So who are these unelected tyrants?

We can start with federal and state bureaucrats. Principal among them are the careerist ideologues who dominate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, abetted by the fanatics who run California’s Air Resources Board, along with dozens of other federal and state agencies. Joining them outside of government to assist in the incineration of California’s precious ecosystems are the lobbyists and litigants representing powerful environmentalist nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

So numerous they escape individual accountability, these tyrants collectively have made it nearly impossible to engage in logging, forest thinning, or controlled burns. The policies, regulations, and judgments these tyrants relentlessly advocate and ruthlessly enforce are the reason California’s fires in recent years have been cataclysmic.

As a consequence, after more than a century of increasingly effective suppression of natural fires, California’s forests are now overgrown tinderboxes. They’re either going to get cleared out mechanically, or they’re going to burn like hell.

Opposing this tyranny does not signify a lack of concern for our natural […] Read More

Firefighters Union Backs Prop. 15 Instead of Forestry Reform

Thousands of firefighters continue to battle blazes across California. In Orange County, two firefighters are in critical condition after suffering major injuries battling the Silverado Fire. Every year around this time, firefighters risk their lives, and some of them lose their lives, protecting the rest of us from these catastrophic fires.

Deep respect for what firefighters do, however, cannot excuse us of our obligation to criticize the political agenda of the firefighters union. Moreover, it is likely that if the firefighter union leadership redirected their political priorities, it would save lives and property. It would free up firefighting resources, allowing them to be concentrated in remaining trouble spots.

In this fraught political season, California’s firefighters union has decided to endorse Prop. 15, the controversial “split roll” ballot initiative. If enacted, Prop. 15 will require business properties to be reassessed at market rates. If passed, the increased tax revenue is estimated at between $6.5 billion and $11.5 billion per year.

It isn’t necessary to debate the pros and cons of Prop. 15 here. Nor is it necessary to recap why it is the mission of every public sector union in California to increase taxes, despite the fact that Californians already pay the highest overall taxes in the United States.

Most everyone agrees that if you are a victim of a fire, or are injured or killed fighting a fire, no amount of monetary compensation is adequate. But that perspective, which reasonable people acknowledge, has a corollary: […] Read More

How to Save California’s Forests

For about twenty million years, California’s forests endured countless droughts, some lasting over a century. Natural fires, started by lightening and very frequent in the Sierras, were essential to keep forest ecosystems healthy. In Yosemite, for example, meadows used to cover most of the valley floor, because while forests constantly encroached, fires would periodically wipe them out, allowing the meadows to return. Across millennia, fire driven successions of this sort played out in cycles throughout California’s ecosystems.

Also for the last twenty million years or so, climate change has been the norm. To put this century’s warming into some sort of context, Giant Sequoias once grew on the shores of Mono Lake. For at least the past few centuries, forest ecosystems have been marching into higher latitudes because of gradual warming. In the Sierra Foothills, oaks have invaded pine habitat, and pine have in-turn invaded the higher elevation stands of fir. Today, it is mismanagement, not climate change, that is the primary threat to California’s forests. This can be corrected.

In a speech before the U.S. Congress last September, Republican Tom McClintock summarized the series of policy mistakes that are destroying California’s forests. McClintock’s sprawling 4th Congressional District covers 12,800 square miles, and encompasses most of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountain range. His constituency bears the brunt of the misguided green tyranny emanating from Washington DC and Sacramento. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

“Excess timber comes out of the forest in only two ways – it […] Read More