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California Wildfires in the Age of Trump

The sky held an orange hue that made it look like something outside of a science fiction movie. Smoke covers large areas of land lying over the state of California, Washington, and Oregon. Wildfires are not unusual in the state of California but the extent to which they have been occurring, especially in 2020, is worse than in previous years. Governors on the West Coast ask for help landing upon deaf ears from a president who consistently says climate change does not exist and refuses to believe in the scientific evidence that proves him wrong.

The West Coast of the United States, specifically the state of California, has always faced the threat and occurrence of wildfires. In more recent decades, however, wildfires have become more intensive and destructive. Recent wildfires (i.e. the 2020 wildfire season) have expanded far along the West Coast with images from NASA showing the smoke from the fires looking like a thick white blanket covering the horizon, the entire state of California at one point being covered in a white blanket of smoke. What one would say looks like average rain clouds is actually smoke from wildfires on the ground blanketing the West Coast, even blocking out the sun causing temperatures to drop. Instead of usual 85-degree days, the smoke causes the temperature to drop down in the mid-50s. NBC reports that more than four million acres of forest have burned since the start of wildfire season in California, larger than the area that the state of New Jersey covers. Back in September of 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported a broken record of 3.2 million acres having burned. In that time, the wildfire season had barely started and Santa Ana winds that tend to help fan the flames had not even come in yet from the south. Social media painted clear pictures of the apocalyptic-looking scenes that were happening in California. Hues of orange and red and smoke blocking the sunlight painted a picture of a post-apocalyptic California that was only ever depicted in science fiction movies—movies like Mad Max or Avatar or other sci-fi movies.

Over the past 20 years, wildfires (much like the trends of other natural disasters such as hurricanes) have become frequent and intensive, with many of the wildfires now nipping at the borders of many heavily populated areas that have not experienced heavy threats of wildfire, like Los Angeles. Many scientists and researchers are pointing to climate change as one of the main reasons that wildfires have become so common over the past two decades. Record heat waves in California over the past decade have aided in wildfires becoming more intensive and causing more destruction than they did in the past. The drier and warmer the air is, the more dry tinder in forests are created; with one spark an entire forest could go up in flames, whether naturally or by human err. According to Accuweather and California Fire’s website, the combination of very dry winter months and not a lot precipitation in winter and spring made California ripe for the picking for wildfires in 2020. Air quality on the West Coast has caused much of it to be covered in an orange or gray hue from the smoke, and caused a lot of health problems for residents near the fires to arise, especially amid a pandemic that has caused many people to quarantine within their homes. Smoke from wildfires can spread harmful particles that may cause inflammation when inhaled, and during a global pandemic it makes fighting these fires and staying safe even more difficult. Multiple news sources from the LA Times to NBC to California Fire’s website say that California in 2020 (back in September) was far from seeing the end of wildfires since Santa Ana winds had not come in yet. Santa Ana winds bring warm air currents from the south, down by Mexico, and up through California which tends to help feed some wildfires in the state. Firefighters in California have been exhausted (physically and in terms of numbers) due to the fires that have been raging since August, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still looming large over the state and with COVID cases still rising, containing the wildfires has been more difficult than in the past years. With many fires raging across the state of California, the amount of deaths caused by wildfires has amounted to more than 30 in September, with many more people missing from their homes.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown have come out publicly to say that climate change has been the major driving force for the intensity of the wildfires. Other politicians blame anything other than climate change for wildfires because climate change is still a major debate within the United States, despite the scientific evidence. Even in 2020. According to Governor Jay Inslee who told ABC’s “This Week” program back in September, “It’s maddening right now we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president deny that these are just wildfires, these are climate fires.” President Trump stated that the wildfires were due to poor forest management. Poor forest management? With all due respect, the president believes forest management is sweeping the forest like you would sweep a rug clean of dirt. That is not how forest management works, at all. Wildfires are common occurrences on the West Coast but the rate at which they are occurring is not common. Forest management is defined as, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “a dynamic and evolving concept, which aims to maintain and enhance the economic, social and environmental values of all types of forests, for the benefit of present and future generations.” Now this does not explain how to “properly” apply forest management but it does say that it is to protect forest for the present and future generations. The present generation is already fed up with all of the issues involving the climate that have been blatantly ignored by the president, as seen in climate protests that took place all around the world in 2019. The FAO describes forest management as looking at the resources a forest has and regulating them to benefit the society around the forest in a safe and beneficial way. For California, forest management is not sweeping the forest ground—it involves extensive policies and protections for the forest.

Joe Biden stated that the wildfires were undeniably connected to climate change and said, “climate change poses an imminent threat to our way of life.” Biden is right. Climate change does pose an imminent threat to our way of life because climate change is not just intense wildfires. It is intense hurricanes, and rising sea levels that will inevitably flood cities and small island nations, turning them into places like the mythical city of Atlantis. From an environmental standpoint, climate change is not some far off concept with no evidence backing it; it is happening before our very eyes and in devastating ways. Denying that climate change does not exist today would be like denying that the sun rises in the morning or that the earth is round and orbits the sun. (Yes, I am aware of flat earthers but I am not talking about them, or them ignoring images from space proving them wrong. If the earth was flat people would have fallen off the Earth by now. Just saying.) We are past the point of ignoring the effects of climate change, we are even past the point of stopping the effects of global warming. We are at the point where we can only mitigate the effects that will inevitably come. Mitigating forests, switching to more renewable sources of energy—it is time to actually believe what the science is telling us. Climate change is real, it is happening, and the effects of climate change can no longer be ignored.

A clock in New York has a countdown of how many years we have left before the effects of harmful greenhouse gases ravage the planet, and the number displayed was heartbreaking. Seven years before the effects of climate change become irreversible. Less than a decade. That number should shock everyone to their cores because it should come as a wake up call. The pandemic should have been our wake up call. Planet Earth is done crying in hopes that we will hear her cries and help her, and being blatantly ignored. Now she is screaming for us, yelling at the world to wake up, do something, before the planet that we have taken so much from and taken for so much granted finally stops giving.


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