Lawmakers continue to turn a blind eye despite glaring climate changes
The smell of sulfur and burned metal hung in the air last week as ash rained down on search crews and cadaver dogs. So far 13 people have been identified out of the 42 confirmed dead — resulting in the deadliest week for California wildfires in history.
One Sonoma County couple tried hopelessly, against the apocalyptic backdrop of a reddish-purple sun and orange skyline, to hose down the raging fire that would soon engulf 5,700 buildings across California, including their lifelong home.
“We lost our house,” said Jessica Rodriguez, a third-year sociology major and Napa Valley College transfer student, as she fought back tears. “It completely burned down. We lost everything you can imagine.”
“This is one of the greatest tragedies California has ever faced,” Governor Jerry Brown said after touring destroyed neighborhoods in Santa Rosa this weekend. “The horror is something none of us will ever forget, but it’s not over yet.”
Just one week after the fires first ignited in Northern California, the scope of the damage has reached 220,000 torched acres, over 100,000 evacuees and a few hundred missing people across 10 counties.
Battling these fires are a small army of aircraft, state officials and 11,000 firefighters (of which 35 percent are nonviolent prison inmates, including a couple hundred women, earning $1 per hour). Although the fire could still behave erratically in the coming days, several evacuation orders have been lifted, and firefighters are hoping that incoming cool weather and potential rains in Sonoma and Napa counties will help extinguish the flames for good.
Representatives from Cal Fire, the state agency employing the inmates, profess that these wine country fires are nastier than and largely unrecognizable from those of just a couple decades ago. And based on what we know about the link between warming and wildfires, the same will be true 30 years from now if global temperatures continue to rise.
“This is the new normal,” said Michael Brauer, a public health professor at the University of British Columbia, in reference to the increasing levels of wildfire induced by the fatal air quality. “It’s not a happy story, but we just need to learn how to respond to it.”
The ferocity of this year’s wildfire season is due in part to high-speed winds combined with grasslands fed by heavy rains in the winter and spring made very dry by California’s hottest summer on record.
While the western United States is literally burning, President Trump’s EPA, led by a notorious climate change denier, continues to repeal Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing national greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, even our own liberal state legislature recently failed to pass a measure that would require 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045 amid what climate activists are calling “Decade Zero.”
California is heralded as a global leader of the environment. But at best, we’re merely reacting to this fiery man-made crisis instead of being proactive. At worst, our government is complicit in fanning the flames of a blaze that has scorched a landmass the size of over 40 UC Davis campuses in one week.
A report by Consumer Watchdog titled “Brown’s Dirty Hands” revealed that Democratic Governor Brown has received nearly $10 million in donations since 2010 from fossil fuel interests, including PG&E — the company whose fallen power lines are allegedly responsible for the wildfires.
In addition to being a symptom of climate change, these wildfires have also created pollution equal to a year’s worth of traffic in just two days, including the worst air quality ever recorded in the Bay Area.
For any Californian still skeptical about the need for urgent climate action — and for state lawmakers who engage in back-door dealings with the worst polluters — this is our wake-up call.
Written by: Francisco Ferreyra
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