A Climate Reckoning in Fire-Stricken California.
If global climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, but today it has become too real for Californians fleeing wildfires and smothered in a blanket of smoke, the worst year of fires on record.
Multiple mega-fires burning quite three million acres with millions of residents smothered in toxic air. Rolling blackouts and triple-digit heat waves. One of the scientists has described climate change as smacking California in the face.
The crisis encompassing the nation’s most populous state is an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It’s also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but few expected it to happen so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying one another.
“You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,” said Roy Wright, who directed resilience programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018 and grew up in Vacaville, Calif., near this year’s largest fires. “It’s apocalyptic.”
The same might be said for the whole West Coast in the week, to Washington and Oregon, where towns were decimated by infernos as firefighters were stretched to their limits.
California’s crises demonstrate the working of the ripple effect and scorching summer led to such dry conditions that were never experienced before. That aridity helped make the season’s wildfires the deadliest ever recorded as out of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history 6 of them have occurred this year.
If global climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, today it’s a dark reality for Californians. The intensely hot wildfires aren’t only chasing thousands of individuals from their homes but causing dangerous chemicals to leach into drinking water. Excessive heat warnings and suffocating smoky air have threatened the health of individuals already struggling during the pandemic. And the threat of more wildfires has led insurance companies to cancel homeowner policies and the state’s main utility to shut off power to tens of thousands of civilians pre-emptively.
“If you’re in denial about global climate change, come to California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said last month.
Officials have worried about cascading disasters. They didn’t think they might start so soon.
“We used to worry about one natural hazard at a time,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who oversaw resilience planning on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “The acceleration of climate impacts has happened faster than even we anticipated.”
The scientists dealing with Climate change have explained that the mechanism driving the wildfire crisis is straightforward which includes human behavior, mainly burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, greenhouse gases responsible for an increase in temperatures, desiccating forests, and priming them to burn.
The senior director for resilience at the NSC Mark Harvey said that the govt had struggled to organize for situations like what was happening in California.
“The government does a very, very bad job looking at cascading scenarios,” Mr. Harvey said. “Most of our systems are built to handle one problem at a time.”
This year’s wildfires in California have been decades in the making. The lengthy drought that ended in 2017 was the main reason for the death of 163 million trees in California forests over the past decade, as per U.S. Forest Service. One of the fastest-moving fires this year ravaged the forests that had the highest concentration of dead trees, south of Yosemite Park.
In the north, the Bear Fire became the 10th largest in modern California history, burning through an astonishing 230,000 acres in one 24-hour period.
“It’s really shocking to ascertain the amount of fast-moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, LA. “I’ve spoken to maybe dozen fire and climate experts over the last 48 hours and everyone is at a loss of words. There is certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale.”
While the state mobilizes to counter the immediate threats, the fires leave California with difficult and costly longer-term problems, everything from the consequences of smoke inhalation to damaged water systems.
Wildfire smoke in the worst cases can be deadly, especially among older people. The different studies in this regard show that when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospitalizations rises, and patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks, and strokes.
The coronavirus pandemic adds a new layer of risk to an already perilous situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued statements warning that people with Covid-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.
“The longer we have bad air in California, the more we’ll be concerned about adverse health effects,” said John Balmes, a spokesman for the American Lung Association and a professor of drugs at the University of California, San Francisco.