What They’re Saying: Climate Change Catastrophes, West Coast Wildfires, and Hurricane Sally
Washington, D.C. – The West continues to burn with 87 wildfires raging across the region. Meanwhile in the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Sally made landfall and is projected to cause extreme flooding and high winds, putting at risk thousands in Florida and Alabama.
Still, with climate catastrophes taking over the country, President Trump continues to peddle misinformation claiming “I don’t think science knows actually,” and using his Twitter to falsely link the wildfires to arson.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
- Director of the Sierra Club of California, Kathryn Phillips: “It’s all part of managing the state’s necessary relationship with a temperamental commander-in-chief.” “What essentially is happening is that Newsom is having to be, in a way, a sacrificial lamb,” Phillips said. “He’s the one who has to be very gentle with the president, even though I have no doubt that he disagrees with him on just about everything.” [The Washington Post, 9/14/2020]
- Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg: “Showing up matters,” he said in an interview. “But more important is what you actually do. The country desperately needs national leadership around the climate emergency.” [The New York Times, 9/14/2020]
- Mayor of Mobile Alabama, Sandy Stimpson: “The pleas that we’re making to you, the warnings that we’re giving you, they’re serious,” “They’re talking about unprecedented amounts of rainfall.” [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
- Meteorologist, Brandon Miller: “Hurricanes and tropical storms that make landfall in the Gulf of Mexico are more likely to produce tornadoes compared to storms in the Atlantic.” “Note that this is less true for Texas landfalls in the Gulf — since the coastline angles more south to north like the Atlantic East Coast, rather than east to west like in the northern Gulf of Mexico coastline of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida Panhandle.” [CNN, 9/16/2020]
- Climate scientist at Stanford University, Noah Diffenbaugh: “There’s no evidence that California is likely to encounter cooling,” “Climate model projections show that a warming trend is virtually certain to continue as long as global warming continues.” [Mercury News, 9/14/2020]
- Oregon State University professor of tree growth and fire management, John Bailey: “Many places don’t have the capacity or the money to do the work.” “Sometimes I feel like we are making progress at increasing the pace and scale of resilience treatments, but largely, the same issues are at play, and progress has been slow,” “More folks are probably ‘on board’ to the ideas, but implementation is hard.” [AP, 9/15/2020]
- Climate scientist and Professor at the University of California Davis, Benjamin Houlton: “There is no doubt based on the state of the science, we would not be seeing 3 million acres plus of wildfire activity in California right now without the impacts of global climate change,” [ABC10, 9/15/2020]
- California Secretary of Natural Resources, Wade Crowfoot:”If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.” [ABC10, 9/15/2020]
- Forest ecologist and climate change scientist at UC Berkeley, Patrick Gonzalez:, “All credible scientists are in complete agreement on the human cause of climate change.” “Human-caused climate change has driven half the severity of a drought across the southwestern U.S., including California, from 2000 to today, the driest period since the 1500s.” [The Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2020]
- Hurricane center senior specialist, Stacy Stewart: “This is going to be historic flooding along with the historic rainfall.” “If people live near rivers, small streams and creeks, they need to evacuate and go somewhere else.” [CBS 46 Atlanta, 9/16/2020]
- Meteorologist with National Weather Service Birmingham, John De Block: The storm was drifting “at the speed of a child in a candy shop,” as if it were meandering through the aisles and waffling over its choices. [New York Times, 9/16/2020]
Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: How Trump’s creation of an alternate universe endangers the American people
The persistent danger of Trump’s governing style is that truth carries no weight and the health and well-being of the American people are of little concern. All that matters to Trump is Trump, and state laws and health directives are optional. Yet his decisions have consequences. Here’s just one example: Oklahoma officials believe the president’s lightly attended, and ill-advised, Tulsa rally in June “more than likely” fueled a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Like President Trump, conservative media stars dismiss climate change — which scientists say is the primary cause of the conflagration — and point to the poor management of forestland by local (and, conveniently, Democratic) officials. Fringe right-wing websites, like The Gateway Pundit, have blamed left-wing arsonists, fueling false rumors that authorities say are impeding rescue efforts.
The billowing wildfire smoke that has blanketed much of the West Coast with a caustic haze also began settling into the atmosphere thousands of miles away on Tuesday. While more favorable weather has allowed firefighters to make some progress against the devastating blazes in Oregon, the crisis was far from over: The largest fires were still mostly uncontained, the air has been some of the most polluted on the planet for a week, and the state was setting up a mobile morgue as crews continued to sift through the rubble for missing people.
Spencer Bokat-Lindell, New York Times: The Wildfires Show That Stopping Climate Change Is No Longer Enough
Scientists have estimated that even if aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were made today, it would still take decades for them to have any noticeable effect on rising temperatures. “If the fires of 2020 horrify you, as they should,” David Wallace-Wells writes for New York magazine, “consider that by 2050, when the benefits of fast climate action will only begin to arrive, the area burned annually in the West is expected to have at least doubled, and perhaps quadrupled.”
Los Angeles Times: The Worst Fire Season Ever. Again.
Hundreds of wildfires, of varying size, scorch the state each year. The total area consumed has increased sharply this decade. With fire season still beginning, 2020 has already shattered the all-time record with 3.2 million acres burned so far.
In the past few months, one in every 33 acres of California has burned. This year is already the most destructive wildfire season, in terms of acreage affected, in state history. In 2018, during California’s last annus horribilis, I noted that six of the 10 largest wildfires in state history had happened since 2008. That list has since been completely rewritten. Today, six of California’s 10 largest wildfires have happened since 2018—and five of them have happened this year.
The wildfires devastating California and other parts of the western United States are the worst in 18 years, with vast amounts of thick smoke affecting large areas of the North America and even reaching Northern Europe, scientists said Wednesday. The fires, which began in mid-August in California and Colorado, are “significantly more intense than the 2003-2019 average for the whole country and the affected states,” according to data from Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).
Hurricane Sally parked itself over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, churning slowly and lumbering at a sluggish pace toward land, representing a climate change reality that has made many hurricanes wetter, slower and more dangerous.
New York Times: Why Hurricane Sally Could Bring a Deluge
Climate change is making hurricanes wetter, because as the atmosphere warms it can hold more moisture. But Hurricane Sally is expected to dump as much as two and a half feet of rain on parts of the Gulf Coast over the next few days, and such enormous amounts cannot be chalked up to increased atmospheric moisture alone.
After two days spent spinning less than 150 miles off the coast of Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, Hurricane Sally finally made its move to come ashore Tuesday night, intensifying as it did so. It is now crawling inland near the border of Alabama and Florida, deluging those states. “Catastrophic, historic flooding is unfolding,” warns the National Hurricane Center.
For the residents whose homes were destroyed, it is unclear when — or whether — they will be able to return home. And those who fled east to New Orleans faced an impossible choice over the weekend: go back to Lake Charles to flee New Orleans as Sally approached or ride out the storm.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS
The Atlantic: The Electoral College Is Also a Climate Problem
But the Electoral College also undermines the fight against climate change. If every additional vote in California, Oregon, and Washington—which between them boast roughly 50 million people—mattered as much as every additional vote in a swing state, Biden might have spent the past few weeks touring the West Coast and explaining how his plans can save its residents from a climate apocalypse that threatens to make their home unlivable.
Climate action is one of the most important distinctions between these candidates in November. Trump wants to expand the dominant US fossil fuel economy, spewing more carbon into the air he doesn’t think is changing. Biden wants to transition the entire US economy to deal with the climate crisis. Both men, essentially, want to spend trillions of dollars. Trump wants to cut taxes even more than he already has without enacting any spending cuts to to the social safety net.
Policymakers, having left America unprepared for what’s next, now face brutal choices about which communities to save — often at exorbitant costs — and which to sacrifice. Their decisions will almost inevitably make the nation more divided, with those worst off relegated to a nightmare future in which they are left to fend for themselves. Nor will these disruptions wait for the worst environmental changes to occur.