What They’re Saying: Climate Change is Fueling Catastrophic Wildfires
Washington, D.C. – With the death toll rising and millions more Americans told to evacuate, experts have warned that extreme heat and drought caused by climate change are fueling the wildfires in the West – underscoring the urgent need for bold climate action.
Today, President Trump will finally visit California to receive a briefing on the fires. For weeks, Trump has chosen to ignore the realities of and suffering from the wildfires, choosing instead spread misinformation and climate denial.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
- California Governor Gavin Newsom: “We’re in the midst of a climate emergency. We’re experiencing what so many people predicted decades ago… I’m exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue.” [Sacramento Bee, 9/14/2020]
- Washington Governor Jay Inslee: “We have a blowtorch over our states in the West, which is climate change.” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
- Oregon Governor Brown said on CBS’s Face the Nation: “This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast. And this is a wake-up call for all of us that we have got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change.”
- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “It’s been very clear that years of drought, as we’re seeing, whether it’s too much water and too much rain in parts of our country right now, or too little. This is climate change and this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand.” [CNN, State of the Union, 9/13/20]
- Garcetti: “Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real. It seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation.” [CNN, 9/13/20]
- Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley: “It is apocalyptic,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said Sunday on ABC’s ‘This Week.’ “I drove 600 miles up and down the state, and I never escaped the smoke. We have thousands of people who have lost their homes. I could have never envisioned this.” [ABC, This Week, 9/13/20]
- Former California Governor Jerry Brown: “As an historic figure, he is one of the most culpable men in America contributing to the suffering and death that is now occurring through climate-related tragedy.” [New York Times, 9/13/2020]
- Former Republican Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman: “It’s mind-boggling, the ignorance that he displays on this subject. He doesn’t understand climate change. He doesn’t particularly believe in science. It’s all about him and his re-election. He doesn’t govern for all Americans.” [New York Times, 9/13/2020]
- Yifang Zhu, a professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health: “When you add COVID, extreme heat, wildfires and air pollution all together, they’re all detrimental to public health, and it just makes things worse. These stressors are happening at the same time. So the impact is cumulative and maybe even synergistic to each other.” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
- Philip B. Duffy, the president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center: “It’s interesting to draw the parallels between Covid and climate change. In both of those cases, Trump personally has refused to recognize the threat. In both cases, there is no plan to deal with crisis.” [New York Times, 9/13/2020]
- Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute: “What we’ve been seeing in California are some of the clearest events where we can say this is climate change — that climate change has clearly made this worse.” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
- Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the Breakthrough Institute: “We have seen the rapid warming of California summers really turbocharge the type of conditions that are suitable for rapid growth of wildfires,” Hausfather said. “We see fires growing from essentially nothing to a quarter of a million acres in one day. And that’s because the conditions are ripe, and temperature plays a large role.” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
- John Abatzoglou, associate professor in the Department of Management of Complex Systems at UC Merced: “What we are seeing play out does indeed have human fingerprints on it, including those from climate change. We can see how warm and dry years catalyze these fires” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
- Ralph Lucas, a fire operation section chief in Oregon: “We’re literally out of firefighters and equipment due to the sheer magnitude of fires that are occurring in the western United States.” [LA Times, 9/13/2020]
“When President Trump flies to California on Monday to assess the state’s raging forest fires, he will come face to face with the grim consequences of a reality he has stubbornly refused to accept: the devastating effects of a warming planet.”
Washington Post: The West Coast is on fire. Why is Trump barely paying attention?
That said, Trump is just an accelerant, not the originator of our woes, environmental or otherwise. In my darkest moments, I suspect that expecting American society, which can’t get a grip on so many issues, to suddenly begin dealing with climate change borders on the delusional. But we need to pay attention and begin to force the administration to take action. Whether it’s the flood of a hurricane, the winds of a derecho or the wall of fire in the western part of the United States, our entire way of life is at stake.
In just the past month, nearly two decades after the third United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was issued, heat records were busted across California, more than 3 million acres of land burned, and in major metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, air pollution has skyrocketed.
After weeks of public silence about the wildfires devastating the West Coast, President Trump scheduled a visit to California on Monday, where he will join local and federal fire and emergency officials for a briefing on the crisis. The announcement of the visit, which was added to a three-day campaign swing through Nevada and Arizona, came after Mr. Trump tweeted Friday night thanking the firefighters and emergency medical workers.
In the San Francisco Bay area earlier this week, the skies were an orange-red even in the middle of the day, leading to surreal images of streetlights illuminating apocalyptic scenes in the middle of a California morning. Trump, though, hasn’t said much about the fires. On Aug. 20, he resuscitated his bizarre assertions about Californians needing to rake out tens of thousands of acres of woodlands — a suggestion that he clearly sees as more feasible than, say, addressing the warming climate that’s a central factor in the conflagrations.
Over the past 24 hours on his Twitter feed, President Trump has attacked Democrats and racial injustice protesters nearly a dozen times, mentioned law and order, and made false claims about mail voting. But on the increasingly deadly, catastrophic wildfires in California and Oregon that have displaced 500,000 people, caused fire tornadoes, killed a 1-year-old in Washington state, and blotted out the sun in one of America’s largest metropolitan areas, he has been nearly silent. The president has tweeted about the fires only once, on Friday evening.
Wildfires burning across the western states are staggering in size – in some cases expanding with such explosive force that they have burned more acreage within a few weeks than what might have previously burned all year. The flames this week belched up enough smoke and soot to temporarily blot out the sun and turn skies orange across the region.
Entire towns have been burned to the ground.Thousands have been forced to flee their homes. And apocalyptic scenes played out in San Francisco, as the city was blanketed in smoke so thick it blocked out the sun. The scale of the fires burning in the Western US right now are unprecedented. More than 3 million acres have burned in California alone, with three of the five largest fires in state history still burning all at once, along with huge swaths of Oregon and Washington.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that the massive fires devastating the West Coast are a result of “decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country” as well as “the failure to tackle climate change.”
The cityscape resembles the surface of a distant planet, populated by a masked alien culture. The air, choked with blown ash, is difficult to breathe. There is the Golden Gate Bridge, looming in the distance through a drift-smoke haze, and the Salesforce Tower, which against the blood-orange sky appears as a colossal spaceship in a doomsday film. San Francisco, and much of California, has never been like this.
“California is being pushed to extremes,” the L.A. Times reports in today’s lead story. “And the record heat, fires and pollution all have one thing in common: They were made worse by climate change.” “Their convergence is perhaps the strongest signal yet that the calamity climate scientists have warned of for years isn’t far off in the future; it is here today and can no longer be ignored.”
As orange skies dawned across Northern California and parts of Oregon last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom jumped on Twitter to comment. “California fires in 2019 … 118k acres burned,” he wrote. “California fires in 2020 (so far) … 2.3 million acres burned. CLIMATE. CHANGE. IS. REAL.” Newsom wasn’t the only one connecting the devastating wildfires to our overheating planet. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also chimed in, writing: “Make no mistake: Climate change is already here — and we’re witnessing its devastating effects every single day.” Scientists have long warned that rising temperatures could make wildfires more severe; in California, the area torched by fires each year has quintupled since the 1970s.
Firefighters in California have been battling multiple fires throughout the state for nearly a month as hot, dry weather has fueled flames and created tinderbox conditions in some areas. More than 16,750 firefighters are battling 29 major wildfires across the state as of Sunday, according to CalFire. Deadly fires have burned an astonishing 3.3 million acres in the state in 2020, creating smoky conditions and weather concerns that have resulted in partial power shutoffs for thousands of California residents in an effort to prevent additional fires.
Wildfires scorching the West Coast have devastated the small city of Detroit, Oregon — located about 120 miles southeast of Portland — where a majority of the structures in the rural enclave have been flattened by fire. “We have approximately 20-25 structures still standing, and the rest are gone,” officials with the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District said on their Facebook page.
Los Angeles Times: Because of fire, West Coast has four of the world’s 10 most polluted cities
Smoke has suffused the sky for days, replacing a bright yellow sun with a hazy red orb and raining down flakes of ash on much of the West Coast, where four cities on Sunday were among the 10 most polluted places in the world. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle ranked eighth, sixth and third, respectively, but the dubious honor of worst air of any big city on the globe went to Portland, Ore., where smoke was blowing in from more than 30 blazes burning across the state.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said Sunday the wildfires raging across the west coast are a “wake up call” for officials to take action on climate change.
Brown said the cause of the fires is being investigated, but said the region saw the “perfect fire storm.”
“We saw incredible winds, we saw very cold hot temperatures, and of course we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought,” Brown said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the west coast and this is a wakeup call for all of us that we have to do everything in our power to tackle climate change.”
With crews battling wildfires that have killed at least 35 people, destroyed neighborhoods and enveloped the West Coast in smoke, another fight has emerged: leaders in the Democratic-led states and President Donald Trump have clashed over the role of climate change ahead of his visit Monday to California.
California, Oregon and Washington state have seen historic wildfires that have burned faster and farther than ever before. Numerous studies in recent years have linked bigger wildfires in the U.S. to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas.