The historic Northern California wildfires were obviously aggravated by global warming caused by the emissions of manmade greenhouse gases, but don’t expect that simple truth to get much attention in Bay Area local media right now.
I make this unequivocal statement with all due respect for the dead, injured and those who lost their homes in Wine Country and beyond, but a culture that ignores the truth and stops listening to its scientists and intellectuals will eventually face its extinction. We live in a post-truth era, and the smoldering remains of all the burnt-down houses in Northern California is both the face and the cost of the human folly.
As usual, the local television media outlets only focused on the immediate and the visceral. This meant those of us safe from the destruction viewed the fires through the lens of emotionalism, the images of the fires raging and homes burnt to the ground and the stories of those who escaped and those who didn’t. Fire makes for good visuals. Any reporter will tell you that. The tragedy is manifestly obvious and terribly sad, but I didn’t hear one local anchor, as their dire forecasts foretold the weather conditions igniting hell on earth, utter a word about the impact of global warming on the firestorms.
I might have missed something in the local news in the San Francisco Bay Area, and, if so, I will stand corrected, but I also stand by my overall point that most reporters and their editors intentionally ignored how global warming accelerated and intensified the fires even though they knew this was obvious and actually the most important part of the story. The omission seems to me to be a dereliction of journalistic duty and an immoral act that will result in future deaths by wildfire.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the fires had killed 42, injured hundreds, including those with chronic respiratory problems, and destroyed 5,700 structures. Initial damage estimates are $1 billion. Most of the 12, which started Oct. 8, have been contained to varying degrees. It rained in the area early Friday morning but the amount was insufficient to end wildfire season here.
The usual refrain after a major “natural” weather event that results in major loss of life and property in this country is that it’s too early to discuss why the particular event was so severe and what we can do to limit the severity in the future. That’s another post-truth phenomenon and logical fallacy. Now, when we can still smell the smoke, is exactly the time to speak what doth not get told by the fossil fuel industry about carbon emissions.
Here’s how global warming happens: Carbon dioxide produced by the manmade burning of fossil fuels and other dangerous chemicals get stuck in our atmosphere and then trap the sun’s heat causing the planet to warm in a process known logically as the greenhouse effect. This has been recorded diligently by scientists for decades.
The warming intensifies naturally occurring weather events, such as the Diablo Winds that accelerated the fires in Wine Country. This, along with other local impacts of global warming, like the historically hot summer in Northern California this year and its historically wet winter, set up the conditions for the destruction. The wet winter meant more plants and undergrowth, which eventually died and shriveled into something like straw because of the intense heat over the summer. This created the massive kindling for the unusual severity of the Diablo Winds.
It’s all in front of everyone’s eyes and in our bodies in this place. It’s not conjecture. Global warming is destroying our planet. You can see it, touch it, smell it, hear it and taste it in Northern California this week.
The right-wing leadership in this country, however, in its seemingly endless support of the fossil-fuel industry, has politicized such basic scientific information and tried to discombobulate personal sensory reality for simple greed. It’s the oldest morality tale. Global warming isn’t scientific speculation. The growing number of worldwide historic weather events in recent years, such as hurricanes, drought and now the wildfires, are very much for real as well. The increasing frequency of major weather events year after year is simply not sustainable because of the huge societal costs and shouldn’t be lost on anyone, especially Californians.
What if the fires rage again next year, or even the year after that, in Wine Country? How many times can you rebuild in an area that you know will face destruction again and again in relatively short intervals of time? This question applies also to hurricane-prone areas, such as Houston and the west coast of Florida. Now is exactly the time to talk about it.
A lot of people want a house on the beach or in the beautiful forests of Northern California, but I believe no one—no matter how wealthy—deserves such a home unless they are doing their part to drastically reduce global warming on the planet.
That means more than owning a Toyota Prius. It means calling out those leaders who deny global warming. It means electing leaders who will actually do something about it. It means celebrating and acknowledging scientific discovery and inquiry.
Sometimes it means just trusting your own basic human senses.