Politics

California Wildfires: Is It Global Warming or Liberal Mismanagement?

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Transcript:

Well, it’s fire season once again here in California, and it sucks. It sucks for me and I’m 150 miles away, in absolutely no danger from having my home burnt to the ground but completely awash in smoke. If you’re in California right now, please make sure you’re breathing clean air. Get masks for you and your family that are rated N95 or N100 (those are the ones that are guaranteed to keep out the particulates from wildfire smoke), get an air purifier for your home, keep your windows shut, and limit the amount of time you go outside, especially for people with respiratory illnesses, children, and pets. Yeah, Indy’s been inside for the past week. He might explode.

And as a reminder, don’t use essential oils to “clean” the air. Check out my video about that from last year (when everything was on fire) for more information.

On to the big news, which is that Donald Trump is threatening to pull federal funding from California fire fighters because he thinks it’s our own dumb fault.

So now everyone is arguing over who or what is to blame: liberal tree-hugging politicians who refuse to do controlled burns in order to stop catastrophic fires from breaking out, or human society in general for pumping co2 into the air and drastically altering the climate to one which is increasingly uninhabitable? The answer is (drumroll please): YES. Sort of. Both of those things but mostly the second one, and they’re related.

At the start of this year, a team of researchers from Berkeley published a study in BioScience suggesting that California was uniquely primed to experience the worst wildfires humans have ever seen. They found that this situation has arisen because of a few factors: for one, yes, the Californian government has possibly been too good at saving our forests, putting out wildfires as soon as they start. Seems like a good idea, but local indigenous tribes understood that whole circle of life concept — it’s better to let small fires burn their way around and take out dead trees before you end up with so many dead trees and underbrush that the smallest spark can be disastrous.

But the lack of small fires isn’t the only reason why California has a large number of dead trees everywhere. We are currently in the midst of a great Californian tree die-off, in which hundreds of millions of trees have died due to drought and insects, indisputably caused by climate change.

The Forest Service and Cal Fire have been working on this issue (because, by the way, the federal government owns more forest in California than California does, Trump’s blustering notwithstanding), fixing California’s forest management policy by thinning forests and doing controlled burns wherever they can. They removed a quarter of a million trees from the Sierra National Forest alone last year, with about half a million trees in total being sent to biomass plants and sold as lumber where possible. But obviously they can’t do it all immediately, and the federal government, which currently helps with funding these efforts, thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax and our President has now used Twitter to threaten to further cut funds while the fires are still raging and bodies are still being found, so you can imagine what an uphill battle this is.

So yes, ill-conceived policies haven’t helped, but that part is being fixed. Meanwhile, it’s global warming that has done the most damage, and not just by killing millions of trees to make kindling for the next wildfire. The drought also means dried up grasses, and less water in the air and falling from the sky to dampen a fire. High winds make for an inferno that can destroy a football field in under a second. Just picture that: you’re in the stands, looking at a football field that is perfectly normal. By the time you say “one thousand one” it’s in flames.

It’s a horrific problem, and I hope that you’re all keeping yourselves safe. If you’re in an evacuation zone, get out as soon as you can. If you have neighbors, help them get out, too. And if you’re within a few hundred miles, go to your local hardware store and pick up an N-95 or N-100 mask. Your lungs will thank you.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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