A Hotter World Means More Wildfires in our Future

For most of us in the North State, 2018 will be remembered as the year of multiple, devastating wildfires. First it was the Carr Fire, which destroyed over a thousand homes in Redding, killed eight people, including three firefighters, burned over 225,000 acres – or 350 square miles – lasted five, long, smoke-choking weeks in July and August, required the evacuation of 38,000 people and cost over $1.6 billion.

Ten weeks later, the Camp Fire ignited in Butte County, and quickly became the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in the history of California and was the world’s most expensive natural disaster of the year. The fire burned over 150,000 acres (nearly 240 square miles), destroyed the town of Paradise, killed 86 people, cost over $16 billion and led to the bankruptcy of the nation’s largest electric utility company, PG&E.

Satellite image of the Camp Fire by NASA.

Meanwhile, the Mendocino Complex Fire, that started a few days after the Carr Fire began and burned for over seven weeks, became the largest in California history, torching over 450,000 acres or 700 square miles.

Altogether, 2018 brought us the most destructive and deadliest wildfire season in the history of our state with over 8,500 fires that burned 1.8 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles). And yet it wasn’t an anomaly. Just the previous year, 2017 set the record for the most destructive wildfire season in the state at the time, with more than 9,000 fires burning over 1.3 million acres (over 2,150 square miles), killing 47 people, nearly equaling the previous 10 years combined at a cost of $18 billion.

And the last two years were not a fluke but actually consistent with wildfire patterns of recent decades. Nine of the 10 most destructive fires in California history have happened since 2003. Six of the most destructive fires ever, occurred in the last three years and 16 of the 20 largest fires in California happened in the last 20 years. Why?

According to Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and author who writes for Yale Climate Connections (YCC), the answer is human-caused climate change. He recently wrote about The Many Ways Climate Change Worsens California Wildfires, and wrote, “Years of record-setting California wildfires are consistent with mounting evidence of climate change as a principal factor.”

Nuccitelli and Jerry Hinkle, the Northern California Regional Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) will be in Redding this Friday night, February 1 at 7:00 PM at the First United Methodist Church, located at the corner of South and East Streets, where they will offer a presentation on Wildfires and Climate Change: The Connections and the Solutions for a Sustainable Future.

This is a free, special presentation sponsored by CCL, a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address the climate crisis, and (8) North State Climate Action, a coalition of local groups dedicated to raising awareness about climate change and working to help our region address the impacts. This event is designed to help educate the audience about the factors linking wildfires and climate change as well as offering solutions that will help mitigate damage from these events and allow us to adequately prepare for the future.

The event features two outstanding speakers with vast knowledge and experience in climate and economic policy. There will be time after the presentations for questions from audience members.

The presentations are based on the peer-reviewed science regarding the link between climate change and increased wildfires, and the science-based economics supporting effective solutions. The presentation and the mission of CCL and NSCA are completely non-partisan in nature. All are welcome.

Other sponsors include KKRN, KFOI, Wintu Audubon Society, Shasta Environmental Alliance (SEA), the Sierra Club and the Whole Earth and Watershed Festival (WEWF).
In his (6) YCC article, Nuccitelli cited scientific findings that indicate burning fossil fuels fills the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, warming the planet and drying “out vegetation and soil, creating more wildfire fuel.”

In addition, “Climate change is shortening the California rainy season, thus extending the fire season.” Studies show, “The warming atmosphere is slowing the jet stream, leading to more California heat waves and high-pressure ridges in the Pacific. Those ridges deflect from the state some storms that would otherwise bring much-needed moisture to slow the spread of fires.”

Nuccitelli also wrote, “Global warming causes higher temperatures, and 2014 through 2018 have been California’s five hottest years on record.”

The cause is clear. As we continue to rely on oil, gas and coal, we are creating a much hotter world, which in turns causes “an increase in evapotranspiration – the combination of evaporation and transpiration transferring more moisture from land and water surfaces and plants to the atmosphere. Essentially, global warming causes plants and soil to dry out as the atmosphere holds more water vapor.”

When the Camp Fire exploded, it was due in part to the extremely dry conditions of the North State. Up to that point, we had received only 20 percent of our normal rainfall because “climate change is causing a shift in rain patterns.” A recent study found “as a result of global warming, California’s rainy season will become increasingly concentrated” to only three months, December through February which means “the state’s wildfire season will start earlier and end later.”

In other words, as we continue pollution as usual, we are directly impacting the climate, reducing rainfall and making devastating wildfires more likely, more frequent, faster, more damaging and harder to contain.

The solution, according to CCL, is contained in recent legislation introduced in both houses of Congress called the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. This policy places a fee on fossil fuels that starts low and grows over time. This policy would for the first time place a predictable, steadily-rising price on the principle cause of global warming: carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  The money collected from the carbon fee is allocated in equal shares every month to the American people. The government does not keep any of the money, making this policy revenue neutral. Depending on their use of fossil fuels, most Americans will receive more money than they spend and will find economic incentives to begin their transition from “dirty” to clean energy sources. Studies show this response to the climate crisis will reduce America’s emissions by at least 40% in the first 12 years and will create over 2 million jobs.

It is too late to stop global warming and the numerous negative consequences it carries with it, such as a hotter world, increased droughts and floods and ever-worsening wildfires. However, we have a choice regarding how much worse it gets and how fast our climate deteriorates. This is a global crisis but it is happening locally to every community. Each of us is partly responsible for the problem and therefore each of us has a duty to help find a solution. Please come to the Methodist Church at 7 pm Friday, February 1 to learn more.

Douglas Craig

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for more than 35 years. He believes in magic and is a Warriors fan..

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