Wildfires rip through hot, parched California

Warning: Hot and dry conditions will keep fire risk high throughout the week. © Getty

Are climate deniers partly to blame? California’s governor has said that Donald Trump, who doesn’t believe in the climate crisis, is not entitled to talk about the fires’ causes.

“The seas are rising, diseases are spreading, fires are burning, hundreds of thousands of people are leaving their homes,” said Jerry Brown, former governor of California, at an urgent hearing in Washington last week. “California is burning while the deniers fight the standards that can help us all.”

Since late October, walls of flame have torn across the Golden State, burning up almost 100,000 acres of parched land. The bustling, wealthy areas of Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area are shrouded in choking smoke. Hundreds of hospitals have been left without power as lines were shut down to stop new fires breaking out.

Wildfires are a natural part of the cycle of California’s landscape: they restore nutrients to the soil and help some plants to germinate.

But they are getting more severe. The deadliest, largest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history have all happened in the last two years. Last year, one fire killed 89 people and destroyed 19,000 homes.

The climate crisis is to blame, according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Summer temperatures in California have risen by 2.5F in the last decade.

On Sunday, the US president took to Twitter to accuse California governor Gavin Newsom of doing a “terrible job of forest management”. Trump threatened to cut aid to the state.

Newsom did not have time for the president’s insults.

“You don’t believe in climate change. You are excused from this conversation,” he replied.

California is now a battlefield in the climate crisis debate.

While Trump works to take the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, California legislators have started to work the deal’s commitments into their own laws.

Over the course of his presidency, Trump has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations and allowed more carbon emissions from power plants — while the planet has endured some of the hottest years on record.

Once again, California is aflame. Is climate denial partly to blame for the destruction?

Fire and brimstone

It may be easier to blame high-profile climate deniers, but these fires — and the climate crisis itself — are driven by a huge, messy web of factors and forces. Business leaders and politicians in other countries pay lip service to the climate fight — but continue to burn fossil fuels. Whatever you think of Trump, it’s hysterical to blame him and his small, vocal band of climate deniers for a crisis caused by our entire species.

But the science is unequivocal: the climate crisis is making the fires worse. As Thomas Fuller and Coral Davenport write in The New York Times, “California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, and what happens here can reverberate and affect national and international efforts to halt global warming.” By hindering efforts to tackle the climate crisis, Trump and deniers like him must take responsibility for the dire consequences.

You Decide

  1. Is Donald Trump partly to blame for the wildfires?
  2. Who bears most responsibility for the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Make a list of five quotes from Donald Trump that you think sum up his views on the climate crisis.
  2. Imagine you are debating the climate crisis with Trump. Write a one-minute speech explaining the climate change threat that includes supporting statistics.

Some People Say...

“I believe in clean air. Immaculate air. But I don’t believe in climate change.”

US President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Since the early 1970s, the area burned by wildfires in California annually has increased fivefold. In the last few weeks, nearly 100,000 acres of land has been destroyed by the fires. October and November are the worst months for fires in California, as the spring moisture is long gone and the winter rains are yet to come.
What do we not know?
How much we can still limit the damage of the climate crisis. Scientists warn that greenhouse gas emissions are approaching an irreversible tipping point. While wildfires are a natural occurrence in California, temperature rises have seen the destruction intensify in recent years.

Word Watch

Deniers
People who do not believe that humanity is causing global heating are known as “climate deniers”.
Golden State
California’s official state nickname since 1968. California was famed as a gold-mining hot spot, and it is home to many fields of golden poppies.
Parched
Starved of water.
Without power
It was feared that winds could blow down power lines. Electric sparks could then set the dried-out landscape alight.
Germinate
Spread and grow.
2.5F
Temperatures in the USA are measures in degrees Fahrenheit, while the UK uses degrees Celsius.
Twitter
Trump wrote: “Every year, as the fire’s (sic) rage & California burns, it is the same thing — and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor”.
Paris Climate Agreement
The deal commits around 200 countries to keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, and to “endeavour to limit” them even more to 1.5C.
Hottest years
In April, NASA reported that the last five years (2014 to 2018) are the warmest years ever recorded in the 139 years.

Subjects

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