An Inextricable Relationship with an Ominous Outlook
The sky is a solid orange haze. Ash fills the air as flames chase residents from their homes and smoke blocks the city’s outline upon the horizon. No, this is not the beginning of a post-apocalyptic novel— it is an accurate description of what is going on right now in the Western United States.
For the past month, California (as well as other Western states) have been experiencing devastating wildfires. Unprecedented in magnitude, heat, and frequency, these fires have already taken several lives, destroyed hundreds of structures, and have caused thousands of people to flee their homes in terror.
Perhaps the most devastating aspect of these fires, however, is the fact that they may be a ‘new normal’. According to several scientists, these fires may be just the beginning of an era where climate change starts reaping very tangible effects on our planet.
National Geographic’s coverage of the fires explains that wildfires require three things to come about: the right weather, the right fuel, and a spark. While the spark can evidently come from anything from a fallen cigarette to a miscalculated gender reveal, the weather and fuel depends heavily on the surrounding environment, something that is changing for the drier in California right now.
Wildfires burn quicker and more fiercely in dry weather. Given that much of California is a desert, it is no surprise that the state is frequently at a higher risk. However, climate change has been rendering the state even hotter than usual. While the world’s average temperature has gone up about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since pre-Industrial times, California’s temp has accelerated to almost 3 degrees hotter, rendering the Golden State and its neighbors even more vulnerable.
These hotter average temperatures create weather conditions conducive to burning. The hot air thirsts, and thus evaporates what little water the environment gets. It also messes with the seasons, creating longer dry seasons, and hotter Springs and Summers. For this, California and other Western states have experienced some of their hottest years on record within the past decade.
In such a scorching dry environment, California’s vegetation inevitably becomes more flammable, creating ideal fuel for the fire. The longer dry season limits these already-parched plants’ hydration needs. Likewise, the soil loses necessary nutrients to self-regulate. Consequentially, the forest loses a degree of biodiversity necessary for naturally containing the fires.
While wildfires are oftentimes natural and even ecologically helpful phenomena, the current crises that scalds the West Coast is inseparable from human interaction. However, the relationship is not necessarily immediate. Instead, these fires are able to grow so intensely due to centuries of industrialization and disregard for anthropocentric infringement on the environment.
The problem is global and unprecedented
California’s situation is very similar to the Australia wildfires that gripped the Oceanic nation at the beginning of the year. The unparalleled blazes may seem like anomalies on the surface, but science suggests something far more complex, systemic, and foreboding at hand.
Now, brave firefighters are rushing into the flames on a near constant basis, but nature is wading through the numbers effortlessly. Meanwhile, President Trump blames the fires on natural elements as well as forest management issues rather than addressing climate change. In fact, he blatantly denies climate change as a cause, or even as a reality.
The sad truth is that we can send as many firefighters into the crisping forests as possible. We can sweep the landscape and redirect our management techniques time after time again.
But if we really want to change things. If we really want to save people and put out the fires for good. Then we may have to address the bigger picture— climate change, global warming, and a culture that has sidelined nature for profit and human activity far too many times.
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