California Wildfires Are A Wake Up Call With No Answer

Photograph: Daria Devyatkina This image was marked with a CC BY 2.0 license.

“Could you please follow up with us next month? We’re all in California and are dealing with the fires right now. A bit stressful”

This is the reply I received from Ice 911, an organisation working to prevent ice calving through innovative methods that seek to reflect heat away from the Arctic’s surface. It was difficult to hear, as they themselves are not only working to prevent an existential crisis but are dealing with a personal one too.

These upsetting events are not only difficult to stomach but are made more so by the current White House administration and the indifference of the global community regarding the climate crisis.

Bioclimatologist, Park Williams told the New York Times that “warmer temperatures dry the fuels, and all you need from there is a spark”. Indeed temperatures are rising, intensifying global weather to unequalled extremes. The term ‘wildfire’ is now an unconcerning term, normalised in daily language and conversation.

Owing to a gender reveal party, nature may not have struck this time. But what Bioclimatologist Park Williams means to say is that increasing global temperatures have driven moisture levels to such a low point that even dropping your keys in the bush may have ruinous ramifications.

With five fatalities in 2019, 2020’s fire surpassed that figure by two. The United States is listed as one of the most resilient nations on Earth, but today, California’s apocalyptic sight bears more resemblance to the planet Venus. Venus itself suffered from a runaway greenhouse effect, and like our twin planet, we appear to be edging closer to a state beyond repair too.

Photograph: USDA

More troubling are what appears to be a lack of firefighters to oppose the disaster, which saw prison inmates from a firefighting programme called upon to assist damage control. Unfortuantely, their numbers are also in short supply due to the pandemic.

This resilience appears to be absent each year as fires become more deadly, and preparedness is overwhelmed by the spiralling plight of climate danger. Resilience is needed more than ever, more so when reflecting on the American situation.

But it is not only California that is faced with such trepidation. Oregon and other parts of the US face an uncertain future with symptoms of neglect not only suspicion, but a reality. 500,000 people have been evacuated in the north western state unsure if they will have a home to come back to. The fires are now rapidly spreading due to increased wind speeds and dry tinder, and the sight it will leave will be a unwelcoming one filled with questions and anger. This is a first world nation affected by climate change unable to be saved by its high resilience status. What will be of developing nations? If we don’t get it by now, when will we?

Whatever caused the fires, climate change is an accomplice. Indeed the emergency services have given all they can and will continue to do so. But until those in charge begin to listen to the 97% of scientists that agree on the climate crisis, a fire in the hills may be a regular occurrence.