It’s the middle of the day. It’s 91 degrees outside. I’m sitting inside with the air on and the shades closed. There is a fire on the other side of the hill which has burned 22,000 acres and is only 10% contained. Gray brown smoke blankets the city like some kind of eerie end of the world sci-fi movie.
My throat is sore, my eyes are burning, my head aches, my breathing is shallow. Thank god I don’t have asthma.
Sadly, this fire is not a one off. The Union of Concerned Scientists report that the fire season in the western United States has been increasing in frequency and duration since the mid-1980’s. Fires occur nearly four times more often, they burn more than six times the land area, and they last almost five times as long (comparisons are between 1970-1986 and 1986-2003). The new “fire season” could potentially last the entire year.
If you live in California, I’m sure you’ve noticed that spring and summer are hotter and that the soil is drier for longer periods of time. You could say we’re a fire waiting to happen.
But let’s not be hasty and assume that all this fire is the result of climate change. There are other contributing factors like natural fire cycles and clearing, development, and mining of land which contribute to fires. Only thing is, many of the fires have taken place in Yosemite and the Northern Rockies, where land use is not really a factor. So while it is still true that climate change is not the only culprit, the finger comes back to point to it as a driving force in the increase in wildfires.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the not so bad news.
Remember Smokey the Bear? His big brown paw, his baritone voice, saying “Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.”
Turns out, that’s still sound advice.