California has been shattering records and trouncing projections as cases of Coronavirus soar, averaging 8,000 new cases per day. As California once more braces for shutdown, economic devastation is sure to follow. However, California may soon face even more sinister problems, as fire season threatens the state once more.
According to the California Air Resources Board, the climate crisis, primarily caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, considerably increases the frequency and severity of wildfires. We must address the root cause of wildfire season by decreasing California’s reliance on greenhouse gas emitting corporations. California must divest from fossil fuels.
In the era of COVID-19, the risk of wildfire could come with a myriad of potential externalities, all of which would be disastrous for California. According to the CDC wildfire smoke wreaks havoc on respiratory health, making California residents more susceptible to COVID-19. Compounding the problem, the masks needed to protect from smoke are the very same that protect from COVID-19. Despite all the governor’s efforts this life-saving equipment is still in short supply.
Elected Officials to Protect California (EOPCA) brought over 310 elected officials together to sign a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to take action now and: 1) End the issuance of permits for new fossil fuel projects, 2) Design a swift, managed decline of all fossil fuel production, starting with a 2,500-foot human health and safety buffer zone to protect public health and address the severe environmental injustice of production in low-income communities and communities of color, and 3) Commit the state to 100 percent clean, renewable energy, phasing out all usage of fossil fuels.
In 2018, the Camp Fire killed 85 people, consumed 11,000 homes, and forced 50,000 Californians to flee seeking refuge outside of Paradise. One year later, most of these traumatized families are still unable to return home, as a scant eleven homes have been rebuilt. These numbers are unacceptable. California suffered financially as well, as the Camp Fire was estimated to have been the most expensive natural disaster in the world in 2018 with damages piling up to a striking $16.5 billion.
Of those forced to flee, Chico State researchers found that older populations left the area at a much higher rate than those between the ages of 18 and 65. Those on fixed retirement incomes suffered disproportionately; 47 percent of those whose annual income was less than $25,000 moved 30 miles or more from Paradise. While a quarter left CA, most stayed in state. The majority relocated to the nearby city of Chico. California must take concrete steps to mitigate the severity of wildfire season by phasing out fossil fuels.
“We already had a tight housing market before the fire. I’m proud of how our residents opened their hearts and doors to those displaced from the Camp Fire. But in the long term we simply didn’t have enough housing in Chico to permanently accommodate everybody. The fire changed the demography of our city,” said Chico Mayor Randall Stone, EOPCA letter signatory. “With each fire season the stress level rises. The Hog Fire has a lot of people reliving the Paradise tragedy. The tension is palpable. I know California can help mitigate these climate disasters if the state takes action to stop all fossil fuel production. Right now, we’re pouring gasoline on a fire. Chico was the first city to declare a Climate Emergency. It’s time for the state to issue a Climate Emergency Decree. That way we can start to take emergency action to abate the climate crisis before it’s too late. Sacramento has to put our people’s lives and livelihoods above corporation profits.”
Unfortunately, Paradise was not the only city ravaged by wildfire. California saw a whopping 7,860 wildfires during the 2019 fire season. 259,823 acres of land were reduced to ash, 732 structures were engulfed in flame, and three people lost their lives.
“Every year the fire season worsens. Last year in Ventura County the Easy Fire consumed more than 1,800 acres and threatened 6,500 homes. The 275-acrebrush fire named the Elizabeth Fire was our first major wildfire of 2020. People are already under stress because of the pandemic, the fire season is only exasperating an already troubled time,” said Oxnard Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez, Esq, EOPCA Steering Committee Member. “We can mitigate these disasters if we stop fueling the flames of climate change caused by the oil industry. We have to stop oil production in California and transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”
Driven by the climate crisis the wildfire season is now seventy eight days longer than it was in the 1970’s. Accordingly, the number of wildfires have significantly increased.
Wildfire season is projected to make a vengeful reappearance in 2020. Indeed, conditions in the West are expected to be dry and windy; these conditions skyrocket the probability of wildfire. Governor Newsom acknowledged the threatening nature of these conditions, as he has increased fire prevention efforts and firefighting; yet, he has not meaningfully addressed the exigence of California’s increased vulnerability to wildfire. California will continue to suffer grievously from wildfires until the Governor substantially examines the fossil fuel industry as perpetrators of the climate emergency.
Indubitably, wildfire conditions are encouraged by the onslaught of the climate crisis. Between 1985 and 2015, wildfires in California have doubled as a direct result of changing climate conditions. Indeed, California has experienced dryer seasons and hotter temperatures, as precipitation levels have decreased 30 percent since 1980, and temperatures have increased by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Under these conditions, soil hemorrhages moisture and wildfires proliferate, coaxed to life by obstreperous California winds.
Fossil fuel industries are undeniably culpable, as the top 90 companies produce over 50 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas. These avaricious companies knowingly endangered the lives of many global citizens for the sake of profit. California should tolerate this behavior no longer, and take concrete steps to mitigate the effects of this wildfire season through divestment.
In Australia, the cataclysmic effects of global warming on wildfire season are apparent. Following record levels of drought and heat, Australia’s megafires have perpetrated extreme loss of biodiversity, acres upon acres of scorched land and most tragically loss of human life. California could become the new Australia. Yet, California’s wildfire prognosis is not promising. Wildfires are slated to increase overall as California will see a 30 percent increase in lightning-related wildfire occurrences before 2060. California should seize the opportunity to halt the encroachment of wildfire related incidences by eliminating the underlying cause of the climate crisis: fossil fuel industry.
One of California’s most catastrophic fires, the Kincade fire, was the direct consequence of California’s dependence on fossil fuels. This devastating incident was caused by the ignition of PG&E equipment, illustrating the blatant endangerment of communities perpetrated by the fossil fuel brigade. California must end this pattern of abuse by divesting in fossil fuel energy sources and reinvesting in clean energy for a safer state.
Additionally, hospitals and homes are negatively impacted by preemptive blackouts, intended to prevent the exacerbation of residential wildfires. In addition to harming families, these shutdowns have the potential to threaten overburdened hospitals. California can not withstand another crisis — we need to take immediate preventative action.
In the midst of wildfire season, the pandemic and related recession families are suffering. But fossil fuel industries have taken federal bailouts from the pandemic to the bank.Ironically, the very industries which contribute so heavily to wildfire proliferation are receiving $1.9 billion in tax breaks. In 2018 wildfires cost California $400 billion.
Immediate action is the only option. California must meet the points outlined in the EOPCA letter and divest for a safer, more efficient California.
Now that the dreaded fire season is upon us, EOPCA will not be silent and sedentary on this issue. We urge Governor Newsom to take immediate action.
The mission of Elected Officials to Protect America: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission. Elected Officials to Protect California is a branch of EOPA.
July 29, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, President of Elected Officials to Protect California Cell: 207.319.4511