For many, the first noticeable wildfires were in 2017. It was the first time that smoke polluted the air so much that it was unsafe to even step outside; it was the first time that many people tuned in to the news with rapt attention, watching fiery plumes envelop trees and homes; it was the first time that many people saw that red sun that is now so familiar to us all. But in the four years since then, there have been major fires every year at the same time, enough for students to recognize a distinct “fire season.” As much as we’ve had wildfires ravaging our state at a predictable time each year, those who don’t directly suffer the consequences of the fire simply brush it off as normal. They say, “It’s just part of living in California”; something you have to deal with. However, these wildfires are not normal: they’re a symptom of our atmosphere heating up and our climate changing. Unless we take individual and governmental action right now, we won’t be able to remember a year when we didn’t have to hide from a sky grey with ash.
From Dec. 2011 to March 2019, California was officially in a drought: the ground was cracked and dry, and water had to be saved and regulated. It was during this period that we first began to see the huge wildfires that came with the transition to fall—hotter temperatures continued to dry out forest floors while winter snow melted sooner and left our forest floors vulnerable for longer. This year, we saw both natural and man-made causes for the fires that pervade the air outside. Just a few weeks ago, many of us were kept awake by loud and violent thunderstorms that continued for hours on end—and sparked numerous wildfires. Conversely, the El Dorado fire, currently burning its way through San Bernardino county, was started by a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used in a gender reveal party.
The effort to prevent fires is a burden placed both on us and our state government. As environmentally conservative citizens, it’s imperative to ensure that campfires are put out and that no one drops any cigarettes on the ground. If you’re up in the hills or out camping and see an unattended fire, report it, make sure that there’s no flammable liquids being spilled onto the brush, and hey, maybe don’t set off pyrotechnics in the middle of a forest?
As for the government, there are two directions to take. One is to fund our firefighters and place money into funds that will combat these fires. While this is essential, we must also focus on the root cause of the fires. The climate is changing, and each year it seems to be getting worse. Greenhouse gas emissions are polluting our ozone layer, and that, in turn, increases the global temperature. With the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate agreement, a United Nations backed resolution to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, we have even less time to get things right. Our other choice is to convert to sustainable energy sources and pass the Green New Deal in Congress, which is currently the clearest path to progress. The deal states that Earth must achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and lays out a ten-year plan for the United States that will help lead us down that path. As much as individual efforts will help, we need mass government oversight on this issue.
This past week’s insufferable heat is just another symptom of global climate change. Sitting in front of a fan all day shouldn’t be the new normal, and neither should power outages. As much as each person has an individual part to play in being environmentally conscious, it must be emphasized that all of this can be undercut by a few greedy people. Climate change cannot be solved by incrementalism; instead, this country needs to make some big changes right now, and the best way to make sure that happens is to vote.
As constituents, it’s necessary to always push our representatives to do better–not just at the national level, but at the state and local level too. Email and call your representatives and ask what they’re doing to help with fire prevention and environmental preservation. Demand that they act because, at the end of the day, their loyalty is not to their own opinions, but to yours. Inquire about what the state is doing to switch to wind and solar power, what they will do to preserve water and how they can prevent and extinguish fires.
In 2018, the Woolsey fire in Southern California caused massive mudslides after it was put out. In a way, that’s how this climate crisis exists in America. We are constantly sliding down a mud slope to impending doom at the bottom. It’s slippery, yes, but it’s not impossible to get a holding. It has to be a conscious effort to climb back up: it can’t be a few minor actions followed by slacking off. From one day to the next, choose to bike somewhere or take the train. Refuse that plastic bag offered at the grocery store, get a reusable water bottle and bring it along everywhere. Making small changes in your daily life to accompany government action is the perfect formula for success. At the end of the day, California is a state with so many beautiful beaches and parks—it’d be a shame to ruin it.