California Focus: Thermometer says climate has changed
The thermometer has spoken. 102 degrees in San Francisco in early September, a record 121 on the same day in parts of Los Angeles, a simultaneous 130 in Death Valley – the third highest figure ever recorded on earth and the highest reliable reading anywhere since the 1930s.
The thermometer’s objective message: climate change is no longer a coming phenomenon; our climate has already changed, with more to come.
That’s the biggest reason wildfire seasons since 2017 have been far more destructive than any before then, the dozens of blazes destroying thousands of homes. Some very thoroughly burned areas were never before considered prone to wildfires.
That creates a new reality. As former Gov. Jerry Brown noted in the New York Times the other day, you can leave California if you don’t like it. “But tell me where you’re going to go?” he asked rhetorically. Iowa? he asked. Nope. Tornadoes are striking Iowa and other plains states in unprecedented numbers. Florida? Uh-uh. Can’t escape the new nature there, either, when hurricanes arrive with unheard-of frequency and fury.
Yet, climate change deniers persist, refusing to recognize reality and sticking to unfounded views they’ve held since the earth’s latest changes first became obvious to the vast majority of geologists and atmospheric scientists.
President Trump repeated his denial kant during a mid-September stop near Sacramento, declaring that “I don’t think science knows, actually.” He told Gov. Gavin Newsom the remedy for wildfires is for California to clear dead trees and leaves, not acknowledging that if anyone should remove leaves and logs, it’s he, since the federal government owns most of California’s wild lands.
Yes, this state always had brush and forest fires. Native American tribes living here before Europeans arrived set preventive blazes to clear excess brush and lower their people’s exposure to sudden crises. Modern foresters only lately revived the ancient tactic.
This state has always had arsonists and droughts, too, both contributors to wildfire disasters, along with irresponsible utility companies.
Trump expresses sympathy for fire victims, but that’s pure hypocrisy when he’s refused since taking office to accept reality because doing so could cost some of his supporters billions. Said Brown, “He’s presiding over a demolition derby on our environment...” Brown spoke of Trump’s many reversals of prior federal moves to stem greenhouse gases that push global warming, loosening many limits on industrial and automotive pollution, plus his reversal of clean air rules and tying the enforcement hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Newsom still must see him at times to ensure federal funding and manpower aid as he contends with the newest spate of huge blazes.
Newsom made his frustration obvious via several things he said in the days before meeting with Trump. “This is a climate damn emergency,” he exclaimed. “California is in fast forward. What we’re experiencing is coming to communities all across the country. Mother Nature is physics, biology and chemistry. She bats last and she bats 1,000. That’s the reality. The debate is over about climate change.”
He spoke these things at different times, but they’re stark truths, obvious to all who look, as Trump had the chance to do while flying past the Sierra National Forest’s Creek Fire en route to meet Newsom.
Those truths affect almost every person in California, not only people with burned or threatened homes. Smoke from the fires drifted as far as Europe, turning skies over San Francisco to strange tones of orange, making air there and in Southern California unsafe to breathe and requiring residents to stay indoors even more than they already were because of the coronavirus pandemic.
One thing is certain: There will be prices to pay for the federal refusal to accept reality, as Trump and others like the U.S. Senate’s chief climate change denier, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, may learn. They can continue to deny climate change if they wish, but they can’t stop the thermometer.
No one yet knows what penalties they will suffer, but the vast majority of Americans have accepted the reality of climate change for many years. Still, they will almost certainly suffer the penalties right along with the deniers, for there’s no escaping the problems that denial allows to fester.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.