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Jessica Corbett: California Fires Are the Nightmare that Climate Scientists Long Predicted

Wildfires ravaging the state have “spawned bizarre pyrotechnics, from firenados to towering pyrocumulus clouds that evoke a nuclear detonation.”


Flames from the Carr Fire burn through trees and a road sign along a highway near Whiskeytown, California on July 27, 2018. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


As deadly wildfires continue to rage in California—destroying hundreds of homes, threatening thousands more, and forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate—experts believe the blazes are part of “the new reality” that climate scientists have warned about for decades.

“This past month shows climate change for real and in real time,” The Fresno Bee declared in an editorial published Monday.

The ferocious California fires, the Guardian reports, have “spawned bizarre pyrotechnics, from firenados to towering pyrocumulus clouds that evoke a nuclear detonation. These events are not aberrations, say experts. They are California’s future.”

“More acres are burning,” Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told the newspaper. “That is almost certainly due to climate change.”

Anthony LeRoy Westerling, a professor at the University of California, Merced, added that “climate change is continuing to unfold,” and “the impacts from it will probably accelerate.”

California is far from alone in its current struggle to rein in a hot, fiery crisis; in recent weeks, experts have sounded alarms about heat waves and wildfires across the globe, linking the extreme weather to the warming climate.

“Scientists have been warning that the atmospheric buildup of man-made greenhouse gas would eventually be an existential threat,” noted The Fresno Bee. “It is sobering to witness how swiftly that prediction has come true, from the lethal heat wave gripping Japan to the record temperatures in Europe to the flames exploding near the Arctic Circle.”

As Common Dreams reported Friday, amid record-breaking temperatures worldwide, an analysis by international scientists found that the “unprecedented” heat wave which has swept across Europe and fueled dozens of fires in Sweden was made more than twice as likely by climate change.

“What was once regarded as unusually warm weather will become commonplace,” concluded one European researcher, “and in some cases, it already has.”

In California, as The Fresno Bee warned, “summer has been a death march and August’s heat is just about to start.”

The current wildfires are just the latest in a series of “explosive” blazes California has experienced in recent years. Just last December, the state saw a “once-in-a-generation” firestorm that ravaged an area about six times the size of Manhattan and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.

And as anthropogenic global warming has generated a “new era of western wildfires” that are harder to control, experts have warned that traditional firefighting methods are inadequate.

“If this is the new normal for wildfires, then California must do better. But prevention is only part of the equation,” The Fresno Bee continued. “California must plan now for these and other aspects of global warming, as more of the state becomes too hot, too dry, or too fire- or flood-prone to safely live in, and as more of the world braces for the era of climate refugees.”

Many argue that in addition to improving wildfire management and emergency response tactics, preparing for the future means ramping up efforts to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming.

In a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown—a Democrat known for taking bold climate action but also, in some cases, not going far enough—five Nobel Peace Laureates acknowledged the “devastating” fires and called for the state “to become the first major fossil fuel producer to begin a managed and just transition off oil and gas production, in turn protecting the climate, citizens on the front lines of extraction, and setting a new direction for global climate action.”

“As climate change creates its own weather,” Oil Change International’s Andy Rowell wrote Monday, “how many more people have to die, how many of our children do we have to bury, or how many brave firefighters put their lives in danger, before society acts decisively?”


2 comments on “Jessica Corbett: California Fires Are the Nightmare that Climate Scientists Long Predicted

  1. Tricia Knoll
    August 2, 2018

    Summer has been a death march… Last summer I spent weeks breathing the smoke of Oregon wildfires and watching sunsets of bronze.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      August 2, 2018

      Thanks for the comment, Tricia. Watching the world collapse around us is a terrifying experience.


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