Facing Fire Danger; Moving Toward Solutions

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

With newspapers from California to Texas to the nation’s capital running stories over the weekend that Californians are thinking of leaving the state, there could be a plus if they actually do go – reducing the population to reduce fire danger.

Many reasons have been put forward on why California is suffering from devastating fires, and that includes excess population. Not only has increased growth pushed needed housing development into fire danger zones, but the heat built up to add to the state’s combustible condition is not only weather related. Climatologist Bill Patzert, formerly of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, “We’ve created this essentially 20-million-person megalopolis (in Southern California) which creates its own heat, especially in summertime.” He said average temperatures are eight to nine degrees higher than in the early 20th century.   

It might seem strange to consider population reduction as a good thing, especially since California often hails it growth, size and influence. When California passed New York to become the most populous state in the nation, Governor Pat Brown called for a statewide celebration.

Although not all Californians were convinced population growth was a good idea. Former governor and then Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Earl Warren, said, “I would not celebrate with fireworks or dancing in the streets. Mere numbers do not mean happiness.”

More often, climate change has been identified as a reason for the searing heats that add to the state’s fire danger with coastal California seeing temperatures rival temperatures in the Mojave Desert. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared on Friday a “climate emergency” saying he was tired of the climate change debate and vowed to fast track corrective legislation.

As the state heats up and fires rage, even climate change skeptics are changing their minds.

Marine meteorologist John Lindsey, calling himself “somebody who’s very skeptical,” told the L.A. Times, “By now, there’s no doubt in most people’s minds that the atmosphere is warming and the ocean is warming. With the way greenhouse gases are increasing, in my mind, there’s no doubt that we’re causing this. It’s human activity that’s causing this.” 

But climate change legislation will not see results for some time and California alone cannot alter the worldwide climate situation. Any long-term effort must be tied to immediate changes that make a difference such as known successful fire prevention methods using better forest management. 

President Trump visits California today to be briefed on the fires. He could also bring immediate help of federal resources to help the firefighters and the victims of the fires that are happening now. He should also take the opportunity to offer federal cooperation in a comprehensive plan to advance different solutions to solve the fire and climate crisis now and also into the future. 

Yes, that means measures dealing with climate change. It also means returning to traditional forest management methods. 

Gov. Newsom said he was “exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue.” He was referring to climate change, but that is only part of the conversation. A comprehensive plan is needed and that requires both new —and old—thinking about how to reduce fire storm conditions.

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