Opinion

Climate Change Flattens Land While Torching U.S. Economy

Photo courtesy of Jeff HeadA man stands on a residential rooftop watching nearby flames during California’s 2015 wildfire season.

For Californians, fire season has been routine. But in more recent years, drier summer months have increased the potential for wildfires to torch acres of forest come fall. Smokey the Bear signs along freeways snake through Golden Hills, warning residents of the daily threat of fire. But, as reported by Cal Fire, the current 15 Northern California wildfires that have destroyed more than 245,000 acres acres since Oct. 8 suggest a new era for the state — wildfire season is spreading later into the year.  

The deadly fires have taken 42 lives, destroyed more than 8,400 homes and commercial buildings and displaced 100,000 people, according to the Los Angeles Times. Many people are still unaccounted for.

Fortunately, Sonoma and Napa County fires have been almost fully extinguished as of Monday morning, and California’s most deadly, the Tubb’s Fire, is almost fully contained. Still, the damage and threat of new fire remains.

Naturally occurring Santa Ana winds in Southern California commonly cause wildfires to spread rapidly. Diablo winds in the North present the same threat. However, the unusually wet winter the state had in 2016 created a high amount of new brush growth, which is highly flammable. The wet winter came following a six-year drought, another consequence of climate change that contributes to the easy spread of fires. With record high summer temperatures, the new brush dried up, which increased fire danger.

As the federal government of the United States continues to roll back environmental protection measures to reallocate funds, so called “natural” disasters will continue to hit the country, threatening millions of lives.

California is the most populous U.S. state with the sixth largest economy in the world. It was the top agricultural producing state in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and it’s the home of Silicon Valley — the heart of the tech industry. Napa and Sonoma counties are the center of California’s wine industry. Both counties contribute 100,000 jobs and $25 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Chicago Tribune. When the state faces financial crises, the country will feel its repercussions.

Dr. Joel N. Myers, founder of AccuWeather, said, “Based on our forecast the total costs from this disaster on the economy would exceed $85 billion … and could even reach $100 billion.”  The USDA also reported that the Forest Service has spent more than $2 billion in 2017 on fire suppression, the most it has ever spent on fires in a single year in the United States. Additionally, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) stock prices dropped 18 percent since the start of fires, when investors were worried that the company was responsible for the start of the blazes. The point? When a state’s economy is threatened from natural disasters, the country feels the economic impacts.

President Donald Trump ran his campaign on a multitude of wild assurances. Many voters supported the reality TV star’s promise to lower taxes and improve the economy. Yet, Trump has also said climate change is a hoax and elected Scott Pruitt, said to have denied that climate change is caused by human activities, as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump and Pruitt’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement in June exemplifies government leaders of the upper class living in a bubble. The effects of climate change, such as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires, will only continue, and the economic effects become increasingly evident.

A promise to help the economy must be a promise to help the environment.

In contrast to Trump’s ideologies, California’s Gov. Jerry Brown has proven that a thriving economy can exist while pushing forward with green efforts. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Brown stated, “Progressive, green economics hasn’t killed jobs — it has spurred the creation of 2.34 million. In the past five years, with just 12 percent of the U.S. population, California has driven one-quarter of America’s economic growth.”

The future must be green so the growth in natural disasters can be stunted. A green political environment is a green economy.

Ten days after the Northern California fires began, Trump tweeted, “Our hearts are with all affected by the wildfires in California. God bless our brave First Responders and @FEMA team. We support you!” Although the federal government has sent help to Northern California, saving human lives should be enough of an incentive for Trump to fund climate change efforts, or at least fulfill his promise of improving the economy through sustainable efforts.

To aid the victims of the Northern California fires, please consider donating to the Salvation Army or the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Click here to find more ways to help.

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