Mazdaface and Domo edition.
Climate change is real and your politicians are lying to you.
Let’s get this out of the way: the climate is changing.
Why would I lead with that? Because what I’m about tell you is counter to what your politicians are saying, because they are dirtbags.
- Politics, Environmental Activism (literal tree huggers), and NIMBYs
- Snowball Effect
- Forestry Management
- Development of the Wildland-Urban-Interface (WUI)
- Fire Break / Fire Road Maintenance
- Invasive Species
- Mid-century Electrical Infrastructure
- Climate Change
Those are the leading causes for the major fires in the West. Roughly IN THAT ORDER.
To partially explain what’s been going on with these fires:
Before Americans showed up in the West, Native Americans took pretty good care of the land. They did controlled burns and didn’t introduce non-native plants. We actually kept up with the controlled burns until the neighbors complained. “Ew, it’s smokey!” but it only lasted a day or so. Natural fires burned, but never in cities so no big deal. But then people started to expand. They started moving into places that naturally burned.
So we adopted a strategy of putting out the fires. Seems good on paper. Imagine a game of Tetris where you get to stop the bricks from falling. The problem is, in Tetris, fresh lines of bricks still pile up from the bottom. Eventually, the moment a brick comes down when you unpause, it’s game over.
The amount of fuel that has built up is massive. More than 4x more fuel in some spots vs the 1950s/1960s. That causes a ladder effect. When a fire starts at ground level, it climbs the shrubs to smaller trees and the smaller trees to bigger trees. That allows the embers to fly farther and the fire to spread faster. Rather than frequent ground fires that eliminate the small trees and brushes from forming a ladder, we end up with these megafires.
This is a snowball effect. These megafires get the ground so hot that it sterilizes the soil. That’s not normal. The result is that species (like invasive ones) are able to proliferate. These proliferating tall grasses and shrubs quickly create even more fuel. You might think “hey, it burned here a few years ago, surely it couldn’t burn again” but you’d be wrong. The regrowth process is so screwed that places that burned in 2017/2018 are burning AGAIN this year.
Notice I haven’t touched climate change. That’s because I don’t have to. Sure, it might make it a little bit easier for an invasive species or a little bit more likely to get wind or lightning. But those effects are so small on this level that no one is even able to measure them.
If you’re wondering why politicians are blaming climate change, it’s because it’s the only thing on the list that doesn’t cost them money to blame. NIMBYs and Environmental groups contribute to their campaigns, forestry management costs state funds, changing the building codes state wide to reduce building on the WUI or make it hard would cost political capital (Newsome himself lives in a WUI development), many fire roads have been converted to trails (costly to maintain and go backwards), invasive species are expensive to fight, and upgrading the infrastructure that caused most of the fires in 2017/2018 is expensive (infrastructure so ancient that they were found to be negligent). Climate change however, is great for getting you re-elected and let’s you take pot shots at the president’s re-election campaign.
Do I have a problem with all of this? Depends on how you look at it. If the West keeps burning, my company will be in for continued success since we build AI that analyzes natural disasters like this. Do I want to be suckin’ in soot for the rest of my life? Nope. What do I think is going to happen? Lots more years like 2020. Newsom, Biden, and Harris have all completely stopped talking about any of the issues. The local news is more interested in a message about climate change.
One last thing: There was a story a few weeks ago about the death of an old blind man. His body was found charred on his property after the wildfire engulfed his house. All his neighbors said “he was such a great guy” yet not a single one of them checked in on him as they evacuated. This is perhaps one of the most difficult lessons to learn about California. If you came from the East Coast where you borrowed a cup of sugar, invited the neighbors over for dinner, or had clam-bakes and block parties, you would be shocked to realize that your west coast neighbors would rather get a TV appearance where they talk about how great you were than save you from becoming a human BBQ. I suppose it’s only natural that a narrative takes over that simply just get even more people killed.