How climate change and natural disasters are related (California forest fires 2020)

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

I didn’t plan to write this, but I saw several posts about the current wildfires in the US and I felt like I should educate myself on the topic and then speak up about it. I currently live in Japan so I don’t always hear news about the US. Of course I hear about the large events and this is certainly one of them.

What it boils down to is the sky was red in the middle of the day. Others were reporting it felt like 10pm even though it was only noon. Yes, wildfires occur naturally and regularly, but are they getting worse? Could the severity be because of climate change?

Let’s start with some facts:

  • NASA has declared these fires the worst since 1910

  • The entire west coast is seeing air quality levels above 100

  • Colorado received an out-of-season snow, possibly due to the ash coverage

  • This is California's worst fire season on record

  • 2020 has shown 3 of the 4 largest blazes in California history scorching 2.2 million acres as of early September and is predicted to get worse as a dry fall season comes

  • Fires have steadily increased since the 1990s (INSERT CHART)

  • 80% of US wildfires are manmade

We all remember the January wildfires in Australia, they kicked off the year and started what we just assume is 2020 chaos. You’ll see people all over social media saying “what a crazy year” or “I can’t wait for this year to be over” and while sure, it is a crazy year, it’s only going to get crazier. Ask any climate scientist and they will tell you this is just the beginning. This is just the effects of a 1 degree celsius rise in average global temperature. Image 2 degrees, 2.5 degrees (the cap that we have as our max), or 4 degrees. We cannot afford to let the earth rise 4 more degrees. Multiply what has happened this year times four and think about trying to live in that world. It would be misery.

Let's talk climate change's influence on natural disasters

Climate change has been a defining factor in the increase of risk, severity, and extent of wildfires on the US west coast. The hotter it gets, the drier it gets, the more trees and shrubs that cannot survive dry summers the more fuel the fires will have. The number of wildfires has doubled from 1984 to 2015 in the US west coast.

An average annual increase of 1 degree celsius could increase the amount burned by 600% in some areas. This can include a higher risk for fires as well as a longer fire season. This could mean that 30% more area could be burned in the next 40 years. The rate at which vegetation dries throughout the year is increasing with global temperature rise. THis makes it easier for fires to catch and spread.

Obviously this is a problem to our homes, our wildlife, but it is also a money problem. In the last 20 years, at least 14 fires in the US have each caused at least $1 in damage. Not to mention, inmates in fire-affected areas are often coerced into becoming firefighters and get paid little to no money for risking their lives.

The current west coast fires exceed the California fire disasters of 2017 and 2018. At the time, those fires were considered the worst ones seen and the worst possible imagined wildfires. Now, people look back to those fires and think they were small. There used to be several years between massive fire outbreaks. Fires used to rarely occur in both summer and fall of the same calendar year. Now, we are seeing destructive fires every year in both seasons, this is four years straight which has never happened within the last 110 years.

Scientists have been warning us about these extreme fires, extreme drops in temperatures, and much more for decades. Yes, extreme weather is natural, but not at the rate in which they are occuring. If this was just the only major fire, it could be seen as an extreme coincidence, but rather it is just part of an uphill trend in fires. Think about hurricanes too. 10-20 years ago, we would hear of a few per season, now Florida and Louisiana got hit back to back. We even got hit with 3 typhoons in just 20 days here. This is not normal and it’s going to become a trend. Not to mention, fire season has become 2-3 months longer than it was a few decades ago in the Western US.

I’m not saying that climate change causes fires, of course not. But, climate change is making it much easier for fires to spark, spread, and last longer.

Because heat waves are becoming more intense, fires also burn more intensely. According to NOAA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New MExico, and Utah all saw their warmest and driest August on record. Heat waves are longer, larger, and more intense than they were decades ago.

The hotter it gets, the drier it gets. More heat means more water will evaporate leaving more fuel for future fires. Scientists warn that fire seasons like this one will become the norm and no longer the exception, the outlier.

And the thing is, the earth will survive. The animals will return, the plants will regrow, but will we? I like to think we are resilient enough to survive complete climate collapse, but I don’t know. Even if we do survive, will that teach humans our lesson? Will we just destroy the earth again?

Something else I noticed a lot this year was people saying “this wasn’t the heat I played 6 hours of softball in as a kid” and “wow this summer is the hottest I’ve ever experienced.” That is not a coincidence. That is fact. The temperatures keep rising every single year and they will keep going up. Imagine looking back in 20 years and being like “dang that summer where it was 100+ every day would feel cool compared to this 110 or 120+ every day.” These fires might seem extreme today, but they will not seem so bad looking back on them in 20 years if we keep going at the rate we are.

This is our wake up call

These fires should be a wakeup call no matter where in the world you are experiencing them or hearing about them. If you live in an unaffected area, educate yourselves and feel sympathy. Be glad it’s not you but be weary that it might be you in the future. If you are experiencing fires, I hope you are safe but I also hope this is a wakeup call to you too and that we cannot continue to live life as we have been living for the last 30 years. We need climate reform now. Climate change can no longer just be ignored. It is not a problem for our kids, grandkids, and those born decades from now. It is our problem right now.

The sad part is, there is little we can do. Sure, we can stop fires from starting, reduce our personal carbon footprint, and so forth, but it’s up to the companies, corporations, and governments. Do what you can in this realm, vote in elections, vote with your money, quit supporting wasteful practices, sign petitions.

I believe we can turn the tides, but it’s easy to lose hope honestly.

That’s really all I wanted to say. I wanted to read more about this topic for my own sake and then share it with you all. It’s not meant to be tips like I normally share, but really just education. I hope this opens your eyes to the tragedies we will be facing for the rest of our lives until we solve this crisis. I hate to sound like that but I want to speak the truth, no sugar coating.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope this was educational and inspirational. If you'd like to learn more, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

As always, remember that the small changes you make have a big impact in the long run :)


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