What These Wildfires Say About Climate Change

Aug 8, 2018
Originally published on August 8, 2018 11:01 am

With Eric Westervelt

We go to California, where the largest wildfire in the state’s history rages. As big parts of the West burn, what do the fires say about climate change?


Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.

Ryan Lillis, reporter for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered most of Northern California’s fires for the last 12 years. (@Ryan_Lillis)

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, area fire adviser with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension, which works with counties and communities in the state on managing the threat of wildfires. Northern California coordinator of the California Fire Science Consortium. (@lenyaqd)

Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Co-author of “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.” (@MichaelEMann)

From The Reading List

NBC News: “Mendocino Complex fire is largest wildfire in California history” — “A wildfire burning through Northern California became the state’s largest on record on Monday, scorching more than 283,000 acres, officials said.

“The Mendocino Complex blaze — a conglomerate of two separate fires burning through rural Lake, Colusa and Mendocino counties — overtook last year’s Thomas Fire, which scorched more than 1,000 buildings and killed two people across 440 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.”

PBS NewsHour: “Climate change is making wildfires more extreme. Here’s how” — “High winds, high temperatures, pervasive drought. These extreme conditions are driving two enormous fires in California, and many more throughout the American West and much of Northern and Western Europe. William Brangham talks with Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University about the ways climate change is contributing to the danger and destruction.”

New York Times: “Trump Inaccurately Claims California Is Wasting Water as Fires Burn” — “In his first remarks on the vast California wildfires that have killed at least seven people and forced thousands to flee, President Trump blamed the blazes on the state’s environmental policies and inaccurately claimed that water that could be used to fight the fires was ‘foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.’

“State officials and firefighting experts dismissed the president’s comments, which he posted on Twitter. ‘We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,’ said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.”

Wildfires across the American West are getting bigger, lasting longer and doing more damage. California’s largest fire in state history continues to burn. There are enormous costs to homes, lives and communities. Are “super fires” the new normal? What role is global warming playing? What are the solutions?

This hour, On Point: Wildfires — is there a better way to protect nature and people?

— Eric Westervelt

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