13 November 2019
California Brings the Heat
California Brings the Heat
Residents of not only California, but the entire nation, continue to suffer from the consequences of raging wildfires that destroy millions of acres every year, which are unfortunately only predicted to worsen with time. Kimberly Amado, from Thebalance.com, reported, “There are five reasons for the growing severity of wildfires: rising temperatures, shorter winters, more pests, drought, and fire suppression.” The first four are caused by climate change- a rising issue that needs to be recognized and understood in order to attempt to relieve it. Due to the rise of climate change, wildfires, particularly in California, are occurring more frequently, becoming increasingly difficult to contain due to their growth and, as a result, costs the state billions of dollars each year. The intensity and frequency of wildfires are at the worst ever recorded in the past 10 years; the trouble of wildfires is escalating, concerning the wildfire’s victims, the economy, and the environment. Climate change is severely impacting California, along with the rest of the globe. In order to guarantee healthy living conditions for coming generations, it is crucial to understand what relevance climate change has to wildfires, how rapidly the damage is growing, and what could potentially be done to relieve some impacts of climate change.
Within the past two decades alone, wildfires have drastically increased and caused more destruction than any other time in history. The battle against wildfires continues to rage: as of 2019, wildfires have already burned an astounding 1.1 million acres, compared to the 2.7 million burned in 2018- overall causing California to suffer $400 billion in damage, and the California Wildfire Department one billion. The combinations of statistics collected from III.com, and thebalance.com, are breaking records as fires are increasing in size and destruction- 2014 through 2018 have been California’s five hottest years on record. The average wildfire before 2005 was less than 100 acres; as of 2017, which was one of the costliest and most disastrous fire seasons ever (Amadeo), the average wildfire was 175 acres, and the number only continues to grow. Six of the ten most destructive wildfires in California history have occurred within the past three years significant numbers that suggest climate change is rapidly, negatively impacting the environment. Until this epidemic is seen for what it is, we will continue to reap these misfortunes.
With each coming year, wildfires become more of a life-threatening issue. An average of 72,400 wildfires have cleared an average of 7 million acres of U.S. land every year since 2000- that is more than double the number of acres burned by wildfires in the 1990’s (Claire Wolters). Because of the dry, hot seasons sourced by climate change, wildfires are worsening every year, and these numbers are only expected to rise. According to Claire Wolters, author of National Geographic’s website article, Climate 101: Wildfires, the largest wildfire season ever recorded in history took place in 2015, where over 10 million acres of land were burned by wildfires. Although possible, only 10-15 percent of the time wildfires occur naturally while the remaining 85-90% of wildfires are due to human activity. Human causes can range
anywhere from discarded cigarettes, to unattended campfires. Naturally occurring wildfires spark during dry weather and droughts. In such conditions, vegetation that is normally green can become dry, which provides extremely flammable fuel, warm temperatures encourage combustion, and strong winds quickly spread fire- all of these factors are maximized and can be accredited to climate change (nationalgeoraphic.com). Wildfires and climate change go hand in hand.
To understand the connection between wildfires and climate change, we must first have a clear understanding of what jet streams are, and their relevance to the environment. Jet streams are a string of high-speed winds that circle above the globe and help regulate weather patterns, such as heat waves, the polar vortex, hurricanes, rainfall, and high-pressure ridges. The jet streams of the northern hemisphere are created by the temperature difference between the cold arctic, and warm lower regions such as North America (affecting California). Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist who has been studying how climate changes affect the arctic for five years has concluded an explanation as to why California is experiencing such extreme heat, and strange weather. According to Francis in an interview with Yale Environment 360, climate change is causing the Arctic to become warmer, which is leading the ice to melt: “The temperature difference between the two regions, then, is diminishing, therefore weakening the jet streams.” (Francis). Instead of being high-speed winds, they are becoming slow-paced winds barely making their way around the globe. Between these jet streams, weather patterns like heat waves and rainfall, tend to stall in place. The reason California has been taking the brunt of the hits is because “The latter has tended to occur off the California coast,” Francis reports. In simpler terms, climate change is warming the Arctic and lessening temperature differences, which is slowing jet streams- the slowing of jet
streams is causing a shortened rain season, lengthened fire season, higher and dryer temperatures- all attributions to wildfires.
Not only is climate change affecting jet streams, but also causing a shift in rain patterns and an increase in evapotranspiration. With the increase in evapotranspiration, evaporation and transpiration are combining, causing more water vapor than normal to be transferred and held in the atmosphere from land, water surfaces, and plants. In simpler terms, climate change is causing more water than normal to essentially be sucked out of our plants and held in the atmosphere, thus creating dry vegetation and with dry vegetation comes the perfect wildfire fuel. As for the change in rain patterns, northern California only received one inch of rain during their rain season in 2018- normal rainfall is 4-5 inches. Had California received the normal amount of rainfall, climate scientist Daniel Swain speculates that it is extremely likely that, “Explosive fire behavior & stunning tragedy in #Paradise would almost certainly not have occurred.” Swain also noted that due to climate change, California will experience a more “concentrated” rain season from December-February, leaving the rest of the months dry. This means wildfire season will start earlier and end later.
Human activity is contributing to the alarming rise of climate change. However, there are things that can be done to help minimize the effects of climate change and overall better the planet. Suggested by Melissa Denchak, author of online article “How You Can Stop Global Warming”, the first, and most crucial, is to simply be informed and to spread the word. Although one person may not make a difference, educating friends and family on the issue, and what must be done to fix it can make a larger impact. Following knowledge, is energy efficiency- use less energy to perform a task. Simply keep an eye out for the Energy Star label when shopping for products like washing machines and refrigerators, which will help indicate which items are most efficient. Anything that will shrink carbon profile, reduce the burning of gas, and save power will help lessen climate change- all it takes is awareness, a little bit of homework, and effortless change.
If action is not made, California (and the rest of the globe) will continue to suffer the consequences of climate change. Climate change is not only affecting the environment, it is impacting the air that we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the land that we live. Strong evidence proves climate change has had, and will continue to have, great effect on human health. Because it does not yet impact us directly, many people choose to ignore and turn a blind eye to all the damage these fires have caused. How many houses, animals, and acres need to burn before we take this seriously?
Amadeo, Kimberly. “How Wildfire Damage Affects the Economy and You.” The Balance, 8 July 2019, http://www.thebalance.com/wildfires-economic-impact-4160764.
Denchak, Melissa. “How You Can Stop Global Warming.” NRDC, 22 Aug. 2019, http://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-stop-global-warming.
Hook, Leslie, and Chris Campbell. “Climate Change: How the Jet Stream Is Changing Your Weather .” Financial Times, Financial Times, 6 Aug. 2019,
Pearce, Fred, et al. “An Unusually Warm Arctic Year: Sign of Future Climate Turmoil?” Yale E360, e360.yale.edu/features/unusually_warm_arctic_climate_turmoil_jennifer_francis.
Siegler, Kirk. “Assessing Recent California Wildfire Damage.” NPR, NPR, 2 Nov. 2019, http://www.npr.org/2019/11/02/775749143/assessing-recent-california-wildfire-damage.
Thiessen, Mark. “California Fires Are Raging: Get the Facts on Wildfires.” National Geographic, 25 Oct. 2019, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural- disasters/wildfires/#close.