Power OFF, Wind-Driven Fires, and Major Media

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So this morning this came across my feed, via the LA Times:

Since early October, millions of people in the northern and southern parts of the state have had their electricity shut off to prevent downed power lines from setting off deadly fires, like the ones that ravaged the state last year. But these unprecedented outages haven’t been as effective as had been hoped; despite them, a series of wildfires, fanned by extraordinarily heavy winds, have swept through the state forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Nobody can honestly say this is a surprise, given the devastating fires of recent years. Yet it feels surprising all the same. How did things get so bad in California, so quickly?

The answer is climate change. It is here and our communities are not ready for it.

What took them so long? I have covered Southern California Wild Fires on and off since 2012. I have been reading into the emergency at least five years longer, in a serious way. My first exposure to any of this was a class in the 1980s at San Diego State called “Our Global Future.” While it concentrated on things like a possible nuclear war, it did tangentially go into the water shortages that were expected to get worst. It also had some early mentions of how climate seemed to be changing, and the effect of the Industrial Age on the atmosphere.

We know that over the last decade these fires have become more intense. I also understand that in San Diego we lucked out this time around. The worst of the winds were in both Los Angeles and the Baja California Norte corridor, starting in Tecate and ending in Ensenada. We were blissfully in the middle of the low, where the winds were intense but not as bad as either Los Angeles or Rosarito Beach. Literally it was where the low sat.

As I type this, I am listening to the fire scanner, why? We are hardly out of the woods yet. I might find myself at a fire line eating smoke and getting smoked out before this is over. Oh well, that is why I got a new pair of fire boots.

However, I got to spar this morning with a couple of climate change denialists. Yes, the climate has always changed, however, we know this event is human-driven. It is also happening at speeds not seen since the Devonian, which saw the process we are experiencing in reverse, in that case, due to plant activity. From the geological record, we know it was that fast. Did I mention it led to ecological collapse and mass extinction?

”This is the third most significant mass extinction and it was caused by plants,” Waters said. “Unlike the dinosaur mass extinction, which was related to an asteroid impact, this one was environmentally related.”

In the Devonian period, Waters explained, the world was experiencing super greenhouse climate conditions. This means that it was very warm, there probably were no ice caps, there was a lot carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (with estimates of 4,000 parts per million).

”As plant communities expanded onto land to form the first forests, they depleted the carbon dioxide (CO2) that was in the atmosphere,” Waters said. “CO2 levels dropped to 400 ppm toward the end of the Devonian. It got colder. There were glaciation events and the rapid change in the climate caused severe extinction in the tropics and the existing coral reefs became extinct.” By comparison, the world’s current CO2 level is very close to 400 ppm.

We just surpassed 400 parts per million (PPM), and we hope to keep the temperature rise to under two degrees centigrade. However, this is a more likely scenario.

At the current rate of growth in CO2, levels will hit 500 ppm within 50 years, putting us on track to reach temperature boosts of perhaps more than 3 degrees C (5.4°F) — a level that climate scientists say would cause bouts of extreme weather and sea level rise that would endanger global food supplies, cause disruptive mass migrations, and even destroy the Amazon rainforest through drought and fire.

Each landmark event has given scientists and environmentalists a reason to restate their worries about what humans are doing to the climate. “Reaching 400 ppm is a stark reminder that the world is still not on a track to limit CO2 emissions and therefore climate impacts,” said Annmarie Eldering, deputy project scientist for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Passing this mark should motivate us to advocate for focused efforts to reduce emissions across the globe.

So here we are, at the leading edge of the climate emergency. Still, we have people who deny the obvious, for economic and ideological reasons. Why you still hear people going, but the earth always changes. There is a small grain of truth there. This is how effective propaganda works.

We are facing climate refugees, as well as less clean water, and more expensive food. Some of the measures we need to take, we have resisted. The other day Governor Gavin Newsom said the magic words. The utilities need to bury the lines. We should have started doing this decades ago. To be brutally honest, a lot of the new lines should have been underground, to begin with. And where this is happening is far from the rural-urban interface. It is a good start, but under-grounding lines in the middle of the urban space are not going to help stop fires in rural areas. It is also lazy and far easier.

We now live in a state with an electric grid that reminds me of a developing nation. This will have economic effects. We are running out of time to have substantive efforts to slow down this. Reversing it is well in the future. If we do not, we may very well face the end of modern society, and perhaps species extinction. We do not have dominion over the earth. We never did, and it is time to grow up from that fantasy. Our economic models also have to include the environment. We are not above or beyond it. We are part of nature.

So what took major American media so long?

To be nice, they were deceived the same way they were by big lead and big tobacco. However, I suspect some of the answers lie in who owns the papers and a slew of conflicts of interest. It is not the only story the media ignores. There are others…but hopefully, now they will not play we need to be balanced and keep talking to those who still deny it’s happening. No, there are not two sides to this story.

Americans are confused because of this media behavior. We can’t afford more of the same.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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