Fires in California: The United States at Its Hour of Reckoning

The deadly fires that are currently affecting the country show how urgent it is that American authorities work to prevent the threat to climate.

When it comes to climate, the United States is at the heart of a series of paradoxes. It is the country with the most dynamic climate research − leading American universities and research organizations supply a significant portion of the science available on the subject. But it is also the one with the highest number of climate change skeptics among its population and political class − starting with the current administration. Likewise, it is the largest oil producer in the world, but also, without a doubt, the Western country most vulnerable to ongoing upheaval.

The huge fires that are striking California are there to remind us. With a record 71 (and counting) dead and 1,000 missing, the Camp Fire, which has been ravaging the northern part of the state since Nov. 8 and has left the city of Paradise in ruins, has revealed itself to be the deadliest fire in the history of the Golden State. With chronic drought, elevation and temperatures that exacerbate the dry soil, lengthening wildfire seasons, global warming is the main culprit in an oppressive trend.

The Exception Becomes the Norm

Records are being broken at a fast pace. Today, we lament the most devastating fire in the history of the American West Coast, when the record for the largest forest fire in the region was last broken only about three months ago. Since the beginning of the year, more than 4,039 square miles of land have burned.

According to official data from the state of California, of the 10 largest fires recorded in California since 1932, eight have occurred since 2000. Of those eight, four have occurred since 2012. The exception becomes the norm. And yet these numbers say nothing about the distress and social chaos incited by these disasters. In their wake, tens of thousands of people have been displaced or made homeless in one of the richest states in the country, itself among the richest on the planet.

A Profound Fragility

As with the recent flooding in the Aude or the severe drought that has plagued a large part of France for several months, the series of catastrophes sweeping the United States show that nothing will be spared by these phenomena made more likely and more severe by ongoing climate change. With a bit of a lag in Southern Hemisphere countries – in which the economies, the geographical situation and the infrastructure are more vulnerable − northern countries have been learning for a little while now of their profound fragility when faced with the brutality of the climate change that they set in motion.

Will the realization that the hour of reckoning has arrived drive the United States to leave its paradoxes behind? Will it force the political class – primarily Donald Trump – and American opinion to join forces with its own scientists? One should hope so, because the United States’ important position in the world economy makes effective joint action practically impossible without Washington.

It is urgent: At only 1 degree Celsius of warming, we are already, today, alarmed by the magnitude of the damage of climate change. If the international community refuses to do more to fight against global warming, we will need to manage the catastrophes produced by an additional 2 degrees Celsius or 3 degrees Celsius. No one can say at this point if that will be possible.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply