Wildfire Reality Check: What If GOP Climate Deniers' Homes Burned Down?

Over the past few days, everyone has been discussing the interview in Rolling Stone where Donald Trump insults Carly Fiorina and generally just behaves like Donald Trump. However, if you read the entire magazine, you will find a far more important article by Tim Dickinson about the recent wildfires in California, Washington, and Alaska. Although it does not feature any comments about Republican candidates' looks, it has actual relevance for the future of the United States and potentially the entire world.


The article focuses on the links between climate change and this year's disastrous wildfire season. The droughts in California mark an obvious link, but even in places such as Washington where precipitation levels have been normal, changes in weather have increased the risk of fire.

My gut reaction: I wonder if Republican presidential candidates would still think climate change is a hoax if their houses were burning to the ground.

The climate conditions in California are the most extreme and noticeable. As The Guardian reported, California has been in a state of drought for the past four years, with scientists claiming that the Sierra Nevada snowpack is at its lowest levels in five hundred years. Climate change has made the drought roughly 25 percent more severe than it otherwise would have been, as Columbia scientist Park Williams has told Rolling Stone.

However, the effects of climate change are not limited to the California fires or droughts for that matter. Up in Washington, people are facing a so-called "wet drought," in which overall precipitation remains normal, but comes in the form of rain rather than the region's usual snow. When that snow melted earlier in the year than usual, it left the state dry and vulnerable to fire. The wet drought resulted from the same weather pattern that created the California drought, a high pressure system that pushed rain storms out of California and into Oregon and Washington.

Although it hasn't gotten as much coverage due to less impact on populated areas, conditions in Alaska are equally horrendous. As Dickinson describes it:

In Alaska, more than 5 million acres burned — surpassing the 10-year average for the entire country...The world is warming most toward the poles, and temperatures in Alaska have been increasing nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country in the last 60 years — up almost three degrees. And the state's average fire season has increased by more than a month — 35 days — since the 1950s. "We can detect the climate-change influence on fire," says Glenn Juday, a forest ecologist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, who points to three indicators all on the upswing: "The area burned, the severity of the burning and then the frequency."
What's worse is that these wildfires will in turn contribute to climate change in their own right. The burning of forests puts even more carbon into the air. The Alaskan fires pose a particularly grave threat. For thousands of years, the Alaskan permafrost has made wildfires virtually impossible, allowing massive amount of organic matter to build up in the soil. The fires release the built up carbon into the air, accelerating climate change.

The human suffering caused by the current season of wildfires is immense. Aside from several deaths, the Valley and Butte fires in California have displaced 23,000 people. However, Dickinson's article warns that the worst may be to come, with America facing the Hurricane Katrina of wildfires. As urban areas increasingly encroach on the wilderness, it is only a matter of time before a major city is threatened by fire. As Dickinson puts it:

In the big picture, America was lucky that wildfire hadn't struck the parched hills of Silicon Valley, or swept through Colorado's Front Range into the suburbs west of Denver. Indeed, Northern California skirted disaster in July. The Rocky Fire — sparked by a decrepit water heater — threatened the city of Clear Lake, north of the state's fabled Napa Valley, ripping through 70,000 acres, jumping a highway and subjecting 13,000 residents to evacuation orders.

Hopefully, our leaders will awaken to the threat of climate change related wildfires before one leaves us with a pile of body bags like the Black Saturday bushfires in Australia in 2009. I'm not optimistic, though.

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