California’s wildfires point to a hotter and darker future

A firefighter builds a containment line as he battles a wildfire Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, near Boulder Creek, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Over the past few weeks, news of the raging wildfires that have swept across California have taken the world by storm in just another example of the horrific natural disasters we have witnessed over the past few months. After the multiple hurricanes and earthquakes that have been felt in this area of the world recently, the addition of these devastating fires seems to be unfathomable, to the point where some are describing the events as the beginning of the apocalypse. While this may be an overstatement, there is obviously something to be said for the uncharacteristically large amount and strength of the natural disasters that have recently been plaguing the Earth. While they may all be different types of tragedies, it is clear that there is a common culprit behind them.

The blaze that started in California earlier this month is about as destructive as they come. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and a report by National Public Radio (NPR), this year alone wildfires have burned through over eight and a half million acres. This area, which is larger than the state of Maryland, only continues to grow as the current wildfires continue to burn, despite tireless efforts from many firefighters across the country.

While this may be one of California’s most destructive wildfires in recorded history, it is not completely out of the blue. Since the turn of the century, California’s wildfires have increased and become more damaging than they ever were. Of all of the wildfires that have occurred in the state, 13 out of California’s 20 largest wildfires occurred since the year 2000, showing an increasingly deadly trend. Other studies have also been shown that this continued trend of increasingly powerful wildfires should not be surprising, as they have been gaining momentum for decades, due to climate change related side effects.

Obviously, it is not just the fires that have increased over the years. Average temperatures have steadily been increasing throughout the country, and this trend includes California. This increase in temperature has lead to many raised risk factors related to wildfires, including drier climates, premature ends to wintry weather and increased tree death. All of these attributes, and many others, have contributed to the heightened risk of wildfires in the western states.

Similarly to how the record-breaking hurricanes that swept across the nation in September could not be solely blamed on climate change, neither can this wildfire. Wildfires are a common occurrence in the western states, especially in California, to the point where the have an appropriately named “fire season” each year. However, where the climate change cannot be blamed for the actual occurrence of this disaster, it did play a huge role in making this fire as big and deadly as it was, by causing all of the aforementioned reactions. 2017 continued the current pattern of being the hottest year on record, thus further exacerbating the already-present side effects of the rising temperature with regards to fires. While there are certainly other more randomized factors, like unusually strong winds, that affected the rapid growth and spread of the California wildfires that started earlier this month, it is clear that climate change is to blame for much of the intensity of this fire.

With another natural disasters hitting hard while we are still trying to pick ourselves up from those that occurred last month, it is hard to imagine people who do not see the obvious link between our warming planet and the increased magnitude with which natural disasters are hitting the planet. The influence of our president is also not helping to alleviate the issue, with his blatant neglect of the environment and all related topics, but this is not the only issue here. The number of people that remain uneducated or uncaring with regards to protecting the environment is astounding and needs to be changed if we hope to alleviate this issue. Just because one person in power finds it okay to disregard his job of protecting our country and its people, does not mean we should all follow suit.

Despite the best efforts of the thousands of firefighters, first responders and other volunteers that are helping to contain the wildfires in California, the fires continue to win. But this is not a problem that can be solved only by extinguishing the immediate issue, its roots run deeper than the surface level. If we hope to put an end to the growth of these natural disasters in the future, we must act and do so quickly to get to the root of the problem: climate change. For if we don’t, these deranged wildfires will only be the beginning.


Emma Hungaski is the associate opinion editor  for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at emma.hungaski@uconn.edu.