The wildfires raging in Northern California, which have so far torched more than 270 square miles, killed 40 people, forced thousands to flee, destroyed about 5,700 structures and spread smoke to communities for hundreds of miles around, are a burning sign of things to come.
Here in Oakland, Calif., where I’m currently working, about 50 miles south of most of the fires, I do my errands and even sit around the not-exactly-airtight apartment wearing an N95-rated respirator mask. Stores can’t keep them on the shelves. Oakland is said to have the country’s worst air this week — second only to the city of Napa and on par with a bad day in Beijing, China (as I write this, Oaktown’s air quality index, or AQI, is 172, rated “unhealthy” by the EPA; another source, more frequently updated, is www.purpleair.com). The whole San Francisco Bay Area smells like a campfire, and not in a good way.
Many experts agree that climate change has been worsening wildfires in the western U.S. and elsewhere for years by making winters shorter and wetter and the following fire season longer and drier. Climate change also kicks up higher winds and sparks more frequent lightning. And the fires’ carbon emissions exacerbate climate change, which causes more fires, which increases climate change, and so on. It’s a deadly feedback loop. California’s historic drought capped by a soaking-wet last winter and then a hot, dry summer makes these fires a terrible case in point.
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Here’s What We Know About Wildfires and Climate Change — Scientific American (reprinted from ClimateWire)
Did Climate Change Fuel California’s Devastating Fires? Probably. — MIT Technology Review
The Climate Change Fire Alarm From Northern California — Los Angeles Times
Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Wildfire Risks? — Union of Concerned Scientists
Climate Change Indicators: Wildfires — EPA (Hey, is that a reference to climate change on a federal government website? It’s like seeing a unicorn.)