CALIFORNIA FIRES RAGE BUT AMERICANS DON’T

August 6, 2018 seemed like a typical day.  I woke up and found soot on my car in Napa, California and the sun did not shine; the sun was an orange hue which seemed a mix of smoke and overcast.  I drove to Sacramento where I work and got out of my car. The soot was still raining down on my car like snowflakes. Inland, where there was no overcast in the summertime, I noticed more white cover. Odd?  After realizing Sacramento doesn’t have overcast in the summertime, I concluded these were smoke clouds, not water clouds. There was no place to go to get out of the soot. No one seems to care. Casual acceptance is the operative phrase.

California is changing rapidly.  And for the worse. I went to Lake Tahoe in late July, one of my favorite places on this Earth and dipped my toe into the water in Incline Village, Nevada.  I couldn’t believe it. The water was incredibly warmer. I could suddenly swim without any difficulty, unlike the times as a child when I was chilled to the point of shivering and being forced to take my time to adjust to the outrageously cold water.  My suspicions of the warmth were confirmed by a UC Davis study that showed the water in July 2017 was indeed 6°C warmer than it was in July 2016. Furthermore, the average overall water temperature has increased from 5.6°C in 1970 to 6.1°C in 2017. The clarity also dropped to its lowest level of 59 feet which was well below its historical clarity depth of over 100 feet in 1970.   

The temperature wasn’t the only depressing thing about Lake Tahoe.    On my visit in July, the Tahoe basin was so smoky that I couldn’t see Heavenly Valley’s Ski Resort slopes on its south side from its north shore. That never happened in my 54 year lifetime as I could recall.   

We have come to accept, especially in Washington DC, the notion that the climate is changing and there is nothing we can do about it.  It is almost as if it is a fact of life and a sacrifice that we must make in order to support the goods and services that we produce in order to make our lives special. Hogwash. Our lives, as a whole, are getting worse and not better due to the unbridled growth of humanity.  Trumpian double speak wants us to think we are better. Nonsense.

I remember back in March 2015 when I contacted one of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, Diane Dillon, about the precarious nature of climate change and the need to address it for Napa Valley. I sat down with her for a ten minute talk in her office trying to get funding from the county for our nonprofit to start teaching children in our schools about the dangers of climate change.  She was dismissive. When I explained to her that we were on a cliff and could fall, she simply told me to contact the Governor (Governor Jerry Brown or “Moonbeam” as he is fondly and affectionately known) “as this climate change thing is what he is into.” She was more worried about the jail she had to build for Napa County than about climate change. She stuck to her “job” and didn’t see (or at least didn’t want to see) the bigger picture that is bringing humanity to its possible extinction.  Oh, how familiar her refrain was and is currently among all of us.

I attempted to explain to her that climate change was leading us to a death sentence.  She said she had more important things to worry about, but she said she understood my concern.  Keep in mind this is a politician who lives in a valley with a multitude of microclimates that has helped create some of the greatest wines in the world. She is a democrat, too, in the most liberal area in the United States (Bay Area).  If I can’t convince her of a climate change cliff, then what chance do I stand with the folks in Washington DC? I tried to explain that climate change was quickly drying up the land, called evapotranspiration, and that the lack of water and rainfall could seriously impair the performance of our wine industry.  The “perfect climate” of Napa Valley, which is so unique and special, is now at major risk to succumb to the perils of climate change. I explained that the unknown unknowns of climate change were even more problematic than then known effects. I handed her a copy of my book, The Supercivilization:  Survival in the Era of Human Versus Human and she quickly handed it back and stated that she would be too busy to read it.

Merely two years later the disaster happened in October 2017:  Napa and Sonoma counties were hit with the worst fires in state history.  Over 8000 structures were lost in the fires and 44 lives lost in a blaze that had never happened, let alone could be imagined, in the history of the Bay Area.  Now, in late July and early August 2018 numerous fires are still ablaze: the Mendocino complex fire, the Ferguson fire, and the Carr fire which were preceded by the ominous fires around Santa Barbara in late 2017 and early 2018.  So far this year it is estimated that over half a million acres of California have burned this summer. To put that into perspective, California has about 100 million acres.  If you include all the fires dating back to October 2017 (Thomas and Sonoma/Napa fires) this means that approximately 1% of California has burned in the past twelve months!  

President Trump, in his eminent ignorance and arrogance, stated recently in a tweet that California’s fire problems stem from our lack of supplying sufficient water to the state.   He blamed environmentalists for the fires.  He didn’t attribute it to any causes that most earth scientists attribute it to:  evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration essentially means that climate change is causing the state not just to warm but to dry out as more surface water evaporates more quickly.  This is problematic and why California is on the leading edge of climate change: it is getting drier and hotter causing more forests to burn. And as more forests burn, they then burn the evergreen trees that hold water (dead brush and no longer trees saturated with ground water will proliferate) making them ripe fuel for a spreading fire.  Our burn season is now year round. The end result is more fires and a changing biosphere: eventually we will have more dry brush in Northern California, like Southern California, and will have less vegetation that can burn. In a Trumpian world, that will be great: fewer fires. By that time, however, our world could be doomed and the Napa Valley wine industry could be history.

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