Ted Grudin, who earned his Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of California-Berkeley, wrote an op-ed in the Earth Island Journal last week titled, “How White Supremacy Caused the Climate Crisis.”
In the op-ed, Grudin asserted that “embedded in the theory of racial supremacy is the theory of human supremacy over nature, which has brought environmental calamity upon us.”
As Grudin sees it, white supremacy thrives on the “accumulation of wealth and power” of a select few, namely Caucasians, and the “oppression and destruction” of everyone and everything else. White people, he argued, have historically believed that dominance and control are their “natural rights” and have thus sought to “colonize peoples and lands.”
California wildfires have been in the news in recent weeks. As I noted Thursday, the Golden State is experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in recent memory.
Newly updated figures from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection show there have been nearly 8,000 wildfires that have burned more than 3.4 million acres in California. Since August 15, when the state’s fire activity elevated sharply, there have been 25 fatalities and some 5,400 structures destroyed.
Despite widespread news coverage, some have argued many do not appreciate the historic severity of the blazes.
“There are two dozen fires burning right now that singularly would have been the top story on the national news 10 or 20 years ago,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Robinson Meyer.
Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic who covers climate change and technology, says California has already experienced its worst fire season in state history.
In the past few months, one in every 33 acres of California has burned. This year is already the most destructive wildfire season, in terms of acreage affected, in state history. In 2018, during California’s last annus horribilis, I noted that six of the 10 largest wildfires in state history had happened since 2008. That list has since been completely rewritten. Today, six of California’s 10 largest wildfires have happened since 2018—and five of them have happened this year.
Writing at The Week, Damon Linker proclaimed that the fires represent the dawn of an apocalypse. Linker cites Meyers and an unnamed friend in Oregon who said he’s never seen anything like the recent blazes.
“We’ve always had fires in the West, but never like this. We’re choking on smoke and ash. It’s happening this year, it happened two years ago, and it happened two years before that. It never once happened before during my lifetime,” Linker’s middle-aged friend says. “This is definitely a new pattern. And I never heard the phrase ‘fire season’ until a couple of years ago. It certainly wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. I never even saw smoke from a wildfire until I was in my 30s.”
Annie Lowrey, in an article titled “The U.S. Is on the Path to Destruction,” was even more vivid.
“Fires in California and Oregon are incinerating homes, businesses, schools, power lines, and roads,” Lowrey wrote in The Atlantic’s top story on Friday. “Climate hell is here. We cannot stand it. And we cannot afford it either.”
With all due respect to the Cassandras preaching apocalypse and hell on earth, there are two points worth mentioning.
First, as I explained recently, there is widespread agreement that California’s megafires stem largely from decades-long mismanagement of its forests. As The New York Times explainedearlier this month, for more than a century, many firefighting agencies have aggressively focused on extinguishing blazes whenever they occur, a strategy that has often proved counterproductive.
Other parts of the US have shown, the paper said, that less aggressive extinguishing of natural fires and targeted prescribed burning are effective at periodically clearing excess vegetation in forests and grasslands, which essentially serve as the fuel of California’s wildfires.
“The first step is to acknowledge that fire is inevitable, and we have to learn to live with it,” David McWethy, a fire scientist at Montana State University, told the paper.
California has spent decades aggressively preventing fire from doing its natural work, which has made it a virtual tinderbox.
To his credit, Linker at least mentions that “Yes, poor forest management is playing a role” in California’s hot season. But there is a troubling tendency to simply blame the apocalyptic blazes on climate change.
As I pointed out, it’s not unreasonable to assume that both poor land management and California’s high temperatures and arid climate have played a role in the fires. But California is not the only place in America that experiences high temps and dry weather.
Texas actually has more forest and higher temperatures than California, but the Lone Star state rarely struggles with fires, perhaps because 95 percent of its land mass is privately owned and these owners act as responsible stewards of the land.
If climate change was truly the primary culprit of the wildfires, wouldn’t it stand to reason other parts of the US would be suffering similar results? Are there reasons climate change impacts California more than Texas and the Southeast US?This brings me to my second point. There’s a perception that today’s fires are historically unprecedented.
“Even though the U.S. is only halfway through wildfire season, this year is one of the worst in history,” CNBC reported Friday. “Human-caused climate change has made blazes more frequent and intense, especially during extreme heat waves and drought conditions.”
But, the claim that 2020 is one of the worst in US history is simply not true.
A news story making such a claim might start by telling readers how many acres of land have burned in the record-setting year. CNBC doesn’t. One also sees a second problem: most of its charts don’t include information prior to 1990.
Fortunately, data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) offer some answers. So far in 2020, the US has experienced 42,809 total fires that burned a total of 7,015,956. These numbers are indeed above the ten-year average—45,711 fires and 5,963,782 acres. However, 2020 is unlikely to exceed the number of fires or acreage burned just three years ago in 2017.
Many will argue that 2017 was one of the worst fire seasons in US history, a claim that was reported numerous times during the fires season. But Bjorn Lomborg pointed out these claims were also not true.
An Oregon man was charged with using a Molotov cocktail to start a brush blaze in the wildfire-devastated state — then busted again just hours later for allegedly going back and starting six more, cops said.
Domingo Lopez Jr., 45, was first arrested Sunday afternoon after witnesses told cops he started a fire on the grassy edge of a Portland freeway with an incendiary device made out of a plastic bottle with a wick, the Portland Police Bureau said.
He admitted starting the blaze, which was extinguished without any injuries or property damage, cops said.
Lopez Jr. was booked into jail at 6:45 p.m. Sunday on charges of reckless burning and second-degree disorderly conduct — then released on his own recognizance later that night, court records show.
He was found walking along the edge of the same highway just after 3:30 a.m. Monday as cops joined fire crews to investigate reports of six more fires, Portland police said.
This time, he appeared to start the fires with a lighter, which was seized as evidence, the force said.
Four people have been arrested for arson for deliberately starting blazes along the West Coast including one man who livestreamed the encounter on social media as the death toll from the devastating wildfires climbed to 29 and Oregon officials warned they are preparing for a ‘mass fatality event’.
Two men in Washington state, one man in Oregon and one woman in California are facing arson charges for setting fires in areas that were already grappling with deadly blazes.
At least 20 have now been killed in California, eight in Oregon and one in Washington state as thousands of firefighters struggle to bring the blazes under control and the governors of California and Oregon told residents to expect more fatalities in the coming days.
Facebook has announced that it will be wiping messages alleging that wildfires, which have been sweeping through Oregon, might be the work of certain groups after the FBI brushed off reports of arson as “conspiracy theories.”
“We are removing false claims that the wildfires in Oregon were started by certain groups,” Andy Stone, policy communications manager at Facebook, tweeted late on Saturday.
Defending what is effectively an act of censorship by the social media giant, Stone noted that speculation suggesting the blazes have been ignited by extremists are forcing law enforcement to “divert resources from fighting the fires and protecting the public.”
This is consistent with our past efforts to remove content that could lead to imminent harm given the possible risk to human life as the fires rage on
The move comes as multiple wildfires are tearing through Oregon, closing in on Portland, the center of the Black Lives Matter protests, which have been marred by vandalism and arson.
Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.
Amid criminal investigations into the origin of many of the fires that have devastated communities in Washington, Oregon and California, a 36-year-old man with a history of radical activism has been arrested.
Jeffrey Acord was arrested Wednesday for setting a brush fire near a freeway in Puyallup, Washington, south of Seattle.
In 2014, he was arrested during protests of the Michael Brown decision with a cache of weapons, ammunition and explosive materials in his backpack and vehicle.
KOMO-TV in Seattle reported at the time that investigators said Acord was seen reaching under a car with a road flare. Among the weapons in his possession were a 7-inch knife, an assault rifle, a shotgun and a box full of large fireworks.
On Wednesday, it was Acord who called 911 to report a fire on the side of State Route 167. He then began streaming on his Facebook page, noted the blog Protester Privilege. A police officer can be heard questioning Acord, and the video ends with his arrest for second-degree reckless burning.