Why Does California Burn Every Summer?
One really shouldn't make light of disasters, but as the Onion points out, the current fires in California are so predictable, they are almost a tradition. Two years ago we did a lot of coverage of the fires, and much of it is relevant to the events of today. We round up some of them:
Around Los Angeles, researchers have found that about two-thirds of new building in Southern California over the past decade was on land susceptible to wildfires, said Mike Davis, a historian at the University of California at Irvine and author of a social history of Los Angeles.
"Another way to look at it is you simply drive out the San Gorgonio Pass, where the winds blow over 50 mph over a hundred days a year and you have new houses standing next to 50-year-old chaparral.
"You might as well be building next to leaking gasoline cans." More
There's no great mystery as to why lead and arsenic have been found in such great abundance amongst the ashes spread by California wildfires. Until just a few years ago, pressure treated wood sold for use in decks, railings, fences, wooden playground structures, and foundation sills was highly impregnated with "CCA" - the common term for a wicked brew of Chrome, Copper, and Arsenic salts. If large volumes of CCA-treated wood burned up, it easily accounts for much of the culturally introduced arsenic amongst the ashes. More : California Homes Dusted With Corrosive Ash and Heavy Metals From Wildfires
....The wave of fires has stirred up large plumes of smoke that have been pumping soot particles into the atmosphere - the tiniest of which are responsible for aggravating several debilitating diseases, including emphysema, asthma and heart disease.
As Michael Kleinman, a professor of community and environmental medicine at UC Irvine noted, those particles "can penetrate deeper in the lungs and have harsher health effects," often causing "tissue damage, inflammation and irritation". The health risks of exposure are particularly acute since this is one of the first times so many Southern Californian cities have been blanketed by a combination of smoke and dust kicked up by stronger winds. More: Wildfires Causing Further Deterioration of Southern California's Air Quality
As was so succinctly put by Salon's Andrew Leonard in a post about the controversy last week: "Nuance is a bitch". Indeed, in the wake of the wildfires that ravaged large sections of Southern California, a debate that had largely remained on the sidelines - whether global warming was causing an increase in the number/intensity of fires - surged to the fore with environmental groups, scientists and pundits alike weighing in with their respective takes on the issue. More: Global Warming or Not: The Debate Over California's Wildfires
This is exactly what we’ve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change. ...
You can’t look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate. But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows, and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.
More: Quote of the Day: Ronald Neilson on the Southern California Fires
NASA Satellite Pictures Capture Wildfires' Breadth
Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post points out that not everything can be blamed on global warming, that lousy farming practices, overpopulation and bad policies contribute. Morever, "Weather alarmism" gives ammunition to global-warming deniers. He notes:
"Last week, we saw reports of more wildfires in California. Sure as night follows day, people will lay some of the blame on climate change. But there's also the minor matter of people building homes in wildfire-susceptible forests, overgrown with vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. That's like pitching a tent on the railroad tracks.
The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: "Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you're nuts."
More: Quote of the Day: Not Everything Is About Global Warming