Responding to California wildfires
Sir, – The latest wildfires in California have wreaked havoc on the state, with over 94,000 acres burning, over 200,000 people displaced, hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed, and billions of dollars worth of damage done (World News, October 31st).
The fires are believed to have been started by a tree branch falling on power lines during high winds, with the drought-ravaged environment providing perfect fuel for the inferno that followed.
What’s notable about this – besides the human and environmental cost – is the crude nature of the preventative measures and response.
There seems to be a perception among some that while climate change is going to present problems in the future, human ingenuity and technological innovation will lead to creative solutions which will offset much of the impact.
In the case of California, the most significant preventative measure they came up with was to impose power cuts on millions of homes and businesses throughout the region. And it didn’t work. Then when the fires inevitably started, all that could be done was to use water and fire retardant to fight the blaze, evacuate residents, and watch as settlements go up in flames.
That a state like California with a multi-trillion dollar GDP, in one of the richest and most entrepreneurial countries in the world, is almost entirely at the mercy of predictable extreme weather events should make us less optimistic about our capacity to innovate our way out of the disasters to come. More frequent storms, flooding, wildfires, drought, farming and fishing impacts, and population displacement are just some of the problems that scientists predict.
We cannot afford to be complacent about the imperative to reduce global emissions immediately. Either our business models and lifestyles can voluntarily change now, or they can change later in response to the consequences of our negligence – but they’re going to change. – Yours, etc,