The sun hides its fiery crimson ball behind the gray pall overhead and I can hardly make out the ghostly outline of pines beyond my window. Friends report the sky over San Francisco is a dystopic burnt orange. We’ve all been breathing smoky air for days along the entire west coast and as I write, the Air Quality Index in the Sierra is Hazardous at 303.
So much for my original plans for this Blog: Is Elon Musk Musk’s controversial Neurolink the precursor to Heart Wood’s Nib? I’ll come back to that later. Today I want to write about something more pressing: Is there anything we can do to lessen these massive wildfires, or should we and our children’s children expect to live with them from here on out? Here’s what I’ll cover: 1) Wildfires in California’s future – my artistic literary vision and some scientific projections. 2) How the Paris Agreement is designed to help us locally and world-wide (which the president withdrew the US from, but many states are pushing ahead anyway) 3) One tangible way to impact how our legislators vote for the environment.
So here we are. It’s mid-September and I remind myself that wildfire season in California has only just started. As much as I’m grateful we’re not one of the tens of thousands who have lost their homes to this season’s wildfires already, and I’ve sent donations to the Red Cross to help those who have, I’m so aware that we all share in the destruction of our air quality, respiratory, and environmental health.
I “saw” an eerily similar scene years ago when I was writing about the future in Heart Wood and envisioned Amisha moving about in San Francisco in 2075:
The old vase on her dresser was shimmering red the next morning when Amisha raised her head from the pillow. Most days started this way. Though the rising sun was rarely seen, its warmth caused micrometal particles suspended in the air to scintillate in a vague morning glow, casting a sense of dawn across the city. (Heart Wood, p 14)
“Micrometal particles” suspended in the air? Though I left the details up to the reader’s imagination, it’s not hard to envision a ghastly mix of wildfire smoke and the toxins emitted from a burning civilization, as well as pollutants from industry and indestructible micro-plastics.
By 2075, wildfires have already burned most of the Sierra as Amisha and Charlie head up into the Sierra:
Amisha took another swig, then returned the canister to its hiding place. “What’s up there?” she asked, pointing to the hint of peaks in the distance. “You askin’ ’bout hills? Not much.” “People?” “They’ve come and gone, mostly farther north.” “Oregon?” “Farther. Canada’s still deciding its immigration policy.” “They say fires took out most of the foothills. Anything survive?” “A structure here and there.” “Trees? People?” “Can’t say,” Charlie climbed back into the wagon. “Why are you going up there?” Amisha asked. “Can’t say that either.” (Heart Wood p 93)
These 2075 scenarios were heavily influenced by the study: California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, 2018 sent to me by Ashley Overhouse, River Policy Manager for SYRCL (South Yuba Citizen’s League: https://yubariver.org/) The study gives projections for California in 2100 (temperature, water, wildfire, sea level, public health, communities, and governance). Here’s what they say about future wildfires in California (https://climateassessment.ca.gov/)
Impact: Climate change will make forests more susceptible to extreme wildfires. By 2100, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, one study found that the frequency of extreme wildfires burning over approximately 25,000 acres would increase by nearly 50 percent, and that average area burned statewide would increase by 77 percent by the end of the century.
TABLE 9 | CLIMATE IMPACTS IN CALIFORNIA UNDER DIFFERENT EMISSION SCENARIOS
Table 9 presents estimated impacts to California assuming compliance with the Paris goals, as compared to a historic baseline and RCP 8.5 scenario. (RCP 8.5 is a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario that would result in atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceeding 900 parts per million (ppm) by 2100, more than triple the level present in the atmosphere before human emissions began to accumulate).
|CLIMATE IMPACT IN CALIFORNIA||BASELINE: 1976 – 2005||RCP 8.5 End of Century||PARIS AGREEMENT 1.5°C||PARIS AGREEMENT 2°C|
|Annual Average Temperature||14°C (57ºF)||19°C (66ºF)||15.2°C (59ºF)||15.6°C (60ºF)|
|Number of extreme hot days: Sacramento||1.6||14.3||2.4||2.9|
|April 1st Snow Water Equivalent||18.8 inches||-74 %||-22 %||-22.8 %|
|Soil Moisture||11.8 inches||-10 %||-1.3 %||-2.5 %|
|Wildfires: area burned||484.5 thousand acres||+ 63 %||+ 20 %||+ 20 %|
|Sea-Level Rise (2100 relative to 2000: mean values)||NA||137 cm (54 in)||28 cm (11 in)||41 cm (16 in)|
Considering the Paris Agreement on Climate Change Mitigation, you may remember that in June 2017, President Trump announced his highly controversial plans to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement. He wanted an agreement on terms that were fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers – in accordance with his America First Policy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_withdrawal_from_the_Paris_Agreement
No mention of being fair to the health of our environment.
Twenty-four state governors formed the United States Climate Alliance to continue working collectively toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, including California, Oregon, and Washington.
What can one person do? – Start by supporting the League of Conservation Voters and by voting!
I love this group because they work hard to elect politicians “who stand up for a clean, healthy future for America,” and defeating “anti-environment” candidates – at both federal and state levels. The League of Conservation Voters tracks the voting records of members of Congress on environmental issues in its National Environmental Scorecard, and it annually names a “Dirty Dozen,” a list of politicians whom the group aims to defeat because of their voting records on conservation issues, and their political vulnerability. (The group also names a state-level Dirty Dozen.)
Check them out: https://www.ecovote.org/
Like Harmony in Heart Wood’s present time, I have despaired that one person can make much of an impact. Yet collectively we have more power. Vote to elect decision-makers who will work for the earth!
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