Wildfires are our future?

Turbulent clouds from the North Complex Fire cover our Northern California sky – September 8, 2020

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/)

Projections: Wildfire

From: https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/Statewide_Reports-SUM-CCCA4-2018-013_Statewide_Summary_Report_ADA.pdf

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).

SCENARIO
CLIMATE IMPACT IN CALIFORNIABASELINE: 1976 – 2005RCP 8.5 End of CenturyPARIS AGREEMENT 1.5°CPARIS AGREEMENT 2°C
Annual Average Temperature14°C (57ºF)19°C (66ºF)15.2°C (59ºF)15.6°C (60ºF)
Number of extreme hot days: Sacramento1.614.32.42.9
April 1st Snow Water Equivalent18.8 inches-74 %-22 %-22.8 %
Soil Moisture11.8 inches-10 %-1.3 %-2.5 %
Wildfires: area burned484.5 thousand acres+ 63 %+ 20 %+ 20 %
Sea-Level Rise (2100 relative to 2000: mean values)NA137 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!  

Dams: A 19th Century Solution to a 21st Century Problem That Won’t Go Away

Dams have been in the news and on my radar again. Just as I’m revising the chapter in my book about fighting a dam back in 1990 (yes, the novel’s still in progress, but I’m pedaling faster now that I’m working with a writing coach!), here in Northern California the Oroville Dam spillway break caused the evacuation of 200,000 people in the Yuba-Sutter lowlands,  and a new dam is being proposed on the Bear River in Nevada County. 284

I totally emphasize with all that would be impacted by the Centennial Dam that Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is currently proposing for the Bear River west of Colfax (Nevada and Placer Counties). Back in 1999, the Moonshine Road area of Camptonville was faced with the prospect of a dam on the Middle Yuba River. Without benefit of today’s social media, our very small community of 600 people organized, educated, then partnered with SYRCL to form our own MYRACL (Middle Yuba River Area Citizens League). Eventually, the Yuba County Water Agency took the Freeman’s Crossing Dam off the list of options for flood control. But in the current political culture of abrupt reversals, no one can afford to be complacent. Thankfully today, myriads of new organizations have joined SYRCL to focus on protecting our rivers and environment. Folks are better connected, informed, and proactive.

If you want to become informed about the Centennial Dam proposal and learn how to impact the process, here’s some links to check out. Citizens have until April 10th to give public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers, so do it soon!

www.SaveBearRiver.com, and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/

Now back to my writing. Dams provide the dramatic backdrop for my present-time character, Harmony, a back-to-the-lander religiously devoted to saving the planet.  Based on the true events  in Camptonville, Harmony  was part of a group that struggled to ward off a dam that would have inundated over a third of the families in her small, rural, community.

But in the end, it was the children who saved the river.

Excerpt from The Desk:   (Note: “The Desk” was the former working title for “Heart Wood” before 2020)

       Back then, the prospect of this dam hung like a shroud over our school kids. In classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, and recess, all they could talk about was that half of their friends would be flooded out; families would be forced to leave; the school would have to shut down.

      Mrs. Watson, the fifth grade teacher, understood that the best antidote for anxiety was action. She assigned her ten-year old students the project of creating a plan. What did they want to happen?  Who could they approach?  What would they say? Soon parents and school staff got on board and helped the class get on the Supervisor’s Agenda. TV and news media were alerted, and at ten am, the school bus dropped twenty children into a throng of reporters and cameras in front of the county government center.

   

CV Students Oppose Dam 1999
Grass Valley Union Reprint, April 28, 1999

  Once inside the Supervisors Chambers and called to speak, students displayed their six-foot, hand-drawn poster depicting how the dam would destroy their community. One-by one, four students stood at the microphone and read the speech they had practiced in class. How, they asked, could the Supervisors purposely wipe out one of its own communities?

     Towering above them from their elevated desk, the five Supervisors leaned back in their seats, taking in the children, cameras, reporters, then back to the children. The Chairman thanked the students politely and announced they would make their final decision by the end of the afternoon, then added he wished he could to bring his own constituents to the school to learn how to make a good presentation! 

     The next day the school’s hallways were plastered with news coverage of the childrens’ appeal….the children who saved their community from being flooded.

Flash forward to 2,020. Having once defeated this dam that would have flooded her home, Harmony is now faced with the revival of the 19th century solution to the 21st century problem of droughts, decreasing water supply, and increasing demand. What is now different in this (hopefully)  fictional account is that by 2,020, the environmental regulatory process has since been dismantled. No more red tape, pesky regulations, meddling oversight, or tedious public input. Developers are freed at last to finally get things done!

May I repeat how you can impact our future right now?

Check out: www.SaveBearRiver.com and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/    The public has until April 10th to comment on NID’s plans to construct Centennial Dam – a new reservoir on the Bear River between the existing Rollins and Combie Reservoirs. It’s up to us citizens to take notice and take action.