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In California, It’s Not About Climate Change – It’s About Bad Government Policy

When things go wrong in the world, scapegoats are easy to find. The recent pandemic is one of the most obvious ones, being blamed for all sorts of post-COVID shifts. Immigrants, crime, and terrorism are other ones. But among the most common may be that of climate change. While rising greenhouse gases may account for many things, it isn’t the complete source of all problems. Of course, that’s not stopping some policymakers and state leaders from making such claims. This is the case when it comes to the California wildfire crisis in recent years. Instead of pointing the finger at a longstanding history of bad environmental policy, climate effects are being singled out. And in the process, nothing is actually getting to the root of the problem.

It’s no secret that the California wildfire crisis is horrific and costly in nature. This isn’t just in terms of economic impacts but also in the number of lives lost along the way. Disaster response teams and technologies are becoming increasingly in demand as a result. Naturally, the severity demands that actions be taken, but the solutions being proposed are hardly supported. Instead, it seems wildfires are simply being used to advance other agendas related to climate change policies. Unfortunately, this will do little to reduce the severity, frequency or impact related to these acts of nature. This is why it’s crucial to examine the facts in a more objective and unbiased manner. Only then can effective policies be pursued that truly addresses the problem.

(Read up on the advancements in disaster response technologies in this Bold story.)

“We have a wildfire pandemic…We have disinvested and neglected these lands for too long and are paying the price today.” – Michael Wara, Director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Examining the Root of the Problem

If we truly want to explore the cause of the California wildfire crisis, we need to look back at a little history. Notably, the state has been home to dense forest for millions of years. But that changed beginning around the mid-19th century. This was when American settlers entered the area and began investing in logging operations. Suddenly, vast areas of cleared land appeared as trees were harvested. And in their place, new growth soon appeared. However, this new growth was much denser, and the higher number of trees competed for resources. Given that water and nutrients are limited, many trees didn’t survive, and others became more susceptible to disease. This created the perfect setting for uncontrolled wildfires that still exist.

The failure to appreciate these developments reflects the beginning of bad environment policy decisions. But these didn’t stop there. Foresters soon realized that in order to deter a California wildfire crisis, forest densities needed to be trimmed. But over recent decades, controlled burns of existed forests have met several challenges. Likewise, harvesting efforts have been cut back significantly. Aggressive environmental legislation can be blamed for both of these developments.  Likewise, advancing urban landscapes into wildland areas limit these strategies as well. These bad environmental policy choices have thus perpetuated and even aggravated the problem. Nature remedies such problems normally through natural forest fires that prevent such dense forest from developing in the first place. But because these naturally processes where hindered, the current California wildfire crisis ensued.

“If state and federal governments invested the amount of money they spend on wildfire suppression for prescribed fire, wildfires would be much less costly and damaging in the long-run.” – Tony Marks-Block, Assistant Professor at California State University, East Bay

The Impact of Climate Change

To suggest that climate change has had no impact on the California wildfire crisis would be amiss. Over the last several years, record heat waves have occurred in the state. Likewise, the western half of the country continues to experience significant droughts. Even shorter winters have some effect on raising the risk of forest fires. But in comparison, these climate shifts represent a small part of the problem. If forests were not so dense with dead brush and disease, these changes would be relatively insignificant. It’s therefore not climate change that is to blame but bad environmental policy overall.

The Gold Gate Bridge I think
Bad environmental policy is the issue in California, not climate change!

Of course, that has not stopped California from pursuing recent legislation related to climate change. Blaming climate change as the primary reason for the California wildfire crisis. major funds have been allocated toward climate policies. The governor recently established the California Climate Commitment to reduce pollution and boost clean energy. This policy alone is to receive $54 billion. California has also funded an Extreme Heat Action Plan to address recent droughts and heat waves. These aren’t necessarily bad policy directions, but they will have minimal effects on wildfires. And the funds going toward the se bad environmental policy programs could be used in much more productive ways.

“Urban and suburban fire departments that had no part in wildland firefighting 30 years ago are now heavily engaged in wildland fire prevention, mitigation and response. The wildland urban interface is now the frontier for wildland fire.” – Dr. Lori Moore Merrell, U.S. Fire Administrator

Better Environmental Policy Pursuits

Understanding that climate change appears to be a scapegoat for the California wildfire crisis, different policy directions are needed. Rather than the current bad environmental policy choices, ones that actually get at the root of the problem are needed. This means allocated funds toward routine and planned tree trimming schedules to reduce forest density. Many power companies are pursuing these efforts, but resources are lacking. Funding that’s going to support clean energy initiatives would be better used to combat forest fire risks. This is especially true given that green energy cannot meet national energy needs in the foreseeable future.

(Green Energy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be–read this Bold story and learn more!)

In addition to these shifts away from bad environmental policy pursuits, technology can also be better leveraged. Vegetation analytics gathered from satellite data can better identify which areas should receive priority trimming. Likewise, other technologies can analyze weather data, historical patterns, and other inputs to anticipate problems. Investing in these technologies rather than climate change commitments would have larger impacts on the economy and on human lives. These type of efforts are supported by the facts and by common sense. This is what a good environmental policy looks like.


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