LOS ANGELES – Climate change. This subject of the drastic fluxuation in weather, temperature, and climate has been growing more and more relevant and aware in our community’s lives. As years have passed, environmental health and protection of the Earth has grown in concern. Rising temperatures, inconsistent patterns in rainfall, heatwave, droughts, and melting icebergs continue to project a call for help from our natural world. As an American citizen, this call can make one feel helpless, especially under authority who fail to see the reality and severity of this situation.
Over the course of the last decade, flames have engulfed about 5,395,088 acres of land, leaving fields scorched, buildings burned, and families homeless.
In the past couple of years, California, more specifically Southern California, has experienced these effects face to face. As of fall 2017, raging wildfires have devastated locations throughout Southern California. In locations like Ventura, Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and more, these flames have run through forests, fields, cities, and homes, evacuating all those who settle in these parts of California.
John Guinto, member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, had worked to stop these fires firsthand, and had witnessed the devastation that it had caused throughout the Malibu area. He and his team had worked tirelessly to fight off these flames for hours on end, knowing that due to the conditions that the environment was under, it would be a difficult challenge to take control of these disasters.
“As a firefighter, we were prepared for these fires, but we weren’t prepared for the wind speed. During that time, the winds were sustained to about 60-70 miles per hour. When we are fighting brush fires and wildlife fires, it is almost impossible to stop a fire like that from running. So when we were working those few days before the fires were starting, we knew that it was going to be challenging with just the winds.”
Guinto and his team had observed the state of the environment that fuels the fires to grow dangerously large and threatening, knowing over the course of many years, the drastic change in climate has contributed to these factors.
“Throughout the state of California, everything had been especially drying out for months prior, so during that time, we were always just mentally prepared for major disasters. Even over the course of the past few years, things have been drying out. We hardly got any rain at all, and then last year we got a lot of rain, and two years ago we got a lot of rain, so it just created more fuel to burn during that time.”
Guinto himself is a resident of Ventura, California, another city that had raging flames running through its town. He and his family were comfortable in their safety against the fires, while others, his own colleagues lived in fear of losing their homes.
“Well for me I knew that my house and my family were in the ‘danger’ zone, so I didn’t hold much fear for myself or my family, but for those I knew, I did have many friends who lived in the area, in the ‘Threat Zone’ we called it in firefighter terms, and of course I had concern for them. A lot of my friends I knew were on duty, and they didn’t know what to expect if the fire ran through their neighborhoods. So from my perspective, I couldn’t really tell you how I felt to live in fear of losing my belongings and my home, because my home was not under that threat, but I did feel a lot of anxiety at work because there was so much work to be done, and there was so much going on.”
In their own backyard, Ventura residents watched in horror as flames engulfed their neighborhoods, and local familiarities.
But in the midst of disaster and challenge during this time, Guinto is aware of the increasing concern we should have for climate change and the impact it is having on our environment. As a San Francisco native, growing up in a city of fog, he had not been aware of how seasons had changed, and the effects of the weather, until he moved to Los Angeles.
“I definitely think that there has been some changes in climate and temperatures. Over the course of my Fire department career, when I got stationed here in Los Angeles county, I noticed that within five to ten years, where I lived in Ventura, there was always a lot of fog, and from May to July, each year it had lingered shorter and shorter. Then rainfall had significantly decreased in the last few decades, so I definitely saw it, how the brush areas and the vegetation and how year to year, you could see how it wasn’t as green as it used to be. It would dry out sooner and sooner over the course of the year. But concerning the fires we’ve had… we’ve always had fires. But over the course of probably five to ten years, they’re significantly larger and more dangerous because of the climate and climate change.”
Loyola Marymount University Senior Lecturer of Environmental Sciences, Karina Johnston, looks into this topic scientifically in that climate indeed is a factor that contributes to these
disasters, defining exactly what is climate change and how it is a rising topic that should concern us day by day.
“Climate change and its resulting impacts are complex challenges, but we are moving forward with scientifically informed research and technologies that give us the opportunity to respond and adapt to these challenges. We do need to take immediate and effective actions in the form of policy changes and in our personal lives to combat some of the effects caused by increases in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Johnston is the Science Director for The Bay Foundation, and the Director of Programs for the Coastal Research Institute at LMU. She is a Board Certified Environmental Scientist, with a Biology specialty. She served as Treasurer on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Academy of Sciences. Her expertise in the field expresses the concern we should be holding for the topic of climate change, where it has reigned in our environment for as long as professionals have discovered it.
“Once it was detected by scientists around the globe, climate change has always been a serious matter. It is becoming increasingly important in the face of ‘climate denial’ as well as increases to emissions and resulting impacts. Many of the impacts are already manifesting and directly affecting communities around the world. However, we have the tools at our disposal to respond, and there are also numerous success stories such as ‘living shorelines’ and other effective adaptive management techniques”
Logistically, in terms of what exactly started up the growth of these fires, Johnston brings up a point in which these fires can be a result of a combination of various factors.
“One of the impacts of climate change is certainly the increase in occurrence and persistence of drought in Southern California. Drought, combined with invasive species, altered management strategies, and direct human disturbance is likely a contributor to long term trends of higher chances of fire occurrence. We can’t really analyze the trend for climate change independent of other factors, but it is very likely an important factor to consider.”
Yet even through the concern of those working in the field, and through professional opinion, here in America, there is a side that fails to face the reality of what climate change is doing to affect our environment. United States President, Donald Trump, loudly expresses his stance on climate change, that it is simply a “hoax”, and that it is a “money making industry”. As he regularly does, Trump expresses his opinions on his social media platforms, turning to Twitter to
only project that poor forest management is the only reasoning behind the deadly fires that roam through California.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” – @realDonaldTrump
In response to this opinion, California Governor Jerry Brown, addresses the tweet in a news briefing,
“Managing the forests and everywhere we can, does not stop climate change. And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we are now witnessing, and what we will continue to witness in the coming years. The chickens are coming home to roost, this is real here.”
Due to Trump’s stance in the reality of manmade climate change, many choose to speak out in response, in hopes that American authority can realize the urgency of the state of our planet, and make the changes necessary to bring change. The belief that more must be done in order to bring relief to our nation reigns through the voices of both scientific professionals, local community workers, and American citizens.
Johnston states that “Climate change is not something that is an opinion and will go away if you don’t “believe” in it. It is not Santa Claus.” As an individual who studies the environment itself, she understands that climate change is a concern that is occurring now, it will continue to occur, and without this concern, it will continue to worsen. “These are facts, regardless of whether or not individuals with political power understand the science. It is dangerous to ignore.”
“In my opinion, on the lower level, the working level, we definitely have seen it [climate change]”, says Guinto, “I think that the president should focus on seeing the world as a whole, and base his opinion on that. In his opinion, he doesn’t believe that climate change is making a difference, so I think that’s absurd, I don’t understand why he doesn’t see it, I just think he’s crazy sometimes.”
The crazy reality is that whether or not these fires are result of climate change or not, one thing is certain: If action is not taken upon American authority to bring change to avoid threatening effects to the environment, America will only worsen in its state.