Guest Post: Raging California wildfires give us a taste of climate change’s deadly potential

Fire, by Andreas Åkre Solberg, Creative Commons, via Flickr

Wildfires continued to ravage both ends of California Wednesday, claiming at least 50 lives so far, with more than 200 people still missing, while authorities reported the eruption of a new conflagration near San Bernardino.

To the north, Camp Fire has burned close to a quarter of a million acres. Deemed the largest and deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, the catastrophic blaze has taken with it the homes of many recognizable names, including Miley Cyrus, Neil Young, and Gerard Butler. The Woolsey Fire to the south has burned more than 150 square miles, an area larger than Denver.

While wildfires are nothing new for California, there must be a message in the smoke signals. Colorado is no stranger to wildfires, either. Nor are other parts of the country or the globe. With the number of dry regions increasing, global warming doesn’t just threaten — it’s already here.

In an article, “Is Global Warming Fueling Increased Wildfire Risks?” and accompanying infographic, the Union of Concerned Scientists elaborated on this point. Wildfires are increasing in severity and count. The season for these fires in the West is starting earlier and lasting longer.

There is no bright side here. Wildfires aren’t only destructive to land, life, and property, but to the very air we breathe. Controlling and stopping future wildfires is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions increase air pollution and pose risks to those with asthma and allergies.

Concerted effort to affect change is important; direction is critical. Lighting a fire beneath legislators is the first step — a step that should now be easier for Democratic-controlled Colorado.

As global warming persists, temperatures rise, and air pollution worsens, what do we do? It’s becoming more difficult to sequester carbon and maintain forests. This isn’t a concern for forests alone, but also water supplies. Water is a key part of the solution to this hot issue, too.

Earlier this year, the San Francisco Chronicle put out a short list of actions to stop these fires. Last year, Fortune published an article to this end. The latter concluded that “ultimately, you control fire by controlling the countryside.” Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey in August discussed such control. Calling for new solutions, the website Pacific Standard also fanned the flames of change.

Colorado can fight flammability with maintained lands. Yet, controlling dry areas and ensuring soil moisture is not enough. Flammability, temperatures, and air pollution will rise in the future. This is a major feature of climate change. Focusing on one area alone is not enough, nor is doing it alone. The United Nations called to action every nation, citing only a decade left to act.

Without water, we die. We need water to cool and maintain fire areas and save property — even if it comes from a swimming pool. Colorado can start by advocating climate change solutions and protecting its water sources from would-be drillers. Having lost their chance Nov. 6 with the failed Amendment 112, Coloradans should call on their new, blue Colorado government to dig its heels in now to invigorate solutions. Time is running out. 

The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts andconcerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact or visit our submission page