Press "Enter" to skip to content

Wildfires lead to conversation about climate change

California is currently suffering from the worst case of wildfires in its history, with approximately 42 dead and dozens missing, leading many in the United States to wonder if the sudden outbreak of natural disasters on U.S. territory and in neighboring nations is a result of climate change.

In the month following Hurricane Harvey, the United States has been struck by an additional three hurricanes and severe flooding. In the last week, according to CalOES, Northern California has been devastated by as many as 16 large, fast-moving fires. These disasters have resulted in the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The week of Oct. 9 saw Mills students and faculty alike concerned about the security of their homes. Students were seen walking around campus coughing, with their faces covered by respiratory masks. Some even informed professors that they would be absent from class due to the unbearable scent of smoke in the air. 

“Everyone is on high alert,” said Xiomara Hooker, a Mills student who works at the Children’s School. “Places of work have shut down. And the air has been so bad in Oakland that many people at Mills, including myself, have had breathing and smoke related issues.”

Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the sudden onslaught of wildfires in California. According to Mercury News, PG&E is under heavy scrutiny. They have been asked by state regulators to preserve any evidence that may suggest that their infrastructure could have caused the fires, as they have a history of “shoddy maintenance and flawed record keeping.”

Many scientists, however, are already pointing to climate change as a factor that likely escalated the range and destruction of the fires. 

“We know that these events are affected by the weather and the climate and how dry it is,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, “The climate system has been altered by people…all the weather we’re experiencing and what’s driving these wildfire events is climate change,” Swain said to Debra Kahn and Anne Mulkern of the Scientific American when discussing the fires.

Additionally, with the Trump Administration rolling back many Obama-era policies such as the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Agreement, natural disasters could become more dangerous in the future. Without policies that are designed to reduce carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas emissions and global warming to avoid climate change, we may be increasing our susceptibility to climate pollution.

Mills students, who have been subjected to negative change in air quality in the wake of the fires are also perturbed by this news.

“To no longer be a part of an agreement that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a terrible idea,” senior Emily Harmon said. “We have the resources to make a positive change and be a leading country, but instead they are going to waste and we give the impression that we don’t care about what is happening.”

Hooker is also deeply concerned about these decisions. 

“Anyone with a shred of accountability and common sense would realize that the danger of climate change is more tangible than it has ever been in our lifetimes,” Hooker said.

Climate change is happening. Moving forward, it is important to consider how it can be minimized.

According to NASA, global warming has become increasingly problematic in the last 35 years. Furthermore, we have had 16 of the 17 hottest recorded years since 2001.

NASA has also said that the oceans’ temperatures and sea levels have risen, Arctic ice sheets and glaciers have decreased and extreme weather events have been increasing since 1950.

Some believe lawmakers have allowed these issues to become exacerbated through their negligence.

“I hold more responsibility to these politicians because of the fact that they work with big companies that play a factor in climate change,” said Jesenia Sablan, an Oakland resident and business major at San Jose City College. “Politicians need to regulate environmental laws more harshly.”

To mitigate the effects of climate change, many have already begun converting to solar energy and electric cars, which are alternatives to fossil fuel. According to Forbes, there was a 37 percent increase in the sales of electric vehicles in the United States, with more than half of the sales occurring in California. Additionally, The Guardian reported that last year that the U.S and China led the 50 percent increase in the amount of solar power added worldwide.

It remains unclear what initiatives President Trump plans to institute to combat climate change, as his administration’s strategic plan does not include the terms, “climate change,” “carbon dioxide” or “greenhouse gas emissions,” according to Mythili Sampathkumar, of Independent.