JAZZMAN CHRONICLES: RADICAL SOLUTIONS FOR RADICAL TIMES.
CALIFORNIA IS BURNING
By Jack Random
“We’re going to have to adapt. We’re going to have to change our technology. But in the meantime, we’re going to spend a hell of a lot of money and there’s going to be a lot of unpleasant events.”
Jerry Brown, Governor of California
I watch the news and muse about the issues of the day but from where I sit in the center of the Great Central Valley, the agricultural garden of the planet, there is only one issue of the day every day for as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
California is on fire. Most days the sky is more brown than blue. The only relief we get from sweltering triple-digit days is caused by smoke blocking the sun. In July the appropriately named Death Valley marked a record average temperature of 108 degrees – meaning every 100-degree day was offset by a 116-degree day. Yosemite National Park, John Muir’s gem of natural wonder, is closed to the public. The people of Redding – 120 miles south of the Oregon border – have lost much of their town. The people of Lakeport and Mendocino wake up each day wondering if it’s their turn to evacuate.
California is burning and it’s nothing new. Last October the Tubbs fire decimated the city of Santa Rosa, destroying over 5,000 structures including 2,800 homes and claiming twenty-two human lives in the most destructive fire in California history. The financial cost was estimated at over a billion dollars. By the time summer comes to a close, this year may be worse.
More than a dozen major fires are currently raging across the state, turning our golden hue to bronze and threatening to transform a bright future into a hazy toxic mess. Sixteen fires had burned 320 acres, displacing more than 32,000 residents by the end of July. Some thirteen thousand firefighters have been summoned to the battle.
Governor Jerry Brown warns that this phenomenon of yearly inferno will continue to cost the state and its residents billions of dollars in destruction and who knows how many lives – not only from the fires but also from the poison it spews into the air. Ironically, the state that has done more to combat pollution than any other may be fighting a losing battle.
While the folks in Washington and on the major media news channels discuss the daily theatrics of America’s former mayor, pouring through presidential tweets and trial transcripts, the fires mark a trail of destruction like Sherman’s Civil War march through the South and we all are whistling Dixie.
Welcome to the world of Global Warming! Yeah, I said Global Warming. We’ve all been instructed to call it Climate Change so the idiots who choose to deny reality can’t get away with refuting science every time a cold front comes through. The fact is: It’s fricking hot. Not most summers but every summer it’s too hot to venture outside for more than a few hours without risking your health and well-being. Unless you’re lucky enough to live by the coast – increasingly reserved for the wealthy – you have to limit your time in the sun and drink plenty of fluids. Even the coastal residents have to worry about fires spreading and destroying whole cities and towns. Who will be next to face the earth’s revenge?
The Carr fire up north has taken six lives and destroyed 1,465 structures. That makes it the sixth most destructive wildfire in California history and it’s still burning. In Mendocino County – some of the most beautiful land in a state teeming with beauty – two fires had wiped out over 90,000 acres and they’re still burning. The Ferguson fire scorching Yosemite, claiming over 60,000 acres is predicted to spread eastward into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you haven’t yet seen Yosemite, it’s a damned shame. The Ansel Adams photographs are stunning beyond belief but the real thing is even more so.
The Ferguson fire has already burned for twenty days but experts are worried it may get worse as a pressure system lifts and ignites “a massive number of dead trees than have been killed off by five years of drought and a bark beetle infestation.” 
The calendar has just turned to August and a distinct possibility exists that it will only get worse as the summer unwinds. It will certainly get worse as the years unwind and politicians like our president continue to pretend it has nothing whatsoever to do with the toxic stew we inject into our atmosphere every day.
It is too late for the party of denial to escape accountability. We burn oil, gas and coal and pretend that natural gas is the solution when in fact it only transfers the problem from the air we breathe to the water we drink. Why do we still not have solar panels on every home and building not only in the Golden State but in every state where sun still shines? (Wake up, Arizona! You are wasting the most valuable resource you have and you’re worried about immigration?) Why do we still not have an infrastructure that can accommodate a vast array of renewable clean energy? Why is it still cheaper to burn the most harmful fuels on the planet? Why haven’t we developed for mass deployment pollution-free vehicles?
It is undeniable. The world is getting hotter. Earlier this summer, record temperatures were recorded across the globe from Los Angeles and Denver to New Hampshire and Vermont, from Ottawa and Montreal to Glasgow and Belfast, from Tbilisi and Yerevan in Eastern Europe to Quriyat in the Middle East. There is no hiding from this phenomenon short of leaving the planet.
California’s fires join tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes on the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, cyclones and tsunamis in the Pacific and extreme weather events throughout the nation and the world as powerful reminders that we have failed to effectively address the most pressing problem of our times. This is a failing that will outlive us all.
It is no longer worth arguing about. It is happening to everyone in every corner of the globe. The earth doesn’t care if we believe or disbelieve. There will always be deniers. When the rising ocean turns Miami into Venice, Italy, and Venice into a memory, there will be deniers. When hurricane season decimates Baltimore, New York, New Orleans and Houston, there will be deniers. When powerful twisters mark a path of destruction through St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville and Atlanta, there will be deniers. When violent storms knock out our vulnerable energy grid, there will be deniers. But there will also be rational human beings who wake up and take action.
The most critical action we can take is at the ballot box.
Until then, California will burn.
“California fires rage and Gov. Jerry Brown offers grim view of fiery future” by Jaclyn Cosgrove, John Myers, Louis Sahagun and Sonali Kohli. Los Angeles Times, August 1, 2018.
“Red-hot planet: All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week” by Jason Samenow. Washington Post, July 5, 2018.
Jack Random is retired and living in central California. He is the author of the Jazzman Chronicles and other works, most recently Pawns to Players: The Chess Series – a trilogy of political novels.