Currently saturating social media feeds are devastating outdoor photos imbued with bright hues of orange, a terrifying byproduct of the various wildfires ravaging the West Coast — more specifically, California, Oregon, and Washington — that have killed at least 10 people, destroyed 3,000 homes, and displaced hundreds of thousands in the process.
However, what I found more jarring than the photos themselves was the harmful rhetoric being spread in the comment sections. One user's comment in particular stood out: "The climate has nothing to do with the fires."
Admittedly, a specific 7,000-acre California wildfire was the result of a gender-reveal party involving pyrotechnics. However, this irresponsible decision that had irrevocable consequences is not the main culprit behind the 2.5 million acres burned in California, the 672,000 acres burned in Oregon, and the 583,000 acres burned in Washington. Instead, the culprit is a more familiar entity with a pervasive and global influence: climate change.
Although certain wildfires may not be directly caused by climate change, it's incorrect to presume that they are not severely exacerbated by it.
Various experts have discovered undeniable links between rising temperatures and fires. An Australian climate organization entitled the Climate Council released a briefing paper in 2019 indicating that "Bushfire risk was exacerbated by record-breaking drought, very dry fuels and soils, and record-breaking heat." Similarly, a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicated that there was a 74.67 percent chance of 2020 being the warmest year experienced yet. This heat is indubitably intertwined with dried out environments on the West Coast, thus causing the fires to burn for longer and more intense periods.
Given the very apparent connection to climate change, some may find themselves wanting to help but aren't certain what actions will be most impactful. Besides donating to critical relief efforts like the American Red Cross, California Community Foundation, and the California Fire Foundation, I believe it's absolutely crucial to vote out the current Trump administration that has repeatedly downplayed climate change as a reality and to instead vote for representatives who have proposed plans that seek to combat this devastating issue. While I'm cognizant of Biden's many faults, he and his administration have outlined a direct plan — a "Clean Energy Revolution" — to properly reduce the effect and influence of climate change. A few goals in the plan include that the U.S. "achieves a 100 percent clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050," "[takes] action against fossil fuel companies and other polluters who put profit" over BIPOC communities and recommits the U.S. to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
To the contrary of what the Instagram user was perpetuating, I would thus argue that the climate has everything to do with the fires.
In order to combat future occurrences, we must act now. That begins with utilizing our voices and political influences to vote for representatives, leaders, and an administration who view climate change as a dire issue and have a plan to mitigate it. Begin by registering to vote here.