Why don't we deal with this crisis at its source?

To some extent, the ferocity of modern wildfires is exacerbated by climate change. Image via iStock

The idea: These are not your father’s wildfires. California was built to burn, but that natural propensity has been amplified by climate change. Greenhouse gases — the planet-warming emissions that come largely from the burning of fossil fuels — declined during the pandemic but already are climbing back up. Earth has warmed nearly 2°F since pre-industrial times, and 2016 to 2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. According to a United Nations report, emissions must drop 7.6 percent each year over the next decade to meet the global goal (2.7°F above pre-industrial levels) and avoid the worst-possible warming scenarios, which includes intensifying wildfires.

The pros: Newsom has used the fires as a platform for highlighting the nexus between a warming climate and the frequency and intensity of burning. “I have no patience for climate change deniers,” he said, noting an ongoing drought, this summer’s historic heat and millions of dead trees are “the reality on the ground.”

The cons: Reducing greenhouse gas pollution is a far bigger job than California alone can afford to bankroll. And Americans, even those who don’t deny the threat, aren’t in political agreement about the change, sacrifice and massive expense required by the solutions.

The odds: Responding to climate change is an expressed priority for Newsom, who proposed billions of dollars in “climate resiliency” projects to clear forests, fireproof homes and assist rural communities. Those good intentions ran into the coronavirus buzzsaw that destroyed the state’s budget surplus. So it’s 9 in 10 odds that the status quo will continue. And let’s be real: The ability of one state to solve global climate change is limited. Even California doesn’t have that much climate control. Or hubris.