By now you have likely seen the California fire maps and photos of the wildfires raging in California. You’ve likely seen the displaced families that were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night, and the devastation they left behind.
What you have seen less of is what daily life is like under these conditions. I live in the East Bay on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel in Northern California, a decent 25 miles away from the worst fires in the Northbay, but right in the thick of smaller fires in Lafayette and Martinez, California.
Here is what you don’t see….
- You don’t see the sky turn from blue to an apocalyptic red at any given point when the wind decides to shift.
- You don’t see the air quality go from good (green) to hazardous (purple) overnight.
- You don’t see children walking home from school with makeshift masks made out of shirts, sweaters, scarfs, or anything else that could cover your mouth and nose.
- You don’t see a coat of ash covering your car when you step outside of the supermarket.
- You don’t see schools shut down because PG&E decided to turn off the power with less than 24-hour notice.
- You don’t see people missing work because they are dealing with a related fire emergency, or because there is no power in their place of work.
That is what climate change looks like to Californians.
Moreover, you probably have heard the rhetoric in the news about how the fires in California are all caused by climate change, or that it’s all man-made. You might even have heard about a Missouri man flying to San Jose, renting a car, and throwing lit pieces of paper out the window in an attempt to add to the ongoing chaos. California’s are fed up with fire and with PG&E, so please stay in Missouri if you plan on coming out here to start a fire.
The issues that result from climate change impact Californian’s not just by way of dryer weather, but by the fact that the cost of living has gone up so much in California, that many California’s are forced to move further away from urban and suburban communities. Most end up in the valleys and mountains where they are more exposed to dry brush, and where electrical lines have no business. To top things off, you have a utility company who can’t afford to do the necessary maintenance to reduce the likelihood of those lines causing fires. So, they turn off the power instead, and we end up out of work, our kids end up staying home from school, and the most vulnerable communities end up being hurt the most.
That is what climate change looks like.
Wildfires are a natural phenomenon that is exacerbated by climate change, but the reality that Californians are forced to live with is completely manmade. We need to start thinking about climate change from a sociological perspective in addition to its scientific study. Approaching the climate change conversation (let’s not use the word debate anymore!!!) as a neighbor, a friend, a person that is impacted by its effects on how we live our daily lives — will get us much further along in finding common ground.
Because our president chooses to deny reality and even fails to say a single word about the disaster, we must speak up. So don’t sit silent, but share this story, have conversations about climate change and its impact. Let everyone know you support California during this state-wide disaster and be a good neighbor.