California is still burning. According to the New York Times, as of Tuesday, at least 40 are people dead, 7,000 structures are destroyed, and five million acres across California, Oregon and Washington have all been charred by wildfires.
In the first presidential debate on Tuesday, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked President Donald Trump his position on climate change, using the “forest fires in the West” as an example. Wallace pressed Trump on his alleged lack of faith in the science behind climate change.
“The forest fires in the West are raging now. They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blamed the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said I don’t think the science knows,” Wallace said. “Over your four years, you have pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, you have rolled back a number of Obama environmental records. What do you believe about the science of climate change and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?”
Trump, however, explained that climate change is not the reason California consistently encounters wildfire tragedies.
“I think we have to do better management of our forests,” Trump said. “Every year, I get the call, California’s burning. California’s burning. If that was cleaned, if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn’t be getting those calls.”
“At some point, you can’t every year have hundreds of thousands of acres of land just burned to the ground. That’s burning down because of a lack of management,” Trump explained.
Many including Democratic Nominee Joe Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom blame the increasingly deadly and devastating forest fires on climate change, claiming that Trump and the GOP are in “climate denial.”
“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires?” Biden said in mid-September. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater? We need a president who respects science, who understands that the damage from climate change is already here.”
Big problems demand bold solutions.
We’re in the midst of a climate crisis. We’re not waiting around for the federal government.
So yes, by 2035 every new car sold in CA will be an emission free vehicle.
It’s simple–cars shouldn’t give our kids asthma or make wildfires worse.
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 30, 2020
The hottest August on record.
WORLD record temperatures in Death Valley.
5 of the 6 largest wildfires in California HISTORY occurring in the last 2 months.
Climate change isn’t something to address in the distant future.
The climate crisis is here.https://t.co/rnPPt7jzkL
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 30, 2020
Further examination of the issue, however, shows that mitigation through prescribed burns and mechanical thinning could prevent the widespread destruction caused by these western wildfires. In the past, conservationist policies in these states, especially California, have prevented the proper management needed to keep people and their land safe causing more intense and prolonged wildfires, not climate change.
Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledges that mitigation techniques such as clearing tinder material in these forests through prescribed burns can lower the intensity of these fires.
According to Michael Shellenberger, author, journalist, and environmental activist, claiming that climate change is the reason for the wildfires is misleading and prevents real, preventative solutions from being implemented.
“Climate change is real, but this monomaniacal focus on whether to use this obsession with it has meant that we’ve neglected the health of our forests and really missed an opportunity for conservation as well,” Shellenberger recently told The Federalist. “When you’re laser-focused on climate change, that means that you’re not properly focused on good forest management, and that’s what’s been neglected.”
“Well-managed forests can survive climate change. They can survive mega-fires and high-intensity fires,” he explained. “I think it’s just been disempowering because it’s giving people the sense that until we deal with climate change, supposedly in some ways that we’re not already, then we’re going to be doomed to having these catastrophic fires and that’s obviously not true.”
A hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee’s Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee in late September addressed California’s mismanagement of the land and emphasized the importance of preventing dangerous, uncontrollable fires by providing regular forest maintenance.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Service continues to be constrained by bureaucracy and extreme environmentalists, who seem content to continue their pattern of suing the government as a business model,” said Ranking Member Mike Conaway (R-Texas). “I’m hopeful that today’s hearing will revive policy conversations that will lead to solutions to these wildfires.”
The solutions, Subcommittee Ranking Member Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said, include making “common-sense reforms to the way we manage our forests.”
“There’s no reason why we can’t streamline forest management projects for timely completion, make common-sense reforms to the way we manage our forests, and ensure that our wildland firefighters have the equipment and personnel they need to address a fire right when it starts. Congress and the Forest Service need to step up,” said LaMalfa.