Global Reset: The new normal

Climate change increases the size and frequency of natural disasters

by Jin Tuan, Lifestyle Editor

17 fires are actively burning across California as of Aug. 28. The Mendocino Complex fire, the largest ever in Californian history, continues to spread in the Ranch portion and is now 93 percent contained. With three injuries and one fatality confirmed so far, and smoke covering all of California and reaching as far as parts of Canada and Montana according to NASA, the blaze affects much more than the immediate fire perimeter.

The Carr fire, the seventh largest in state history, is 97 percent contained after a month of containment efforts. Eight lives have been claimed, and three firefighters were injured as the fire continues to burn across the scorched California landscape. The Carr fire, a result of vehicle failure, is one of the many natural disasters that are man-made. According to 2017 research conducted by the Earth Lab at University of Colorado, Boulder, 84 percent of wildfires from 1992 to 2012 have been started by humans.

With this increasing frequency of such disasters, a new question is posed: is this the new normal?

Though scientists cannot fully attribute such natural disasters to climate change, research has linked human-caused rising temperatures to the increasing frequency and size of these events. The destruction also increases as more and more people are moving to disaster-prone areas as the population continues to grow.

“As temperature rises, more intense heat waves dry out the soil and make the drought worse, and in combination with that, … invasive bark beetles kill more trees, which provide more fuel for fires,” said Diana Moss, advisor of Green Team. “When you have these high temperatures and big heat waves, you get these firestorms, or fire tornadoes, which are really intense.”

With these tragedies surrounding us, it’s difficult to look beyond the short-term and seek solutions. However, giving up hope is just as harmful as allowing humankind’s current abuse of the environment to continue.

“The message is just that there is urgency. The thing that drives me at this point is the desire to prevent the human suffering that is coming if we don’t act.””

— Dr. Katherine Schafer

“I think that the message is not to feel like this a problem that we can’t solve, or that we’ve already messed everything up and so why bother. The message is just that there is urgency,” upper school biology teacher Dr. Katherine Schafer said. “The thing that drives me at this point is the desire to prevent the human suffering that is coming if we don’t act – the human suffering for people around today, but even more seriously, people that are yet unborn, that can’t fight for themselves, but that are going to be born to a diminished planet if we don’t really get our act together.”

Often, long-term government action in combating climate change is difficult to achieve due to the frequency of elections as well as the fluctuation of political ideals. President Trump’s backing out of the Paris Climate Accord is just one example.

“There’s a really big disconnect in time with the kind of problem that we’re trying to ask them [politicians] to solve and their incentives, which are to pay attention to the short term, to get re-elected tomorrow, or next year,” Dr. Sarah Anderson, Associate Professor of Environmental Politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said.

Significant change starts with the people. Rather than latching on to the dread caused by the status quo, take action and make an impact on the fight for the environment. In addition to decreasing the size of one’s carbon footprint, rallying for government legislation also provides an opportunity to ensure a better future for our planet.

“Most of [the change] will probably come not from professors like me but from people on the ground who work in government agencies, from people who are just community members,” Dr. Anderson said. “I think there are a ton of opportunities to be thinking about the best way to harness what is a really terrible experience, a disaster, and turn it into something that gives us the ability to be resilient to a disaster next time.”

Taking such action is simple: citizens can contact local assembly members to call for their support on Senate Bill 100, which will have California on 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Additionally, the People’s Climate Movement will hold a Climate March on Sep. 8 to demonstrate the urgent need for change.

Creating more discourse on climate change does not need to simply be over the phone to assembly members or isolated in annual marches. Casual conversation is just as important in spreading awareness and the sense of urgency needed to provide a better future for all.

“We have the technology, we have the ability to create a society that’s way better than what we have right now. We need to figure out a way to get there. If we see that endpoint, … this is going to be better for all of us,” Dr. Schafer said. “All of us have the ability to dream of a better life.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on Aug. 31, 2018.