by Amélia Ávila | October 5, 2020
About 35 deaths and counting. Air quality indices easily in the two hundreds. Thousands of structures destroyed. Hundreds of thousands evacuated. Millions of acres burned down. No end in sight.
Undoubtedly, you all have been following news about the dangerous, devastating wildfires burning all over the West Coast. But the problem is not only about what is burning in your backyard—wildfires are part of an overarching problem that society still needs to fully recognize. Maybe you learned about it in school; maybe Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish activist, brought it to your attention when she won TIME’s “Most Influential Person Award.” Climate change. Climate change is the cause of these extreme wildfires throughout the American West.
I know what you might be thinking: most of these fires were started by humans. You would be correct. In fact, according to The New York Times, people cause 95 percent of fires in California. Although this is true, climate change is to blame for the large spread of these fires. According to NASAscientists, the Earth’s surface is warming, and as a result, California has recently suffered from many droughts. Effects of these droughts have created perfect conditions for fires: lack of precipitation, dry or dead vegetation, high temperature, and high winds. Although people may have ignited the flames, fires only became such threatening and deadly disasters when the conditions for burning became perfect as the result of climate change. This is only the beginning. If nothing is done to combat and stop climate change’s worsening devastation, this will be a regular occurrence in your everyday life—unhealthy air quality, dark orange skies, evacuation orders, displacement of thousands, and countless deaths caused by fires and other natural disasters.
Unfortunately, our political leaders disregard climate change as a threat that will come in the future, or worse, not as a threat at all. However, climate change is here and it is here now. If our leaders continue to disregard global warming, we will be unable to solve the problem. You and I—we are the future, or at least, that is what we are constantly told. But how can we be the future, or all live in a future where the world is not healthy or safe to live in? It is unacceptable and unbelievable that so many people continue to ignore the facts and evidence regarding climate change despite repeated scientific confirmations of the urgency of the situation. As Governor Gavin Newsom said at the Democratic National Convention this year, “If you don’t believe in climate change, come to California.” Between rare dry lightning and thunderstorms in the middle of summer, massive heatwaves, a record-breaking 130 degrees in Death Valley, and enormous fires, I would say California has a pretty good understanding of what life will continue to be like without proper leadership and plans to stop our negative impacts on the climate—which caused the problem in the first place. In the words of Greta: “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”