President Biden is making his first visit as president to the West Coast on Monday, but his trips to survey damage from California wildfires mark his second visit in as many weeks to draw attention to the massive human and financial costs of climate change.
Biden is expected to visit the California Office of Emergency Services, where he will receive a briefing on the Kaldor fire and then fly over the fire at Marine One, followed by public remarks.
Mr. Biden went to New York and New Jersey earlier this month to damage survey Remnants of Hurricane Ida. But California’s wildfire crisis is more severe in many ways: The state is struggling to deal with fires that are getting fiercer and more deadly nearly every year, with no quick or easy options to reduce the damage.
Over the past decade, the number of fires in California each year has remained steady, ranging between 7,000 and 10,000 annually. What has changed is its size.
As of 2018, the largest wildfires recorded in the state for which there are reliable numbers did not reach 300,000 acres, according to state data. In 2018, it caught fire Approximately 460,000 acresAnd last year, the August fire exceeded one million acres, making it biggest fire in the history of the state.
The Dixie Fire, which has already burned more than 960,000 acres and is only two-thirds contained, seems likely to break that record. “The fire situation in California is indistinguishably worse than it was a decade ago,” said Michael Warra, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University.
As fires increased, so did the damage they cause. In 2017, California wildfires destroyed or destroyed more than 10,000 buildings — more than the previous five years combined. The following year, that number doubled to nearly 25,000.
The losses to people’s health and safety have also increased. From 2012 to 2016, wildfires killed fewer than 20 people in total, according to state data. In 2017, 47 people died. Another 100 people were killed in 2018, and 33 people in 2020.
But the human toll is much greater than these numbers indicate. smoke from forest fires more toxic From other types of pollution, research indicates, health damage Especially bad for kids. It looks like smoke Increases the number of deaths linked to Covid-19.
The California wildfire crisis has often become a political battle. Last summer, then-President Donald J. Trump blamed California for its wildfire problem, and denied at first Federal disaster aid.
“You have to clean your floors, you have to clean your forests,” Mr. Trump said. He said at that time, in the comments that focused on only one aspect of a complex problem. “There are many years of broken leaves and trees and it’s like, for example, flammable.”
Mr. Trump has also denied the link between wildfires and global warming. When state officials urged him not to ignore the science of climate change, which shows that rising temperatures and drought are making fires worse, Mr. Trump is inaccurate replied, “I don’t think science really knows.”
While Mr. Trump was wrong to dismiss the role climate change has played in exacerbating the fires, he was right that stricter management of forests is vital to addressing those fires, experts say. But a lot of that work has to come from the federal government, which owns about half of the land in California, Dr. Warra said.
Dr. Warra said Mr. Biden’s first budget request, earlier this year, did not ask Congress for enough money to reduce the amount of flammable plants in the country’s forests. But the infrastructure bill now before Congress would significantly increase that funding.
“There is no solution to the problem of forest fires without dealing with how forests are managed,” said Dr. Wara.