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Wildfires are burning California: What you can do to help

Wildfires are burning California: What you can do to help

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Wildfires

Alisa Karesh, a junior at Napa High, created this digital artwork. 

In recent years we have been introduced to a new season — the “fire season” - which is how many Californians are now calling the time between August and November when the entire state is experiencing extreme wildfires.

The area is usually covered in smoke, which can seep into houses, contributing to terrible air quality even within homes. It is a well-known fact that the fires have been a regular occurrence throughout the state’s history; however, due to climate change that has recently begun unraveling, the fires that we experience now are much more extreme.

Although we know that to stop climate change, many sectors of society have to get involved to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released worldwide, personal contributions still matter.

First, let's take a look at California’s wildfire history. According to Lauren Sommer in “To Manage Wildfire, California Looks To What Tribes Have Known All Along,”  “fire [has actually] always been part of California's landscape.” Native Americans for years “held annual controlled burns that cleared out underbrush and encouraged new plant growth.”

According to “Fire Mosaics in Southern California and Northern Baja California” a study done by Richard Minnich about a century ago, government officials prohibited this practice, which we should have been respecting all these years.

Recently, however, we have started to see controlled fires being utilized throughout the state in hopes of preventing the destruction that today’s fires cause by decreasing the wildfire’s fuel and therefore, the severity of wildfires.

Although controlled fires are undoubtedly beneficial, this method alone is not enough to fix the current situation in our state. According to the California Air Resources Board,  the “‘hotter drought[s]’ and the ‘unusually warm temperatures [have] intensified the effects of very low precipitation and snowpack, creating conditions for extreme, high severity wildfires that spread rapidly.”

“The Impact of Climate Change on Wildfire Severity: A Regional Forecast for Northern California,” a research paper written by Jeremy S. Fried, Margaret S. Torn, and Evan Mills, also found this relationship between climate change and severity of wildfires. They “estimated the impact of climatic change on wild land fire and suppression effectiveness in northern California” and based on that saw that “the warmer and windier conditions corresponding to a 2 × CO2 climate scenario produced fires that burned more intensely and spread faster in most locations.”

In other words, the wildfires we see today are more intense than they have been in the past because of the increased greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Controlled fires will for sure provide some help in this dire situation, but the ultimate solution is dealing with climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions as fast as possible.

Changes in governmental policies and laws are a must to make a significant dent in our overall national emissions; however, individual contributions, including yours, can still make a great difference in the number of emissions released.

To contribute, you don't have to drastically change your lifestyle. You can do something as simple as conserving water when washing dishes or brushing your teeth. You can also walk or bike to your friend’s house instead of driving, which not only decreases your emissions but also benefits your health. Such simple actions once added up, can total to a pretty large amount of emissions kept out of our atmosphere.

Some other, more drastic changes, including purchasing more energy-efficient appliances, buying a more eco-friendly vehicle such as an electric car, or making the switch to a renewable energy source to power your home. These more significant changes will reduce your energy consumption and your overall greenhouse gas emissions by a lot.

If you have the resources and support needed to make some changes in your lifestyle for the sake of reducing your emissions, you can find more actions and information by using websites like Regeneration Napa County ( regenerationnapa.org), which provides such sources for you.

Changes in personal habits will definitely change your total emissions, but as I mentioned earlier, governmental changes in policies will have the greatest impact on climate change, which is why I would encourage you to influence your family and friends to then together challenge the government, institutions, and corporations.

You can show them that you care through various means. You can send in letters to the government officials or attend your city council meetings and speak during the public comment section of the meeting to influence policy change. You can also sign petitions that aim to stop a certain harmful action’s approval. Use your voice to create change. Your actions can make a notable difference in our community.

As climate change begins to affect our world, specifically in California, we are dealing with droughts, rising sea levels, and flooding, people's well-being is being threatened. We must begin reducing our emissions now, and your help will play a huge role in stopping climate change. If you have the available sources, consider making some changes to your lifestyle, and if you have the time, speak up and get involved in your community. Your voice is a powerful tool that will affect the future of humanity!

Video of a sunrise in Tustin, California, on Dec. 3, shows smoke from the Bond Fire in Orange County obscuring the sun before panning over to show the Airport Fire in Riverside County in the other direction.

Alisa Karesh, a junior at Napa High School is co-president of Napa Schools for Climate Action (NS4CA) and a Napa Sierra Club intern. 

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