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California On Fire: Life’s New Abnormal

December 12, 2018

I live in Ventura, in Ventura County. Growing up, I knew fire was a constant threat.

And then, a year ago, my town burned, and so did much of Western Ventura County. And then the rain brought killer debris flows.

And just a month ago, November 2018, Ventura County was on fire again. Both fires were unusually large and consumed many homes; both fires were fueled by drought and fanned by ferocious Santa Ana winds.  I wrote about them here.

the view from my house on Nov. 9, 2018

In addition to these fires which struck close to home, the deadly Campfire consumed the town of Paradise and more. Over the summer, numerous fires raged; a record-breaking fire in Mendocino and Lake counties of 2018 occurred before harvest had even begun, which has led some wineries to reject fruit grown under contract for them because of smoke taint (read more on the subject of wildfire and wine on Wine Predator).

And just over a year ago, in October 2017, Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties burned.

With all of these conflagrations and more, plus the impact of debris flows that follow, California is forced to address climate change on an already pyrogenic landscape.

To aid in these conversations, last week the Commonwealth Club  hosted a discussion titled: “The New Abnormal:  A Town Hall on California’s Fires and the Future with  UC Berkeley Professor of Forest Economics J. Keith Gilles, Chief of Strategic Planning of CAL FIRE Thom Porter; Water, Wildfire and Climate Writer, San Francisco Chronicle Kurtis Alexander, UC Berkeley  Professor and Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department Maggi Kelly, and  moderator Greg Dalton of Climate One. Listen to it here.

Tomorrow Thurs. Nov. 13, KCRW offers “California Wildfire Townhall Event with Madeleine Brand” of Press Play where they will attempt to answer questions such as: “Will we keep rebuilding where it burns?  Are we learning the right lessons before something as catastrophic as the Camp Wildfire happens here?”

Doors open at 7:30p for complimentary coffee and cookies with the program begin at 8:00p. Like in Berkeley, this program will be recorded for later broadcast. KCRW HQ1660 Stewart St. Santa Monica, CA 90404 United States. RSVP here.

Madeleine’s master’s degree comes from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she later taught documentary radio. She has a BA from the University of California Berkeley, where she graduated with honors in English. She lives in LA.

Slated to serve on  the panel are:

  • KCRW’s Santa Barbara morning anchor (KDRW) Jonathan Bastion;
  • California’s Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones who served in the Clinton Administration as Special Assistant and Counsel to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno;
  • UCSB Political Science and Environmental Studies  professor LEAH STOKES who received her PhD and MA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), an MPA from Columbia University and a BSc from the University of Toronto;
  • Landscape designer WADE GRAHAM is a landscape designer who teaches urban and environmental policy at the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University;
  • MIKKE PIERSON Malibu City Council member who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1983 and is an amateur firefighter.

The connection between the fires and climate change is getting to be impossible to ignore. I have long been a climate activist, leading the 2017 and the 2018 Ventura County Climate March events; now that conversation includes fire which I’ve been writing and performing poetry about including at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater.

The Ventura Climate Hub has issued a Climate Emergency Declaration:

We declare that humanity faces an existential Climate Emergency that threatens all human populations, ecosystem health, and economies. We urge governments to mobilize, expand, and accelerate comprehensive, immediate, and sustained action to achieve carbon neutrality by the earliest achievable date to help limit global warming to no more than 1.5 °C. This requires simultaneous work to set and implement impactful and enforceable measures. Emergency Climate Committees should proceed while waiting for Climate Action Plans.

Carbon neutrality is the point at which the removal of carbon pollution from the atmosphere meets or exceeds emissions. It requires phasing out fossil fuels as well as regenerative land management to sequester carbon in Natural and Working Lands–forests, parks, farms, public easements, wetlands, marine life, and neighborhoods.

At the next two Climate Hub meetings, help plan campaigns to mobilize local governments, agencies, and communities to take action in the face of this increasingly obvious climate emergency.

For more info, contact

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