1. Update
  2. Environment & Energy

When Fire Season Lasts 12 Months, It’s Time To Act

By Milo Keller, July 15, 2019

Here in Sonoma County, we know the impacts of climate change all too well. While our community is incredibly resilient, we have been beaten back numerous times by fires and floods. Our fire season is no longer a season — it’s fire year. Recently, a close friend lost her family home while her parents barely escaped the Bennett Valley hills driving through blinding smoke to safety. Too many here could tell similar stories.

These worsening fires are no freak accident and will return. The recent US National Climate Assessment, a report released in 2018, states, “published field research has provided an even stronger detection of hydrological drought, tree death, wildfire increases, sea level rise, and warming, oxygen loss, and acidification of the ocean that have been statistically different from natural variation, with much more of the attribution pointing towards human-caused climate change.”

Put simply, humans are causing climate change, and climate change is exacerbating wildfires. The science is unequivocal: the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the worse things will get.

Property loss, economic hardship, even death — we all know what fire means in Sonoma County. We also know some are well off while others struggle to get by. Although much of our economic vitality depends on immigrants, not all have legal status. And undocumented immigrants are ineligible for federal disaster aid, making it even harder for them to rebuild after a natural disaster. Unfortunately, those impacted the most are often the least able to pick up the pieces.

To get us back to a normal, natural fire cycle, we need to prevent climate change. The answer is clear — reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. That’s not easy and will require profound transformations to our energy and economic systems.

Carbon pricing, while not a solution on its own, must be a part of that transformation. The current price paid by consumers for fossil fuels does not reflect their actual cost to our country and world. There must be a market price more indicative of their true impacts. Like a tobacco sin-tax, higher costs decrease usage, driving down emissions.

But the intended effects of a carbon price can have unintended consequences. While higher prices will depress demand for fossil fuels, the cost will be felt most acutely by those spending the most on energy consumption — the undocumented and other low-wage earners. Any carbon pricing legislation must account for this and help counteract it. Undocumented immigrants — in many ways the backbone of our local economy — often don’t have access to programs designed to benefit from carbon pricing revenue. Already the hardest hit by environmental disasters, they can’t bear the brunt of rising energy costs.

Ensuring vulnerable communities remain unharmed can’t be an afterthought in federal climate policy. It should be a central concern. There are many ways to meet these needs, but they require creative policymaking and, above all, political courage and foresight.

Climate change is one of the gravest threats our world faces today, and every day lost moves us closer to catastrophe. Let’s stand up for our state and country — and the most vulnerable in our communities — by making sure policy solutions make them an imperative, not an afterthought.

Representative Jared Huffman holds important positions on both the House Natural Resources Committee and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A supporter of carbon pricing in the recent past, he has a decades-long record of fighting for real climate solutions. Let’s hope Senator Diane Feinstein joins him in taking a leadership role on climate, and that both will place the protection of the vulnerable front and center in future legislation.

Please read and comment on this post at Medium.com here.

Milo Keller

  • Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy and Environment

Milo Keller served as the Program Assistant for Sustainable Energy and Environment for 2018-2019.