Community Columns

Climate Change Drives Wildfires

By James A. Glynn

Hottest day records happen twice as often as coldest day ones in U.S.

Americans have been twice as likely to experience record-breaking heat than record-setting cold, Associated Press data analysis shows. It counted the times daily hot temperature records were tied or broken compared to daily cold records.
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Americans have been twice as likely to experience record-breaking heat than record-setting cold, Associated Press data analysis shows. It counted the times daily hot temperature records were tied or broken compared to daily cold records.

Welcome to July. It is likely that Modesto will experience another summer heat wave and the state will reel from more devastating wildfires this year. The reason, quite simply, is that climate change is real.

Part of the problem with distinguishing local heat waves from other weather patterns is that we have a heat wave every summer in the Central Valley. The troubling thing is that the heat waves are getting longer and more intense. And, this is part of an overall pattern that is affecting the entire world.

Climate change deniers can probably find exceptions to the following adages concerning California:

  • Wildfires are the new normal.
  • Drought is the new normal.
  • Temperature extremes are the new normal.
  • Warmer oceans are the new normal.

However, if one were to find a concrete exception to any or all of the statements, it would be just that: an exception. We know for a fact that we broke the old 21-day record of 100-degee daytime high temperatures last summer. Then, we broke it again the next day. And, the next. And, the next, etc.

There has been little relief when the sun goes down. We have been experiencing the highest minimum temperatures in the state’s history. Last July, the statewide average nighttime low temperature was 64.9 degrees. It is undeniable that California has been getting hotter for some time, but last July was in a league of its own. The years with the top four warmest summertime minimum temperatures in California, in descending order, are 2018, 2017, 2015 and 2014.

Regional climatologist Nina Oakley pointed out that the day when the temperature hit 113 in Redding (July 26, 2018), the Carr Fire went out of control. She said, “It was one day among months of above-average temperatures that had dried out the brush to such a degree that it helped fuel the blaze’s ferocious spread.” She commented that the lack of lower temperatures overnight made the fires harder to fight. “You have greenhouse gases acting like a blanket and not letting things cool down.”

I think that one of the notions that motivates people to reject the idea that human factors are causing climate change is the idea that we really can’t do anything about the situation. So, let’s just deny that we’ve caused it. But, that’s an ineffective conclusion. In fact, we know what has damaged our environment. And, we know what we need to do to slow the process and — eventually — to reverse it.

When scientists discovered that there was a hole in the ozone layer that protects the earth from solar radiation and that it was growing larger, we human beings took a proactive approach. We accepted the conclusion from scientists that chlorofluorocarbons were causing the condition, and we banned their use. The hole in the ozone layer has been closing. If we act now, perhaps we can do something similar about the greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

Jim Glynn of Modesto is a retired professor of sociology, the co-author of Global Social Problems, and co-editor of California’s Social Problems. He wrote this commentary for The Modesto Bee.



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