Over the past decade, California has been no stranger to extreme weather. Its new normal has tethered from record-high temperatures, drought, and wildfires during the summer to record snow and rain in the winter. Even though these types of natural changes are becoming more common, they shouldn’t be overlooked. If anything, the increasingly rapid environmental changes within California should be considered nature’s warning to the United States, and the world, about the consequences of climate change and why effective regulation is needed now more than ever.
The “greenhouse effect” is arguably the main cause of global warming. Gases like water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane block heat from escaping the atmosphere. Certain human activities, like the increased burning of fossil fuels, have increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, thus contributing to an increased “greenhouse effect.” As a result, the Earth has become warmer and will continue to get warmer, and this change will have devastating effects on the temperature and weather across the globe.
While it was no surprise when wildfires began blazing across the state this past summer, what was uniquely shocking was the sheer destructive nature of this wildfire episode. The Camp Fire of Northern California became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, only becoming fully contained on November 25th. This, combined with the Woolsey Fire in Southern California, resulted in the most destructive wildfire season California has ever seen. The scorched corpses of celebrity homes, badly injured animals, and inmates contracted as firefighters are just a few images that highlight the wide-ranging impact left by natural phenomena as a result of climate change.
Obviously, California is not the only example of the disastrous effects of climate change. However, it stands out because of its economic and political importance within the United States and the world. While California is known for its political power and association with the United States’ entertainment industry, in the future it will arguably become more known for its relationship with climate change. As heat waves become more prominent and severe, they will shorten the lives of thousands of Californians through increased pollution, the spread of diseases, and extreme heat. As wildfires continue to burn more intensely throughout the state, they will destroy forests that provide habitats for animals and ravage the properties of citizens. As ocean temperatures and sea levels rise, they will devastate the coastline industry and cost billions. These are a few of the many kinds of changes that not only California, but the world, will face. The threat of these disasters alone should call attention to the need to work nationally and globally to mitigate the effects of climate change before they become irreversible.
Yet, one of the biggest obstacles to regulating climate change is the controversial nature of this debate in domestic politics. The Trump administration’s actions regarding environmental policies have been extremely contentious. This includes Trump notoriously pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement, which dedicated countries to lowering emissions, and promising to roll back many of Obama’s own environmental policies.
The results of last month’s midterm elections are contributing to the widening gap between politics and the science behind climate change. The newly divided Congress, with the House now in the hands of the Democrats and the Senate more firmly controlled by the Republicans, underlines the political standoff that has resulted in the stalemate regarding climate change policies. Despite the fact that Republicans hold 35 out of 40 Senate seats in the 20 states that emit the most carbon, they generally continue to debunk evidence of climate change, including the new government report the National Climate Assessment (NCA) released a few weeks ago. The report alone painted a dire picture for the future of the country and severely contradicted Trump’s claims that climate change is a hoax. Among other things, climate change will severely hurt the economy and cost billions, kill more people as certain diseases become more common and temperatures rise, and devastate natural resources much faster. Yet, despite multiple warning signs both on paper and in the real world, it seems the government will continue to work around negotiating any meaningful legislation that would tackle the impending climate change disaster.
Climate change is a phenomenon that is demonstrably easy to cause, but hard to control once affected. Doubters need only look at the situation across California to become dismayed. Its devastating effects can no longer be ignored, and if the United States and the world want to safeguard the planet for future generations, then change must begin somewhere. The rapid changes within California are our warning from Mother Nature of the many catastrophes the global community will soon experience if we don’t embark on collective action now. If there was ever a time to be more serious about protecting our environment, California may have given us that reason, and time is running out faster than ever.