Commentary: Schools Made a Tough Call, Is This Really the Future We Face?

UC Davis tried to open earlier this week and the students protested the decision.  The administration after the push back re-considered their decision, and ended up closing school for the week.  Given that they lost a full week, it is hard to know what they will do about finals and graduation.

UC Davis probably had an easier decision to make than DJUSD.  A lot of people have questioned why the schools stayed open – that’s not that difficult to figure out.  It’s a difficult call to make because, while for some parents it is simply a matter of having the kids home with them, for those who work, it is a matter of making sudden arrangements for child care.

In our case, normally the kids would probably go with me to the office, but I had a full day scheduled with some activities like going to court where the kids could not come with me, so my wife ended up taking a “family” day and staying home to watch the kids.  For one day headed into a long week off, that’s manageable.  All week, that’s a different story.

It wasn’t a good situation at school for the kids this week anyway – kids with masks, doors kept shut, recess and sporting events cancelled.  The current Air Quality Index is listed at 405, hazardous: “People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low. Everyone else should avoid all physical activity outdoors.”

This is the second time just this year we have had prolonged periods of large volumes of smoke settling over the valley and staying there.

One of the biggest questions is going to be – is this simply a view of what the future is going to look like, as we have hotter weather and more periods of drought and high dry winds to fan large fires?

The short-term impacts of wildfire smoke inhalation include asthma and inflammation, along with cardiovascular and neurological issues.

Doing some quick research, I found an article from Montana written during a wildfire that had similar impacts from smoke.

They found: “While the short-term health impacts are alarming, they are, at least, easily studied. On the other hand, physicians know almost nothing about the chronic and long-term effects of such events.”

They write: “It’s possible that smoke inhalation could contribute to health problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, vision problems, and chronic asthma, but academic studies on the topic are in short supply.”

This is now what we are exposing our kids to over the course of their young lifetimes.

They note: “The long-term health effects are less of a concern for places that suffer from smoke only very occasionally. Yet the uptick in smoke could lead to unforeseen problems down the road for communities where the geography is likely to lead to repeated exposures.”

The article cites Curtis Noonan, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Montana, who has been studying the long-term impacts that have grown as heavy smoke has become a more regular event.

He likened the analogy to smoking cigarettes.

“There’s evidence that, the more you smoke, the greater your risk of lung cancer,” he says. “That’s not to say you couldn’t get cancer from just one acute exposure. That’s why repeated exposure is a relevant way to look at risk—because it increases the potential that that mechanistic pathway is getting triggered.”

Apparently they don’t even have good data from studying firefighters.

John Balmes, professor of environmental health sciences at the Berkeley School of Public Health, noted, “Occupational studies of wildland firefighters are a problem because it’s a workforce that tends to turn over a lot.”

The impacts are not just physical either.  Mental health issues are also a concern.  You end up with people who are going without sunshine and also exercise.  In addition, depending on the job, you end up losing income or, if you’re a business owner, you could lose business.

We have focused our climate change debate over whether or not climate change is happening.  We have also focused the mitigation debate over what it would cost to curtail activities that lead to the increased build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But what we haven’t discussed enough is what kinds of impacts – health, economic and fiscal – we will have, trying to adapt life to a new normal.

What happens if, in the future, life in northern California or California in general means we have to deal with these acute fire episodes two, three, four times a year?  What does that do to our health?  What does that do to our economy?

People might somewhat callously suggest we not live in California anymore, but that begs a lot of questions over where we would live, and what kind of impact those changes will have economically, healthwise and fiscally.  There are a lot of questions going forward that have not been looked at nearly enough, because we have spent way too much time debating whether this is happening and not enough time discussing what it will mean when it does happen and when it does get worse.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ron

    From article:  “People might somewhat callously suggest we not live in California anymore . . .”

    I have not seen anyone make that suggestion.  Some have suggested that government subsidies not be used to fund rebuilding efforts in high-risk (e.g., fire zone) areas.  So far, those suggestions don’t seem to be heeded. However, in the long run, I suspect this will occur.

        1. David Greenwald

          I don’t see that as necessarily a key point.  After all, we are expanding the high fire zones with changes to the climate. Second, the impact area is much wider than just the high fire zones.  Furthermore as I point out in the piece, it’s not exactly clear where we should go, how many people will have to move, and what the costs will be.  So again, I’m left at, what is the upside with staying the course?  The financial and fiscal impacts of climate change are going to increase dramatically in the coming decade(s).

    1. Ron

      Don:  Do you think that taxpayers/government agencies should be in the business of purposefully putting people’s lives at risk?  (Including both residents, and responders?)  Not to mention property losses, the cost of fighting fires to protect property and lives, etc.

      Isn’t the death toll now exceeding 60? And, what a “pleasant” way to die.

      Are you suggesting there’s some kind of “shortage” of places to live, other than high-risk fire zone areas? Or, if some continue to do so, they do it at their own cost and risk?

      David:  You’re referring to a different subject – global warming (which exacerbates the risk of those living in high-risk fire zones).  No argument from me, although it’s certainly largely outside of Davis’ control.

      1. David Greenwald

        I see Global Warming as the underlying issue making these fires worse and more frequent.  Some have suggesting adapting rather than attempting mitigation (discussed briefly in the article).  I’m suggesting that staying the course has a cost and not sure what the upside is to it.

        1. Ron

          In reality, both (mitigation, and addressing global warming) will have to occur.

          I am not particularly hopeful regarding either one, until it’s forced upon communities by nature itself.  (That’s pretty much what I’ve observed regarding human “nature”, on a broad level at least.)

          But, if I ever purchase another new vehicle, perhaps I’ll look into a Prius – if that makes you feel better. Never mind what’s happening in the rest of the world, regarding global warming.

          (Actually, I already limit the amount my driving, much more than most. And, I already have an efficient vehicle.)

        2. Ron

          Congratulations!  That puts you in the enviable position of “rightfully” being able to judge others.

          Just my sarcasm, at work.  🙂

          In reality, we contribute to global warming in a lot of ways, other than the type of car we drive. But, it does help to consider this, especially when replacing a vehicle.

        3. David Greenwald

          Ron: I miss the days when I didn’t have a car at all.  A few years in DC and my first two in Davis.  When my kids are grown, I will go back to those days.

          Keith: No.

        4. Ron

          Hey – I just realized that you (and all the other “Pious” drivers) are not contributing your “fair share” for road maintenance (e.g., gas taxes)! 🙁

          By the way, Uber, Lyft, Zip Car, and all the other options (for those without cars) still contribute to global warming.

          Powered vehicles of some type will always be needed, especially when one travels (*gasp*) outside of Davis.

    2. John Hobbs

      “I have not seen anyone make that suggestion”

      I have, on several fora. In many if not most instances it comes from people on the east and gulf coasts where California has sent rescue and recovery crews without judgement on their precarious locations. I have lived in a number of locations across north American and have found none were immune to natural disaster. In a more reasonable time, we simply helped our neighbors recover without all this “you shoulda/shouldn’t a” crap. EVERYWHERE IS AT RISK ALL THE TIME.

      1. Ron


        There are vastly different levels (and types) of risks, depending upon location. Scientists and others who study such things know exactly where those risks are, and how likely. (For example, I recently reviewed a map of high-risk fire zones in the Santa Rosa area. Vast areas of the city were not in such a zone.)

        If such risks are subsidized, then people will continue to disregard those risks.  And, we all end up paying for it, vs. limiting it to those who make such choices.

        And, residents and responders will continue to unnecessarily suffer and die.

        1. John Hobbs

          Ron, people were in these “risky” locations long before there were 7.2 billion occupants sharing the terra firma. Adaptation is in the genes. I’d be interested to hear your solutions to this housing problem other than adaptation.

        2. Ron

          John:  There were a lot fewer people then, many died early, and there was very little infrastructure “tying” them to risky locations.  No doubt, they didn’t stay in flood zones, for example, when waters were rising.  Nor did they artificially manipulate the land and environment to the degree that modern society has, by attempting to fill in and build on marsh lands, construct dykes/levees, dams, engage in vast logging and other earth-extraction activities, etc.  Nor were they causing the climate to change, exacerbating these impacts.

          The only “solution” that I’m suggesting is that rebuilding in areas known to be high-risk should not be subsidized by taxpayers/government.  This step alone would greatly reduce the risk. Are you disagreeing with that?

      2. Ron

        Same thing applies to areas such as portions of New Orleans, where they’re attempting to fight an ocean.  I wonder which party will ultimately win (again)?

        Pretty sure that they’ll blame the government (whoever is in power) for “not doing enough” when the next tragedy occurs, regardless.

        1. John Hobbs

          Great example. People have lived in the New Orleans area for about 10,000 years. Of course the ocean will win. (you’re obviously not a surfer) Humanity’s only hope of being more than a tick in eternity’s clock has been and always will be our ability to adapt. Someday, this ball of rock will no longer be suitable for life. Cosmic collision, solar flares, something will get us eventually.

  2. John Hobbs

    “When my kids are grown, I will go back to those days.”

    Don’t bet on it. When the “kids are grown” your back, knees, ankles, and hips will all be worn out and you’ll have all those medical appointments to get to. Even health conscious Davisites age.

    1. Tia Will

      I have managed to revert to an almost carless existence since my kids left home. I walk to where I want to be and have reduced my car usage from daily to most often about once or twice weekly. It’s not perfect, but much better.

  3. Jeff M

    I see Global Warming as the underlying issue making these fires worse and more frequent.

    First of all, the fires are NOT more frequent.  But they are worse.

    Two points about this focus on global warming related to the fires.

    One – It is a non-scientific emotional and political-motivated reaction that could actually have minimal contribution to the cause and it could also have majority contributors that are not man-made (since the connection to human activity is circumstantial and the evidence is weak considering the known history of the earth warming and cooling without much human activity).

    Two – Science says that even if we stopped burning fossil fuel today, the earth will continue to warm for the next 50 years or longer.

    So continuing to bring up this “anthropogenic global warming is the source and the solution to the fires burning larger, longer and hotter” meme is actually contributing to the deflection from actual solutions that we might otherwise implement.   The actual solution require revisiting our environmental policies for land management both at the federal level and the state level.

    1. H Jackson

      Jeff M: “Two – Science says that even if we stopped burning fossil fuel today, the earth will continue to warm for the next 50 years or longer.”

      Science says that you can stop burning fossil fuel today, and you will lock in a certain higher temperature.  You can keep burning fossil fuel for longer, and then you will go to even higher temperatures.   But it’s all too far off into the distant future for people to take seriously.

      The issue of responding to global warming is like getting people to save for retirement.  When you see how it all works, you know you should do it (save for retirement), but it just doesn’t seem like an immediate priority.  Then when you reach retirement age and realize you haven’t saved enough, then you’re screwed.

      One kind of response is, “technology will eventually save us, so we don’t have to worry about moderating our fossil fuel consumption.”  That is like not bothering to save for retirement because “the government will come in and save me if I don’t have enough saved.”  It is possible that could happen, but I really prefer not to bet on it.


      1. Jeff M

        One kind of response is, “technology will eventually save us, so we don’t have to worry about moderating our fossil fuel consumption.”

        I would change that to:

        “Technology will keep marching forward with viable and cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuel energy and we should implement policies that encourage that, including investments in safe nuclear power, while we also focus on adapting human’s for a planned warmer planet with more variable weather, and not attempt to force scarcity of our fossil fuel consumption in the mean time because:

        1. It will not make any difference with respect to risks of harm to humans connected to global warming (based on science unless you are a denier), and…

        2. Forcing energy scarcity in the name of global warming will cause other harm to humans by reducing economic opportunity (not something a government employee/retiree probably understands… but real nonetheless.)  Because the reality is that we have not reached a point yet where there are adequate energy replacements for fossil fuel.  “

        1. H Jackson

          Saving for retirement also amounts to imposing a kind of economic scarcity that one learns to respond to in order to make it happen — you live within your means at a lower standard of living so that you can sustain a better comfort level for the longer term.  The difference in this analogy with global warming is that one can argue that saving for retirement is an individual choice; if you weren’t willing to make the early sacrifices, you individually get to take responsibility for the consequences, unless of course you’re expecting the government to save you.

          Problem here is that if not everyone is on board with moderating GHG emissions, then it really doesn’t happen. We all share the same air.  Humans, collectively, are too ADHD to pull it off, too many too concerned with immediate gratification.

          But where there is another similarity is that you are waiting for others to save you (in this case, technology) rather than be willing to make present sacrifices. Maybe you (and everyone else) will get lucky. But then again, maybe not.

        2. Ron

          H Jackson:

          They’re also waiting for the “other guy” (or country), to “do their part”, before they do theirs.  A game of “chicken”, if you will.

          And, if you don’t live in a high-risk area (e.g., for fires or floods), then you’re probably less concerned about it. An example of creating impacts that are forced upon others, and/or other countries.

          In the meantime (and from an individual’s point of view), what’s another Hummer or two, more or less?  🙂 (Sarcasm intended.)

          Or, one more sprawling development, requiring driving?



        3. H Jackson

          *Maybe you (and everyone else) will get lucky. But then again, maybe not.

          Or another approach is, “I’ll be dead anyway by that time, so it isn’t my problem.”

        4. Jeff M

          Saving for retirement also amounts to imposing a kind of economic scarcity that one learns to respond to in order to make it happen

          You conflate a free-will decision with a government outcome engineering crusade.  There is copious evidence that the former is well supportive of moving toward sustainable green energy.  There is also copious evidence that the latter is the stuff of bumbling incompetence where it also injects the damage from the law of unintended consequences.

          The truly effective middle ground would be the implementation of government assisted abundance policy… abundance of support for moving forward in technological advancement in the production and use of sustainable energy to replace fossil fuel.   And also the abundance of new activities to help mitigate human harm that would result from a warming climate.

    1. Ron

      Jeff:  It’s an amusing, but greatly-exaggerated and simplified cartoon.

      Insurance companies are very good at calculating risk for specific areas, if they’re allowed to do so. And, if they’re not even willing to insure some properties (without being subsidized or forced to do so, via regulation), that’s generally a good sign that the risk is too high.

        1. Ron

          Jeff:  Your experience is virtually meaningless, regarding risk.

          Risk can vary greatly, even within a small geographic area.  For example, I recently reviewed a map showing exactly which areas in Santa Rosa are high-risk fire zones.  I assume that the map predated the fire, and yet the burned area is one of the high-risk zones.  Most zones in Santa Rosa are not high risk, as I recall.

          Another example is earthquake vulnerability within San Francisco.  Portions of the Marina district are built on fill, which was previously part of the bay.  Not unexpectedly, that area saw significant damage in the 1989 Loma Prietta earthquake, while many other areas in San Francisco were completely unaffected.

          Your map is only good for a laugh. (I particularly like the tornado, giving us the finger I guess.)

        2. Howard P

          Ron, your ignorance of geotechnics, engineering, and building codes is showing, big time… your reference to the Marina District during the Loma Prieta quake,  is telling…

          Stick to subjects you know… and, what are those again?

        3. H Jackson

          I’m a geoscientist by profession, and I don’t think Ron is wrong in what he says about the Marina district.  Why do you think he deserves reproach?

          From the SF Chronicle, 17 October 2014:

          Loma Prieta earthquake: 25 years later, neighborhoods reborn

          the Marina’s fill-based ground liquefied, collapsing scores of buildings and leaving four people dead.

          The broader point is that many places in California far from active faults, including Sacramento, are at minimal risks from Earthquake activity. I regularly have to explain this to my mom who lives far out of state, and whose job it is to worry about her kids and her grandkids.

          1. Don Shor

            The broader point is that many places in California far from active faults, including Sacramento, are at minimal risks from Earthquake activity

            “On that Tuesday morning, April 19, 1892, most of northern California and west-central Nevada was shaken by an earthquake of about Richter magnitude (M) 6½. Major damage was concentrated in the communities of Vacaville and Dixon in Solano County, and Winters in Yolo County and surrounding rural areas along the western margin of the lower Sacramento Valley. Two days later at 9:43 a.m. on Thursday, April 21, a second severe earthquake in the M 6 range shook the area again, causing further damage. The largest of numerous aftershocks, approximately a M 5½ event, occurred several days later (April 29). This sequence of destructive earthquakes is noteworthy because along with the 1952 Kern County and 1983 Coalinga earthquakes, it is one of the most significant seismic episodes to directly affect California’s Central Valley in historical times.

            The larger April 19, 1892 event resulted in damage of intensity VII or greater on the Modified Mercalli (MM) scale throughout most of Yolo and Solano counties, and caused some damage in Sacramento County. (Modified Mercalli intensity VII is the shaking intensity at which some structural damage occurs, such as slight-to-moderate damage in well-built ordinary buildings, cracked chimneys and walls, and numerous broken windows.)

            Intensity VIII and greater effects were felt as far north as the communities of Esparto and Capay in Yolo County and also at Vacaville and Fairfield in Solano County to the south. (Intensity VIII effects may be envisioned by recalling the damage in Coalinga in 1983.) Recurrence of an event of similar magnitude in the Vacaville-Winters area today could be a threat to a vastly increased population and attendant facilities in the west Central Valley and San Joaquin Delta areas. The 1892 Vacaville-Winters earthquakes were comparable in destructive potential to the 1983 Coalinga earthquake (M 6.4) or the 1971 San Fernando earthquake (M 6.4). Total damage in the relatively sparsely populated Coalinga area was $31 million; in the densely populated San Fernando area damage was over $500 million.”

            More info here:


        4. Jeff M

          Jeff:  Your experience is virtually meaningless, regarding risk.

          Yes and no.

          There is risk everywhere.  That was the point.  Where would you recommend everyone lives where there is low risk of mother nature making a mess?

        5. H Jackson

          Major damage was concentrated in the communities of Vacaville and Dixon in Solano County, and Winters in Yolo County and surrounding rural areas along the western margin of the lower Sacramento Valley.

          I was actually thinking about that earthquake as I wrote my previous comment, and even pulled up an article from the Woodland Democrat (published that afternoon, the earthquake happened in the morning) that I had scanned to remind myself if Davis or eastern Yolo had been hit badly by it.  The Davis Enterprise wasn’t around then.

          Damage was described as light in Davis (then called Davisville) and Woodland (a few chimneys collapsed).  No deaths.  I also felt the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 2014 Napa earthquake.  I guess what I had in mind was worrying about earthquakes that might destroy my home and kill people.

          But if you want to count that as an event that’s enough to worry about, well, you got me.  Just don’t tell my mom.

        6. Ron

          Jeff:  “Where would you recommend everyone lives where there is low risk of mother nature making a mess?”

          The only thing I’m “recommending” is that taxpayers/government not purposefully fund efforts to rebuild in hazardous areas.  If folks had to pay these costs themselves (e.g., with adequate insurance), they would gravitate toward safer areas on their own (where such costs are less).

          It’s not rocket science.

          Is anyone actually arguing with this? (Usually, this is where the name-calling starts on the Vanguard, instead of logical discussion. Already happened more than once, today – but subsequently deleted).

        7. Howard P

          H Jackson… there is fill, and there is engineered fill… are you a ‘geoscientist’ (whatever that means, perhaps, or  geologist, or better, a geotechnical engineer?

          Guess anyone with a background with taking any science classes in HS or College can claim to be a “scientist”…  same for claims to be a “geoscientist”… registration with the State as a Geologist, Hydrogeologist, Geophysicist, Civil Engineer, is a different matter, entirely

          I include CE’s as they have to pass the Seismic portion of the PE exam…

          I am a PE in CA… between my education, training, and licensing, I believe I have creds… ‘liquifaction’ as to the Marina District in SF during Loma Prieta was a factor (but ‘liquifaction’ applies more to sandy and/or unconsolidated soils than SF Bay Mud, placed under modern standards.

          The damage in the Marina District was due to the nature of, and how, the fill was placed… and not the only factor… note that Foster City, San Mateo (portions on marsh/tidewater fill), etc., had minor damage.  I grew up, and lived in SM for 23 years… lots of earthquakes felt… by the mid-50’s, CA Building codes mitigated the risks… Marina District did not have that benefit…

          What are your creds?

          Ron spoke outside of his knowledge/professional base… do you? Or did you get your info solely from ‘surfing the net’?  Can’t find you on BPELSG… looked…

        8. Ron

          Howard:  “Ron spoke outside of his knowledge/professional base… do you?”

          Your post does not undermine the point in any way.  You confirmed that the fill in the Marina district is inadequate, in your own response.

          I recall that there are maps showing where the extreme danger zones are, in San Francisco. (And, that they match the areas that were filled in.) Pretty sure you can find those, if you’re so inclined. (It’s been awhile since I’ve seen those.)

        9. Jeff M

          It’s not rocket science.

          Is anyone actually arguing with this? (Usually, this is where the name-calling starts on the Vanguard, instead of logical discussion.

          I called you “Ron”.  I hope that isn’t a trigger word for you.

          I do get your point and conceded validity.  However, you made it pointing out that we should not, as taxpayers, subsidizing risk and I asked you a valid questions in response “where should the people live?”

          For example, Davis would seem to be lower risk for most natural disasters.  Should we increase the density and periphery of Davis housing so that more people can live here safely so we don’t end up subsidizing their risks for living someplace like Santa Rosa?

        10. Howard P

          Wrong again… I did not opine as to adequacy of the Marina District fill (I do not have enough info to say it was /is inadequate… it is questionable)… I do know it does not meet modern (60+ year standards)… I did question equating it to all fills… I questioned your creds as to making the correlation/causation of fills… get a clue.  Grow up.

          And what are your areas of expertise?  You neglected to follow up on that…

          Or, are you saying I’m wrong?

        11. Ron

          Jeff:  Again, I’m not suggesting where folks might choose to live, if their risk was not subsidized. However, I’m pretty sure that some would make different choices.

          Howard:  Exactly what quote or statement are you objecting to, then?

          Related to that, here’s some liquification maps (for San Francisco) for you to argue with. Take your pick, and argue with yourself.

  4. Tia Will

    To add another dimension to this conversation I am posting a non academic article about an area of proven impact. There are also a host of more rigorous articles on the topic of birth weight affected by smoke inhalation from forest fires. Birth weight can also be seen as a marker for potential medical problems since in utero organ development  like birth weight is entirely dependent upon maternal oxygen and nutrient supply.

    1. Howard P

      Tia, please…

      Science Daily reporting on a study by two economists?  Regarding correlation and/or causality for wildfire smoke exposure (like we in Davis are having), and low birth weights?  Really?

      Not what I’d call “professional” on many levels…

      Really surprised you used that cite… strike one…

    2. Jim Hoch

      When it says “economist” you can stop right there but add in UNLV and you have a very bad smell. “quasi-experimental research design” is the same as “proctological”. But it is “currently under review by a top industry journal” so there is that.

      1. Howard P

        is the same as “proctological”

        Old enough to have done that procedure, but want to avoid a ‘repeat’… one of the reasons I want to stay out of prison… several levels…

  5. John Hobbs

    “Stick to subjects you know… and, what are those again?”

    Beyond my ken as well, but were that a real requirement most of Jeff M’s posts referencing liberal behavior (i.e. most of Jeff’s posts) and all of Keith’s would have to go straight down the crapper.

  6. Ron

    “Climate change contributes to the growing destruction from California wildfires. Hot, dry weather conditions that help carry fires for thousands of acres are often present nearly year-round now. The state’s urban sprawl and encroachment into formerly undeveloped land is the real catalyst, though, said former Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District chief Kurt Henke.”
    “A recent Villanova University study found there are about 7 million homes in fire-prone areas in the West, more than 10 times the 600,000 or so that were present in 1940. That includes nearly 2,000 homes in Folsom and about 4,600 in the greater Sacramento region. Environmental scientists believe 1.2 million more could be built in the highest-risk areas statewide between 2000 and 2050″.


    1. Howard P

      Got it Ron… BANANA … build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone… true wisdom… very practical… very “self”-ish… you got it nailed.  Good work… thanks for the insight…..

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