Monday Morning Thoughts: Fire Danger Adds Urgency to Climate Change

We have learned, once again this month, that the risk of fire presents a multi-fold danger to areas of California – even those locations where the risk of actual fire is comparatively low.  On the one hand, the catastrophic fire this month has left more than 80 people dead.  But more widespread is the risk of air quality and smoke which blanketed the region for several weeks – impacting people’s health, driving activities indoor and presenting a larger risk.

On Friday after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration attempted to bury a report that is at odds with the President’s position on climate change.  Not only does it suggest huge warnings about the impact on the environment, and it finds that “damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end,” but for us locally it warns of the potential tripling of the frequency large wildfires in the coming decades.

The New York Times writes: “The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth.”

While the administration did not try to withhold the report, they did attempt to downplay it, both in terms of release time – Friday after Thanksgiving – and also with a statement.  The White House issued a statement which said that the report was “largely based on the most extreme scenario” of global warming and that the next assessment would provide an opportunity for greater balance.”

“There is a bizarre contrast between this report, which is being released by this administration, and this administration’s own policies,” said Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

“This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations, and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight (for) them,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton.

We in California, up until the rains came, suffered from the horrific tragedy of loss of life from the Camp Fire as well as from several weeks of disruptive smoke and air quality that caused schools to close and classes to be canceled, forcing the population indoors and into masks to filter out harmful particulate matter.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, found that California and the West have already witnessed an increase of catastrophic fires due to climate change – by their estimates, about twice as much acreage has been burned by wildfire than would have without increased temperatures and other impacts from climate change.

“Higher temperatures sharply increase the risk of megadroughts—dry periods lasting 10 years or more,” says the report.  The expectation is that these “megadroughts” will then trigger a whole host of impacts – including the tripling of the frequency of large wildfires.

The report argues such impact could be lessened if action were taken to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The report finds: “Greenhouse gas emissions reductions, fire management, and other actions can help reduce future vulnerabilities of ecosystems and human well-being.”

The report notes: “Climate change has driven the wildfire increase, particularly by drying forests and making them more susceptible to burning.  Specifically, increased temperatures have intensified drought in California, contributed to drought in the Colorado River Basin,  reduced snowpack, and caused spring-like temperatures to occur earlier in the year. In addition, historical fire suppression policies have caused unnatural accumulations of understory trees and coarse woody debris in many lower-elevation forest types, fueling more intense and extensive wildfires.”

Contrary to the President’s claims criticizing forest management, the study finds: “Furthermore, the area burned from 1916 to 2003 was more closely related to climate factors than to fire suppression, local fire management, or other non-climate factors.”

That comes in contrast to the President’s claims from last weekend, where he declined to link the fire to dry conditions exacerbated by climate change, and instead blamed them on lack of forest management, including “raking” of the forests.

And the President tweeted on Nov. 10, “There’s no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. … remedy now, or no more Federal payments.”

In contrast, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reported last week that October was the second hottest on record worldwide and that conditions over the summer set the stage for the devastating fires in November.

“Summer 2018 was much warmer than average across the state — record warm in some places, especially at night — and in Northern California, precipitation ranged from below average to record dry,” NOAA said in a report last week.

“Precipitation across much of the state was less than 5 percent of average in September, and the summer dry signal extended into beginning of the fall wet season, with below-average precipitation in October as well. With all the heat and dryness, the ground was dry to start November, with vegetation turned into excellent fire fuel,” NOAA added.

Tim Palmer, a former land use planner, wrote in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle that while we “all need to recognize that the principal cause of intensifying fires is climate change,” until we attempt to reverse the trend of global warming we need to change our land use practices.

He argues that “our local governments need to recognize fire hazard as a public issue,” and “areas most prone to fire should be identified and prospective home builders warned about investing and living in harm’s way.”

Mr. Palmer recommends: “Ordinances should require protective measures for new development. Further, planning programs need to favor and facilitate development within established communities — which are more defensible — rather than allowing a continued trend toward scattered development in remote and indefensible fire zones.”

The bottom line, though, is that our future will largely depend “on how swiftly and decisively the United States and other countries take action to mitigate global warming.”

The report projects the economic impact of climate change: “$141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century, among others.”

It puts forward three potential solutions: “[P]utting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, which usually means imposing taxes or fees on companies that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; establishing government regulations on how much greenhouse pollution can be emitted; and spending public money on clean-energy research.”

Until then, it seems that wildfires will become the new normal – and not just here in California, but also in areas that were previously unfamiliar with such blazes.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for

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.

Related posts


  1. Ron

    From article:  “He argues, “our local governments need to recognize fire hazard as a public issue” and “areas most prone to fire should be identified and prospective home builders warned about investing and living in harm’s way.”

    This information is already known.  There are maps which specifically show it, in detail.

    The primary problem is that folks continue to be subsidized by government, for living (and repeatedly rebuilding) in high-risk zones. (Coupled with societal resistance to acknowledge the problem.)

        1. Alan Miller

          > Good one, Howard. 

          What do you mean, “Good one, Howard”?

          I wasn’t seeing DG for years, apparently, in one form.  Am I now not seeing Howard?  Can we please fix this terrible interface so we can see if we are blocking people.  I’ve never blocked anyone, except with my mind.

          [moderator: Howard removed his comment that Ron was replying to]

        2. Ron

          Alan:  Howard apparently deleted his comment before it irrevocably posted, as he often does.

          In response to Don’s comment, sure – if you want to pave over farmland. (Not just limited to Yolo county.)

          Overall, it seems that our modern world (and the accompanying/recent vast increase in human population) are not completely “in sync” with natural forces. However, I’m pretty sure that I know which one will ultimately “win”.

          I also think that needed change/adaptation will not occur, until it’s forced upon us. (Perhaps repeatedly, e.g., in the case of fires.)

        3. Alan Miller

          Alan:  Howard apparently deleted his comment before it irrevocably posted, as he often does.

          I’m sorry, I really need to sit on each Vanguard page all day long and constantly hit the “refresh” button so I don’t miss anything.  We all should.

  2. Jeff M

    Something is broken in the heads of a significant number of otherwise very intelligent people… or else they are prone to being intellectually dishonest to benefit their politics… or else they are exhibiting behavior common with the religious faithful (you will note some of this latter in the veracity of the retorts to posts like mine).

    From the peer-reviewed, fact-based scientific position, if we absolutely stopped burning fossil fuel on the entire planet today, the planet would continue to warm for the next 50 years.   And of course this forced-scarcity moratorium on burning fossil fuels would result in copious human death, misery and suffering as there are not nearly enough sustainable energy replacements to power and feed the people of the planet… which sort of shoots holes into the moral basis that many of the disciples of the religion of man-made global warming claim (saving humanity).

    Do yourself a favor.  In every case where you see a story of some environmental event blamed on industrialized man… especially noting the energy consumed by those that spout it… ignore it, delete it, brush it off as some form of political and/or religious dogma… and then write your lawmakers and tell them you want them to do the same while they work on REAL SOLUTIONS FOR MITIGATING THE HUMAN AND FINANCIAL HARM FROM NATURAL DISASTERS.

    1. Don Shor

      if we absolutely stopped burning fossil fuel on the entire planet today, the planet would continue to warm for the next 50 years.

      If we burn less, the planet will warm less. If we burn more, the planet will warm more. A steady reduction in use of fossil fuels is the general consensus strategy. Combined with developing strategies for mitigating the probable harm, current generations can make things less unpleasant for future generations. This generally requires that governments at all levels cooperate, whether by multi-lateral regional agencies and treaties, or by international treaties. The biggest carbon emitters need to be at the table and willing to cooperate.
      It’s not a binary choice. There is a range of options and a range of probable outcomes.

      1. Jeff M

        Technology will advance to help reduce carbon emissions much faster and without any damage to the human condition than would otherwise be caused by stupid and boneheaded scarcity policy.

        We also have the standard uninformed electorate that is being spoon fed so much alarmist propaganda that they would “feel” that great things are being accomplished with just some more taxes on carbon emissions.

        The problems are severe enough that we will kill people by accepting the goal for feel-good symbolic policy that people on the left seem to crave.

        Any pragmatic and effectual policy moves would be to help spur technological advances in sustainable alternative energy (including nuclear) plus adaption for a warmer planet.

        Canada is enjoying a longer farming season.  Global warming is not all gloom and doom.   It is also not a justification for greater attacks on industry.

        Did you know that if Brussels, the seat of liberal EU power, where in the US it would be the dirtiest large city in the US?   The US is already doing more than any other country to reduce carbon emissions.   There is not anything to be gained by more forced scarcity.  Anyone that pushes more of that nonsense is part of the problem.

        1. Jeff M

          And in Mexico, you can now fry an egg on any large rock.

          Having spent a lot of time in Mexico over the decades, frying eggs on rocks is a standard thing down there.

          But my point was not to say that there are problems caused by changing climate… in every case in history where the climate changed it would upset the ecosystem to some degree.   My point was that there are positive results of climate change too.   Otherwise you and I would be living in ice caves right now.

          1. David Greenwald

            The bigger problem is that you don’t seem to understand the difference between climate and weather. Day to day local variation (i.e. weather) occur and have extremes both in the highs and lows. Those variations do not negate the overall trend which is toward hotter weather (i.e. climate). Moreover, if you look at the ratio of record highs to record lows, it has swung dramatically in the direction of record highs. (Record-breaking high temperatures are now outnumbering record lows by an average decadal ratio of 2:1.)

          1. Don Shor

            we’ve had fairly good rain in California the last two years so maybe this year’s slower start is weather not climate.

            I was just reviewing this data for a talk I gave. The November rainfall for Davis for the 10-year period of 2007 – 2017 is 30% lower than the 30-year average.
            The climate signals for California are very clear. On average it is drier falls, warmer summers leading to drier soils and more combustible vegetation. Significantly less Valley fog in winter having some current and likely future effects on the chilling hour/portion needs of some important fruit and nut varieties.
            Daniel Swain’s blog,, is an excellent resource. He’s on Twitter as well. I highly recommend this particular twitter string for information about changing conditions and the fires:

          1. Don Shor

            how many drought periods has California had in the last 100 years?

            Seven. Which was the longest and most severe?

        2. Howard P

          For Keith and Don, how many drought periods has CA had in the last 400 years? 1000 years? 10,000 years?

          The first would be the difference between “climate” and “weather”… 100 years is a narrow window, a heartbeat, given the life of the planet…

          1000 years means we can remove the ‘industrial revolution’ from the equation… 10,000 years takes human activity out (pretty much) out of the equation…

        3. H Jackson

          Jeff M.: “Technology will advance to help reduce carbon emissions much faster and without any damage to the human condition than would otherwise be caused by stupid and boneheaded scarcity policy.”

          How can you be so sure?

        4. Jeff M

          Jeff M.: “Technology will advance to help reduce carbon emissions much faster and without any damage to the human condition than would otherwise be caused by stupid and boneheaded scarcity policy.”

          How can you be so sure?

          Talk to Sierra Energy.

          There is this…

          Solar panel technology is advancing and use is steadily increasing.

          Safe nuclear is nearing reality.

          GM just announced they laying off 18,000 workers as they are retooling for smaller and more energy-efficient vehicle design and production.

          Do you think government scarcity policy helped spur these advances forward (like battery technology), or was it more the result of the pursuit of profit?

          There are ideas for C02 scrubbers… they would just sit there in the deserts and other places and pull it out of the atmosphere.

          I am not worried at all about our human capacity and ability to solve the greatest problems of the world with effective public-private partnerships that create incentives for advance, not resistance and idiotic forced scarcity.

          Your question is profound in how much it confirms my point and telegraphs the essence of the problem.  Just the fact that you, a very intelligent and informed person, would challenge that opinion… is indicative of the problem with our political powers also not getting it (or otherwise just resisting for their own political and monetary pursuits like Al Gore).

          It is like the creative kids are ruled by the bossy kids and the creative kids not only have to use their creative powers to change the world, but they have to expend a lot of creative energy to find ways around the blocking ways of the bossy kids.

        5. H Jackson

          Jeff M:  “Your question is profound in how much it confirms my point and telegraphs the essence of the problem.  Just the fact that you, a very intelligent and informed person, would challenge that opinion… is indicative of the problem with our political powers also not getting it…”

          A few times a year I check out this website on atmospheric CO2 measures, more or less in real time.  The upward trend has continued unabated.  If there is a meaningful response, then I think I would expect to see a trend to leveling off of CO2 concenetrations.  That would seem to be an example of concrete accountability for a  response that is working.  So far I haven’t seen it.  You would disagree?  If so, please explain.

  3. Alan Miller

    The expectation is that these “megadroughts” will then trigger a whole host of impacts –

    Well we all know how to protect students from megadroughts: Megadorms.

  4. Don Shor

    It’s not as though people who work in this field aren’t already thinking and talking about it. Communities can do more to reduce fire hazard and prevent injury and death. Lots of resources out there. It may take state mandates to get small rural communities to start developing prevention and mitigation policies.

    An interesting resource here:

    1. Ron

      Don:  “Communities can do more to reduce fire hazard and prevent injury and death.”

      Has Paradise established any “rake donation” sites?

      Note that they already apparently had an evacuation plan – which didn’t work out so well.

      1. Howard P

        Lame, and inaccurate… they did have an evacuation plan that worked out quite well given limited roads, and limited notification window… unless you believe everything should be “perfect”, everyone complied, and “stuff doesn’t happen”…

        Please try to read the reports… various sources… put brain in gear before posting… sometimes I don’t, and usually try to use “the 5 minute window” to correct/delete… yes, you and Keith object to that, apparently… it is apparently clear neither use that…

        Won’t use that here (five minute thing), on this post…


        1. Ron

          The “limitations” are what I’m referring to.

          The point being that it’s an inherently dangerous area, for wildfires.  This was known beforehand. That’s why they had an evacuation plan.

          Same thing with the area that burned in Santa Rosa.  Which also burned about 50 years ago, and will do so again in the future. (And, which corresponds with a high-risk fire zone map which overlays that area, quite precisely from what I recall.) As with many other areas (that also contain high-risk zones), there are areas in Santa Rosa which aren’t in a high-risk zone.

          1. David Greenwald

            “The point being that it’s an inherently dangerous area, for wildfires. This was known beforehand. That’s why they had an evacuation plan.”

            Other places it’s floods. Other places it’s earthquakes. Or droughts. Or volcanoes. Or tornadoes. Or hurricanes. Or mudslides. Or tsunamis. One reason why people originally moved to zones of danger was that was whether the farmland was, or the water was, or the resources were, or the transportation system was. When I was a small child, I was terrified of some of these things, so I tried to device a location to move my family away from all these risks and really there was none.

        2. Howard P

          Try this…

          Do an overlay of all hazards… wildfire, seismic, flooding,etc., and then exclude prime ag (existing and/or former), lack of water supply, environmental impact to wildlife, plants, etc., and you get:

          Nirvana for the BANANA folk!

        3. Ron

          David:  Yes, there’s some risks everywhere.  It’s a question of degree.

          Even in danger zones, there’s degrees of risk.  San Francisco is a good example.  Some areas are built on fill (which liquifies in an earthquake), some are not.

          In New Orleans, I believe that the French Quarter did not flood.  The Ninth Ward didn’t fare so well.  However, with sea level rise, the risk for the entire area is increasing.

          Insurance companies are very good at analyzing risk, if allowed to do so without interference.

          If you support government subsidies so that people ignore these risks (and therefore rebuild in areas that are virtually guaranteed to flood or burn again), I’d say that you’re adding to the danger and cost.  I’d also suggest that it’s a hopeless effort, especially when considering climate change.

          Some people choose to remain in high-risk areas, due to their own desires to live near nature, etc.

          There are vast areas where these risks simply don’t exist, in any real sense.

        4. Ron

          Howard:  Your own link/post provides this information:

          As with other parts of the city developed before the late 19th century, and on higher land predating New Orleans’ levee systems, the French Quarter remained substantially dry following Hurricane Katrina. Its elevation is five feet (1.5 m) above sea level.[20] Some streets had minor flooding, and several buildings suffered significant wind damage. Most of the major landmarks suffered only minor damage.[21] In addition, the Quarter largely escaped the looting and violence that occurred after the storm; nearly all of the antique shops and art galleries in the French Quarter, for example, were untouched.[22]

          Would you care to post a link regarding the Ninth Ward, for comparison?

          1. Don Shor

            In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the population of New Orleans dropped by half. A decade later it was still 20% below pre-Katrina levels. Somewhere between 40- 100,000 people who fled to Houston stayed there. That is about a 3% increase in Houston’s population. It’s as if Davis absorbed about 2100 people all at once. Unless you’re prepared to say where a large number of people are supposed to move to, from areas prone to flooding or fires or earthquakes or tornadoes, then you’re not really proposing a reasonable solution to the problem.
            People live in danger-prone areas, so we enact building codes and vegetation management practices to reduce damage. Yes, after a calamity that often involves expenditure of tax dollars to help people get back on their feet. To me, that is one of the core functions of government.

        5. Howard P

          Ron… you “conveniently” (“cherry picking”) again left out the rest of the cite…

          Mayor Ray Nagin officially reopened the French Quarter on September 26, 2005 (almost a month after the storm), for business owners to inspect their property and clean up.

          Done… you are not worth the further effort to correct you, but may want to correct info that your “spin”, for your agenda, for the general public.

        6. Ron

          Don:  “Yes, after a calamity that often involves expenditure of tax dollars to help people get back on their feet. To me, that is one of the core functions of government.”

          There’s a difference between “helping people get back on their feet”, vs. subsidizing efforts to rebuild in areas that will be subject to the same calamity, again.

          It’s difficult for me to believe that anyone is having trouble grasping this concept, or appreciating the difference. Are folks actually advocating that government subsidize efforts to rebuild in areas that are known to be high-risk? (If so, that goes beyond mere irresponsibility.)

          Not directed at Don, but some people cry “foul” when government regulates development, but then expect government to step in when the predicted calamity occurs again.  (Sometimes including “buying out” those who built where they shouldn’t have, in the first place.)

        7. Ron

          Far more insidious is the situation in which politically-connected developers convince politicians to fund massive, taxpayer-funded flood protection efforts, so that their land can then be developed. (Vastly increasing the subsequent sales value of the land, at taxpayer expense.)

          Also requiring indefinite, costly maintenance (and “bail-outs”, when the flood protection inevitably fails).

          That’s one way to become wealthy, at taxpayer expense.

          And yet, this seems to occur “under the radar”, for the most part. And, once new residences start to become established in such areas, it inevitably forces the hand of government.

      1. Keith O

        Jeff, the French are already paying over $7/gal.  So I think it’s more than just the 6 cents, it’s  that they have had enough.  80% of the French population are backing the rioters.  If that ends up being the plan over here in America, yes I would expect the same.

        1. Jeff M

          Exactly my point Keith.  They hit that point where they will accept no more looting.

          Have you ever heard of a politician taxing and spending less?   If you have you will note that the media and elites will attack to undermine his/her ability to staunch the looting.

          And thus it continues… until the people have had enough… or else they are brought to forced acceptance with government bullets.

        2. Ron

          Don:  “Protesting in the streets is a popular weekend pastime in France.”

          I have that (general) impression, as well.  I hadn’t realized it, until someone told me of their personal (but limited) experience as a witness to that phenomenon.

  5. Craig Ross

    Ron wants people not to build near fire areas, but he’s opposed to more housing in places like Davis where fire hazards are relatively low and opposed to densification which would ease the crunch on rural encroachment.  You can’t have it both ways.

    1. Ron

      Craig:  You’re presenting this as the same “binary choice” that Don and Mark mentioned.

      Regarding “encroachment”, Davis is doing just that, onto farmland. (Not to mention all of the other cities, across the valley and beyond. With most being far worse in this regard, than Davis.)

      Ultimately, you can’t have it “both ways”.

      The only point I’ve made in this article is that the government is purposefully involved in subsidizing rebuilding efforts, in areas that are known to be dangerous.

  6. Ron

    The Vanguard is going to be a lonely place, without Keith and Jeff.  Regardless of whether or not you agree, these are two people who at least put forth coherent, logical arguments. Both seem to be decent people, as well. (And, unlike some who use their full names, are not simply trolls.)

    It’s going to be the Vanguard’s loss.

    I understand this this comment will be (appropriately) deleted.

    1. Alan Miller

      Both seem to be decent people, as well.

      Decent people?  No R, they are REPUBLICANS (or have voted for one).

      It won’t be lonely R, there are hundreds of decent, intelligent, caring, positive and brave Davisites who used to post here, waiting to come back to the Vanguard comment pages, as soon as the anonymous, mean people go away (well . . . brave, except when it comes to arguing with people they don’t agree with who might make a forceful argument).

      But it’s OK, the Vanguard will soon be a SAFE SPACE, with PUPPIES!  I can’t wait for all the old great people to come back that got scared away, like Frankly and Barak Palin.  Let’s make the Vanguard great again!  Here’s to 2019!!!!!


      1. Don Shor

        Those same people can certainly come back, post under their own names, and perhaps use a bit more discretion and care about how they make their points. Evidently they don’t feel capable of doing that, or prefer not to engage that way. It’s entirely their choice to leave.

        1. Howard P

          There are, Don, some other considerations… there are some folk who would “dox” others, as “transparency”, even if their comments were not related to current/past employment…

          That said, this is the right time to make the ‘move’, but if not for the employment thing, John Hobbs nailed it, as to me… I’d tell the same story to anyone’s face.

          I’d be much more free than I have been, if it was just about me, and my responsibilities.

          I will say again, I look forward to the change…

  7. Ron

    I understand that the melting of the polar ice caps are the most obvious (and undeniable) signs of climate change.

    Seems to me that there actually isn’t much scientific dispute, regarding the cause.

    What (specifically) to do about it is somewhat less certain, as it requires global cooperation. (Something that has never been achieved.) That’s why I figure it doesn’t matter much, if I don’t (individually) get rid of the Hummer (and get a “Pious”, instead). 🙂

    1. Don Shor

      I found this interesting:
      “However, Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington and weather modelling expert, said neither global warming nor climate change played a significant role in the deadly Camp Fire

      That is a familiar role for Dr. Mass.

      1. Ron

        Don:  It’s the first I’ve heard of him, but the article also notes this:

        “While Mass believes the planet is overall getting warmer and that it is a serious threat to the planet, he said pointing to global warming or climate change for California’s wildfires takes the attention away from other issues that need to be examined to protect people.”

        “We have to move people away from the wildland interface,” Mass said. “We have people living where they shouldn’t live. We need to deal with that. We need to have better warning systems. I can keep on going on but there’s a lot of things we need to do that could save huge numbers of lives and property now. If you blame it all on global warming, then you’re not going to do these things that really are important.”

        I’m not seeing anything disagreeable, here. He’s certainly not a climate change “denier”.

        The article itself discusses the measurements he made.

        Perhaps he’s someone who possesses common sense.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for