West Coast fires spark debate over whether climate change is to blame

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Firefighters battle strong winds and humidity trying to contain the fires

Numerous fires are burning across the West Coast destroying homes and businesses

As fires rage out West, the topic of climate change has been brought up a lot especially when it comes to whether it has affected the number of fires, the destruction they’re causing and what this will mean for the future.

According to the New York Times, it is estimated that about five million acres have burned across the West Coast including California, Oregon and Washington as reported on Sept. 17.

Oliver Thiss, the Environmental Sustainability Club Treasurer, spoke about how these fires are going to affect the climate and environment in the future.

“Wildfires can rapidly accelerate the effects of climate change. It is estimated that forest fires emit eight billion tons of CO2 every year, with that number rising as forest fires become more commonplace. The oceans and the atmosphere will continue to warm at a rapidly increasing pace.”

While some fires have been caused by people such as the El Dorado Fire in California which the New York Times reported was ignited from a “Pyrotechnic devise” used during a gender reveal party, it is reported that others have been caused by natural occurrences such as lighting.

Still, some politicians are saying that forest management hasn’t done a good job at managing areas that are at higher risk of forest fires. According to the Washington Post, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement, “forest mismanagement plays a significant factor.”

This addressed how the dismissal of climate change in this situation can interfere with how citizens view climate change.

“We see an increase in polarization as politicians and public figures deny the effects of climate change,” Thiss said. “People will go on the defensive to some extremes because they feel like their lives and lifestyles are being threatened by climate change.”

From the number of fires in the West, there is also the concern about whether this shows how little people care about the destruction climate change can cause.

“Everyone cares about climate change to their own degree. People will continue to fight for cleaner energy and a more sustainable future. More than ever, people care about the effects of climate change. It is being felt more than ever in the United States,” Thiss said.

Garrett Weaver, a resident in Portland Oregon, talked about his experience during these times. “It’s been really scary, to say the least. I am very fortunate that my house was in a low fire risk zone,” Weaver said.

“However, I think the gravity of the situation really hit me when I heard that there were two towns about 20 minutes from my house that had fires and were at a stage two evacuation (prepare your things and leave if you can).”

Weaver said that while most of Portland and the metro area have had little damage from the fires, at Weaver’s work about 40 minutes south of Portland, there have been more fires causing some of his co-workers to evacuate their homes.

“I think the biggest effect on Portland was the extremely poor air quality that resulted from the smoke. The hazard levels were off the charts for a couple of days which led some businesses to temporarily close,” Weaver said.

Weaver added, “It was deemed unsafe to be outside without an N-95 and it was noticeably hard to breathe without one.”

Due to the pandemic, N-95 masks are being restricted to medical professional use only because of shortages. According to the New York Times, wearing a cloth or surgical mask outside is a good idea, but people should use other precautions to protect themselves from smoke as well.

“I hope this event will take the discussion of climate change and environmental protection outside the realm of politics and into the realm of public safety where it belongs,” Weaver said when asked if he sees these fires shifting the public perception of climate change.

“I think events like this show even the most dismissive climate critics the very real need for sufficient funding of our local and federal wildland conservation and land management services,” Weaver said.

“Wildfires aren’t new to Oregon; however, I think the scale of these fires and the level of destruction are undeniably abnormal and I hope it can be something people can rally around addressing.”

Weaver said that people in the Midwest can help those affected by the fires saying, “I think donating to local disaster relief finds would be a great start to those affected.”

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