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SEPTEMBER 21, 2020

Dear Friends: Devoting this issue to wildfires and climate change: what happened, where, political consequences and more.

California and Western Wildfires

By Christopher Flavelle

The engineering and land management that enabled the state’s tremendous growth have left it more vulnerable to climate shocks — and those shocks are getting worse.

Dystopian images of destruction have come from all over the globe as flames rage.

By Laura Millan Lombrana, September 14, 2020

Extreme heat has fueled some of the worst fires on record in many parts of the globe. Unprecedented bushfires that started last December in Australia burned through 17 million hectares (42 million acres), an area the size of the state of Washington, and killed at least 33 people. California’s fire season has already broken records, with 3.1 million acres burned and 3,900 structures destroyed as of Sept. 10. Elsewhere, wildfires have destroyed native forests, forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, worsened air pollution, and released carbon dioxide that will contribute to yet more warming.

As fires spread into Washington, Oregon and Montana, the arrival of the Santa Ana winds means more conflagrations for California.

By Michael Kodas

Over Labor Day weekend, the fire storms that plagued California and Colorado in August blew up into an unprecedented siege of wildfires across half a dozen western states. Fire scientists and incident commanders warn that a series of almost unheard of events over the weekend—mass evacuations with military aircraft, entire towns torched, megafires blazing in multiple states at the same time—may become commonplace as the West warms.

Timelapse footage from space showing Saturday's explosion of California wildfires led one meteorologist to declare: "It cannot be overstated how terrifying this satellite image is."

By Jon Queally, staff writer

Smoke plumes rising tens of thousands of feet into the air over California could be seen from outer-space overnight and into Sunday as massive wildfires that touched off this weekend amid a statewide heatwave triggered dramatic rescue efforts for hundreds of people trapped in a U.S. national forest and fresh warnings of a "climate emergency" unfolding in real time.

More than 7,000 fires have chewed through 1.4 million acres this year, making this fire season one of the most active ever. “I’m running out of superlatives,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. Mr. Swain said he expected this year to have the greatest number of acres burned under California’s modern fire suppression regimen.

Record-breaking heat, dry vegetation, and lightning each played a role in sparking wildfires that have burnt more than one million acres across California. But to what extent were these factors caused by climate change? UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain, along with a team of researchers, published a study earlier this year that found that the “number of days with extreme fire weather during the autumn season has more than doubled since the late 1970s.”

By Matthew Pera, September 19, 2020

Purposely setting fires to reintroduce “good” fire to Marin’s landscape could be the key to lowering the risk of catastrophic infernos in the county, some fire officials say.

The tactic, known as prescribed burning, might seem counterintuitive. But it’s a time-honored technique for forest management that shouldn’t be overlooked, said Bruce Goines, a retired forester who worked for more than four decades for the U.S. Forest Service and now serves as board president for the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority.

“The problem is that people don’t like smoke, whether it’s from a wildfire or a prescribed fire,” Goines said. “The primary barrier to using prescribed fire is public acceptance.”

Wildfires and Climate Change

This spate of wild weather is consistent with climate change, scientists say, and the world can expect even more extreme weather and higher risks from natural disasters as global emissions of greenhouse gases continue.

Advances in a relatively new field known as "event attribution science" have enabled researchers to assess how big a role climate change might have played in a specific case. 

The planet is showing signs it's in peril. In recent weeks, the world has seen ferocious wildfires in the US West, torrential rains in Africa, weirdly warm temperatures on the surface of tropical oceans, and record heat waves from California to the Siberian Arctic.

This spate of wild weather is consistent with climate change, scientists say, and the world can expect even more extreme weather and higher risks from natural disasters as global emissions of greenhouse gases continue.

September 11, 2020

Above, Jeff Berardelli, who is now a colleague through Yale Climate Connections, explains the connection between climate and fires. Worthwhile graphs and updates.

Not new information, I know, for readers here, but I hope you will share this very good and thoughtful piece by my friend Dr Katharine Hayhoe.

Teachable moment in the short attention span era.

Extreme Weather

Digital project allows Americans to recognize the "most significant climate threat unfolding" in their own backyard.

Taking a cue from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, an outspoken climate action advocate who this week referred to the wildfires which have burned through hundreds of thousands of acres in his state as "climate fires," two New York Times journalists on Friday offered a visual of how the climate crisis is expected to affect every part of the United States.

Policy, Elections, Legislation, Regulations

Joe Biden went on offense in advance of Donald Trump’s visit to California on Monday, as the Democratic nominee blasted the president as a “climate arsonist” who is ignoring science and how it relates to extreme wildfires out west and natural disasters elsewhere.

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” Biden said in remarks from Delaware. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?”

Oregon’s fate has always been intertwined with the forests that blanket the state. Now millions of trees are charred, and those who live from them face a future full of uncertainty.

By Jim Tankersley

Mr. Payne, Mr. Kirsch and other elected leaders across Oregon’s timber communities blame this year’s fires on decades of diminished logging activity on the state’s federal lands. Slowed by a federal policy change under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and by subsequent litigation from environmental groups, federal harvest levels in Oregon have plunged. The forests have grown thicker with brush and dead trees that can catch fire easily

Many ecologists dispute that. Western Oregon’s forests historically suffered large burn events once every few hundred years, even before the time of widespread logging.

Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels around the globe, is also fueling the rising risks for large fire events in Oregon and across the West, scientists say, which means the likelihood of future losses to the timber industry.

"The Green New Deal is not too expensive because the alternative is far, far more dreadful, more destructive."

Sen. Bernie Sanders used a virtual town hall on Saturday to call out his fellow members of Congress who—in the midst of record-shattering heat waves, massively destructive storms, and unprecedented wildfires—continue to insist that a Green New Deal aimed at combating the climate emergency and creating millions of good-paying jobs in the process would be too costly.

The agency weakened Obama-era rules meant to keep metals and other pollution out of rivers and streams, saving industry tens of millions of dollars.

Americans may be finding some common sense about building homes in vulnerable areas.

Editorial Board


By Kurtis Alexander, Photographs and videos by Santiago Mejia, Sept. 2, 2020

In a California landscape defined — and divided — by water, a single issue unites the people who live here: digging in against the tunnel

Insurers, facing huge losses, have been pulling back from fire-prone areas across California. “The marketplace has largely collapsed,” an advocate for counties in the state said.

Research shows people, even those living hundreds of miles away, feeling the effects from wildfire smoke in the west

Historic wildfires burning across California have sent a 500-mile-long gray blob of smoky air swirling above the western United States, and Stanford researcher Bibek Paudel is already seeing the health effects build up.

September 14, 2020

Climate Change: How Will Marin Adapt?

September 11, 2020

The Grand Jury released a report last Friday on the need for a countywide adaptation plan and its recommendations on how to proceed with developing a plan and coordinating countywide action:

By Farhad Manjoo

Maybe the wildfires will finally force America to recognize that.


For the second decade in a row, the world has failed to meet targets it set itself to stop the destruction of the environment and biodiversity.

The latest report from the UN Environment Programme finds of the 20 goals set in 2010 at a summit in Aichi, Japan not a single one has been achieved.

Just six were deemed 'partially achieved' in the report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, released on Wednesday.


Tuesday, September 29, 6:00 pm: Community Organizing for Fire Preparedness

Join on Facebook live stream or via zoom here:

This webinar was originally scheduled for last month but due to wildfires we postponed it so that we could present the evacuation webinar.

This month, learn how to organize your local community for fire preparedness! For this free webinar, we'll be joined by John Hansen, FIRESafe Marin Firewise Liaison, and Belle Cole, Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority's Ecologically Sound Practices Steering Committee member. Topics will include Marin's participation in Firewise USA and a Marin partnership to maintain landscapes that are both fire-smart and ecologically sound.

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