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How to Process Climate Grief Over the California Wildfires

How to Process Climate Grief Over the California Wildfires

Eric Holthaus

I follow the weather obsessively, but I can’t remember any other time in modern American history when a town of more than 25,000 people was demolished in just six hours, like Paradise, California, was. Maybe Homestead, Florida, during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — but Homestead at least had a few days warning. Maybe Moore, Oklahoma, which suffered four devastating tornadoes between 1999 and 2013. But never because of a wildfire.

Honestly, I find myself decreasingly able to summon feelings of horror over natural/man-made disasters or grief for the victims. The ever increasing frequency and severity of these events is perhaps the reason. As the author observes, I/we am/are not built for this amount of horrendous destruction and loss.

The plight of humanity is to suffer at the hand of Mother Nature who brings to them plagues, floods, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes, avalanches, volcanoes, tsunamis, dust storms, fires, earthquakes, and asteroids. The more humans there are on the planet and the closer they live to zones prone to natural catastrophes, the more they will suffer emotionally and financially. While we all marvel at the strength of the victims who vow to return to what is left of home and rebuild their homes and lives, I sometimes wonder WTF!

Now with this off my chest, I’ll read the 10 steps to resiliency.

The main symbol of warming Earth, to me, are the daily massive rainfalls with associated flooding and deaths. Another symbol of the warming world is the rising sea and the associated near monthly king tide flooding of low lying communities. I do not believe that communities built within the surge zone of a hurricane should be rebuilt. I also believe that communities that get flooded more than once by a river should not be rebuilt, as we need to get out of flood plains.
To me, fire and its destruction are more associated with terrain and immediate weather (warm, low humidity and windy). Point of ignition in relation to direction, strength and persistence of wind determine the outcome.
Paradise was located at an unfortunate place in relation to the ignition point during a strong westerly wind. It was a wooden community in a forested landscape. It has always been a disaster waiting to happen. The completeness and scale of the disaster when it happened was still shocking, as was the scale of the Santa Rosa fires last year. Or that Santa Barbara fires jumped Hwy 101 and burnt to the west or that the Gorge fire jumped the Columbia and burnt to the north or that the Paradise fire jumped Lake Oroville and is burning to the south west towards Oroville.
Should Paradise be rebuilt? Probably not. It will still be located in a fire scape. Should the communities in parts of Southern California be rebuilt? Some places it seems possible; others not. Each place should be evaluated for its fire resiliency and fire exposure and fire codes updated to make buildings less fire susceptible. American cities have burned and been rebuilt in the past: San Francisco and Chicago are two.
Still each “natural disaster” is at the least disturbing. Gov. Brown links these fires to Climate Change and yet his sister is on the board of a fossil fuel corporation and he refuses to stop fracking, even after the Aliso Canyon disaster.
The Sierra Club calls for less fossil fuel extraction but continues offering a large schedule of international trips.
There is no leadership. And we have been being warned for over 150 years the consequences of burning fossil fuels. Eunice Foote, the discoverer of CO2 as the principle green house gas in 1856 warned of the danger to human life and civilization of its use.


I suppose that in some ways this is quibbling at the edge of the maelstrom, but it seems to me important that we understand that in such cases it is not Nature that hands out damage, but human folly.

To varying degrees, that is true in cases of earthquake, flood, and tsunami, too. Natural forces are what they are and largely have been. They were and are available to human observation, and they respond considerably to human action.

I do not mean to criticize people who have died or whose homes or livelihoods have been lost. These people have overpaid for a far more distributed folly.

Western notions of profit and proprietorship have pushed people into greater risk and into less consideration of natural forces and ecological values in our living and in our work.

Any fire in California today must be in part the product of many decades of abuse–not just the extraction and burning of hydrocarbons for transport and heating and electricity, but also the wholesale destruction of soil and living systems that moderate climate in many ways, the sequestering of carbon in soil and in vegetation being only a couple aspects of that.

To process one’s grief should at some point involve recognizing that grief is not inevitable. Humans can slow and stop water, spread it, sink it, and grow the hills green and lush. We can control grazing herds to enrich land, not denude it. Working over large areas, we can to a significant extent control rainfall and stop the spread of artificial deserts.

None of this means sacrificing some wondrous lifestyle that demands considerable and constant international trade of nearly everything, mostly for nearly no reason. It means taking the energies and qualities of a climate and landscape into account and living within one’s ecological means.

This takes some learning and transition, surely–all the more reason to start now, while many of us are not really in dire emergency.


They could rebuild at Paradise using houses that do not burn (they bake like ceramics, though, so please do not anyone try to wait out the fire inside one).

There are various types. This one won’t burn at all and costs very little past labor and detailing. It also does extremely well in relatively dry climates with a significant difference between day and night-time temperature.

If you wait for perfect candidates that you always agree with, and perfect organizations all of whose activities you think are worthwhile, you will be waiting for a very long time. I know some people who would agree with what you said but in their own life choose to drive when they could walk or take transit. Reality is, all we can do is make the best choices that are available.

To call for reducing fossil fuel mining means to call for less fossil fuel use. Let’s see the Sierra Club practice what it preaches by reducing its use of fossil fuels. James Lovelock in his 2006 book “Revenge of Gaia” puts forth that each individual should limit themselves to no more than one commercial flight in their lifetime. Scott Morton and MP Sharma in their paper “Thermodynamic Considerations in (Human Population) Carrying Capacity” calculated that Earth can sustain 3.8 billion non-fossil fuel using human and as few as 50 million high end fossil fuel users. What future do you want? How do you propose to get there?

" How to Process Climate Grief Over the California Wildfires"

Not sure why some people keep trying to link wildfires to “climate change”.

Data clearly shows that both the number of fires and the burned acreage has been constantly decreasing since record keeping began at the beginning of the 20th century.


Start here:

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That’s pretty cool. Except that the long term trends tell a different story. Looks like this “climate change” is reducing the number as well as the acreage burned by wildfires.

I know, I know. Scientific consensus means nothing to climate deniers, anti-vaxers and religious fundamentalists. I waste my time.

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I don’t know about scientific consensus but i’m looking at the data and it tells a different story.

here’s something from the article you linked to:

" Between 1986 and 2003, wildfires occurred nearly four times as often, burned more than six times the land area, and lasted almost five times as long when compared to the period between 1970 and 1986"

let’s go to our data and we get the following:

1970-1985 no of fires: 2,331,450, acreage burned: 49,769,496

1986-2003 no of fires: 1,378,190, acreage burned: 67,348,597

Looks like no of fires went down and acreage increased by about 35% give or take.

Now we ask ourselves, where does the 4 and 6 times increase come from? digging a little deeper into the article and link looks like the “Concerned Scientists” data only includes forest fires. So the brush fires that burn thru SoCal are not really counted. Plus, it’s only for the western US. " hereafter, “wildfires” refers to large-fire events (>400 ha) within forested areas only"

Talk about lies, damn lies and statistics.

A greater number of smaller fires equaled a lower number of acres burned.
A lesser number of total fires but of larger fires (due to drier conditions) equaled a greater number of acreage burned.


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That’s all you got? Don’t like the numbers, eh?

What is this? A throw-down at a biker bar? I got a lot more science. What I don’t got is time to waste. I could throw out words and numbers like you do, but it wouldn’t influence your “ideas” (I’m being generous). Hence, wasted time. When you have an education and credentials to rival those who practice and publish real science, c’mon back. I’ll be impressed.

That’s how it looks like to me.

Anyway, I showed you how a subset of data was picked and chosen for your article to point to a conclusion that you agree with.

I also pointed out the full dataset and what the conclusion is when looking at that data set. Unfortunately it does not match your beliefs and i can see how that might upset you.

Not upset, Joe! Just in disagreement with you and disinclined to waste time arguing when it amounts to nothing in the long run. Your certainty is unshakeable, right? Hope you have a peaceful rest of your day/week/year/life.