Here’s Why California Is Burning

Tracy Barbutes/ZUMA

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In case you’re not interested in 2,000 words on the subject, here’s the tl;dr version:

  1. Climate change has made the weather hotter, which creates lots of dry, brittle undergrowth that makes perfect tinder for wildfires.
  2. In the past, fires settled down a bit at night when temps went down. Now, thanks to higher nighttime temperatures, they just keep spreading.
  3. For the past several decades the timber industry has clear-cut California forests and replaced them with dense new plantings. These new “forests” have no natural firebreaks to stop fires from spreading at warp speed.
  4. The local power company, PG&E, is unusually greedy and has refused to spend the money necessary to clear trees from around its power lines. Every stray spark from a PG&E line is a potential fire starter.

There’s more, including a history of misguided fire suppression policies, but these are the basics. There’s not a lot that can be done about climate change in the short term, but we could certainly stop the clear-cutting; adopt better forest management; and force PG&E to follow the law. That would go a long way toward gradually reducing the fuel load and cutting back on fires started by power lines.

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FACT:

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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