Drought, extreme heat, fires, torrential rains, flash floods, mudslides — these types of events have always been part of California’s climate and weather cycle. The difference now is that these weather events are happening more often, more severely, and with more devastating impacts, both environmental and economic. This is the face of climate change in California and if we don’t curb it now, our children are going to experience more dangerous extreme weather.
Last year was California’s hottest year on record by a long shot. But this year, fires have burned out of control and it’s become one of California’s worst fire years ever — exacerbated by a long drought and extreme temperatures. By mid-September, more than 5,225 fires had been recorded by CAL FIRE in 2015, burning an area of over 217,000 acres, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least 5 people. Extreme heat deaths in urban areas could double or triple by mid-century. Make no mistake, climate change is a killer.
With fires still burning in some parts of the state, in the week of October 19, a tropical weather system from Mexico moved north, dropping rainfall of 4 to 6 inches per hour in the scorched mountains and foothills just north of Los Angeles. The result was catastrophic – torrents of water and walls of mud slid down onto Interstate 5 (I-5), the main artery connecting northern and southern California. Both directions of I-5 and numerous connecting highways in the hills were inundated with mud flows, stranding people in their cars and trucks and necessitating rescue efforts. After 24 hours, both directions of I-5 remained closed, forcing people and trucks to reroute hundreds of miles out of their way.
While we can already quantify the human and environmental costs of these disasters in terms of lives, homes and acres lost, other costs are harder to quantify.
- What will be the long-term effects of these ongoing massive wildfires have on our children’s lungs?
- How much will medical treatments cost?
- What will be the economic impact of the forced closure of California’s main highway for several days, cutting off the lifeline for trucks to transport the bounties from the Central Valley to retailers across the state and beyond?
If we don’t act now, these already far too common occurrences will worsen. Our children’s health and quality of life will be deeply affected. The stakes are clearly way too high for us not to act to combat climate change.