No state has been more visible than California in resisting the environmental policies of President Trump, filing 38 lawsuits by the beginning of this month. Now the state’s massive early fire season is demonstrating the merit of those legal actions.
For every authority analyzing the unprecedented level of early summer blazes here and around the world agrees that one major cause is heat – record heat that has beset almost every place in the world from Switzerland to Hong Kong, from San Francisco to parts of Finland north of the Arctic Circle.
Yes, Finland, where Trump staged his lugubrious July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has seen temperatures in the 90s this year, for the first time in recorded history.
Meanwhile, England sweated through a record heat wave, while Greece saw the deadliest fires in its long history and Europe’s worst since 1900. Several prominent waterfalls in Switzerland fed by Alpine snowmelt stopped flowing months earlier than usual.
And then there’s California, where at one time in July, 19 wildfires burned simultaneously, taking well over 1,000 homes and some lives.
Scientists at the state universities of Colorado, Nebraska and Nevada (Reno) report regional temperature averages in the West have increased by 2 degrees since the 1970s, resulting in drier and more combustible plant growth. At the same time, NASA scientists say this climate change helped kill thousands of trees and bushes in California’s mountains, providing unprecedented amounts of tinder.
Rather than act to help mitigate this crisis, Trump’s administration has taken myriad actions appearing to further it. Trump is trying to roll back automotive emission standards. He’s shrunk several national monuments to make way for mining. The president ended NASA’s climate monitoring program, a head-in-the-sand move that allows him to keep denying climate change. He’s cut programs designed to find new renewable energy sources and shut down instruments on existing satellites that measure heat on the earth’s surface.
He’s loosened regulations on toxic emissions from industrial sources and dropped climate change from the official list of threats to national security.
California is resisting some of that, but its lawsuits are likely just a delaying action ultimately doomed to failure when they reach the U.S. Supreme Court, to which Trump has nominated two judges long opposed to environmental regulations.
That can only help things get worse and hotter before they get cooler and better. But victims of the fires who lose homes and businesses and loved ones will not be able to sue Trump or his appointees for helping cause their woes because it’s difficult to parse out a direct link between, say, enabling toxic emissions in Pennsylvania and the degree of fury in a California fire.
But there is a connection, and virtually every other government in the world besides ours has seen it and agreed to act on it. Even China, long noted for high levels of smog and other pollutants in its cities and countryside.
If climate change could cause cool and foggy San Francisco to see record heat reach 106 over last year’s Labor Day weekend, then it likely also is one reason there is less snow on the Alps and the Canadian Rockies now than 10 years ago and also why it’s difficult to see a glacier anymore from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.
The lesson of all this is that if Trump and the West Virginia coal miners who overwhelmingly voted for him in the last election see no harm in greenhouse gases they are creating and furthering, California has no choice but to resist.
The lawsuits at the heart of such resistance won’t end the far longer fire seasons that have become a regular feature of California life, but they may help the world fend off an even bigger crisis than it faces right now, even if Trump and his many supporters choose to ignore what’s before them daily.
After all, this is a president who exhorted a crowd the other day, “Don’t believe what you see …” It was reminiscent of the joke about the husband, caught in flagrante and denying anything untoward, asking his wife, “Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?”
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org.