- The Democratic governor’s statement seemed to be a determined retort to California critics.
SACRAMENTO — As California battles another round of life-threatening wildfires, Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized Tuesday that the state will continue to pursue policies that combat climate change as it faces a prolonged vortex of disasters.
Multiple fires erupted over the holiday weekend, including one south of Yosemite National Park that forced dramatic military helicopter rescues and another in Southern California that drew international attention because its suspected cause was a pregnancy gender reveal ceremony. The new round of blazes have forced millions of residents in the nation’s most populous state back indoors due to unhealthy air, all in the midst of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, strong gusts prompted California’s largest utility overnight to preemptively cut power overnight to at least 540,000 people in an effort to stop vulnerable electric lines from sparking deadly conflagrations as they have in previous years. Late summer heat waves continue to tax the state’s electrical grid and threaten rolling blackouts; the Southern California suburb of Woodland Hills hit 121 degrees on Sunday — the highest recorded mark ever for Los Angeles County.
All told, wildfires have burned 2.3 million acres this year in the parched state — an 1,800-plus percent increase compared to the acres scorched through the same period last year.
“I say this lovingly — not as an ideologue, but as someone who prides himself on being open to argument, interested in evidence — but I quite literally have no patience for climate change deniers,” Newsom said. “It’s completely inconsistent, that point of view, with the reality on the ground, the facts as we are experiencing. You may not believe it intellectually, but your own eyes, your own experiences tell a different story.”
The Democratic governor’s statement seemed to be a determined retort to California critics — President Donald Trump chief among them — who have blamed the state’s power outages on its aggressive push to eliminate fossil fuels. Trump and others have likewise suggested the state’s environmental protections have deterred tree removal and other steps to prevent forest fires.
Newsom, along with climate experts, instead say that California is suffering from unusual weather cycles caused by global warming. California’s blazes have reached a crisis level weeks before the typical peak of wildfire season in October and November.
“All these things are connected. This is a challenging time,” Newsom told reporters Tuesday. “But we’re up to this challenge, and we are committed and resolved, not only to deal with this situationally, but to sustainably address these issues across the spectrum from energy to the issues of wildfires.”
Newsom’s remarks came as California battles 900-plus fires that started last month, many of which were ignited by abnormal lightning storms. More than 42,000 people have been evacuated across the state as almost 14,000 firefighters are on the ground. Eight residents have been killed by the blazes, and at least 3,400 buildings have been destroyed.
The holiday weekend saw dramatic helicopter rescues of more than 200 people from a reservoir and nearby outdoor sites in Fresno County after a wildfire exploded in size, trapping campers, hikers and boaters.
The fires have burned as California confronts twin electricity crises. Last month saw the first rolling blackouts in 19 years as state grid operators ordered utilities to cut power to residents as air conditioning usage exceeded available energy supply during a record heat wave across the West. Newsom has ordered California’s energy authorities to probe the outages, saying Tuesday that they will produce an update by the end of the month.
State officials say voluntary customer conservation, spurred in part by the governor’s office, resulted in further blackouts from occurring not just last month but also over the Labor Day holiday weekend, which saw similarly oppressive weather. Los Angeles County logged its highest-ever recorded temperature of 121 degrees on Sunday, just one degree shy of the infamously hot Death Valley’s weekend high of 122 degrees over the weekend.
But the conditions exacerbated by climate change have not let up. High winds prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to preemptively cut power to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Californians to stop gusts from blowing bone-dry vegetation into decaying electric infrastructure. The utility, which earlier this year exited a bankruptcy caused by $30 billion in wildfire liabilities, has been criticized not just for the blazes that its equipment has sparked in recent years, but for last fall’s proactive power shutoffs that critics said were heavy-handed.
Newsom said Tuesday that shutoff notifications by PG&E and other utilities have improved since last fall’s bungling, and that his agency appointees continue to oversee utilities as they strengthen their systems and comply with the state’s ambitious emissions reduction targets.
“Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation, sense of purpose, to continue to lead and maintain California’s status internationally, not just nationally, in terms of addressing the issue of climate change head-on,” he said. “I just want folks to know that resolve is resonant with this administration. … Some of what we predicted, which people felt was extreme at the time, has now presented itself much earlier.”
Source: Colby Bermel, Politico