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Since 2000, fifteen of California’s twenty largest wildfires have occurred, and six of the state’s most destructive wildfires have happened just within the last three years. The debate over what has caused these California wildfires has been a highly debated topic, with two very different explanations: climate change or forest mismanagement. Prior to leaving office, President Trump claimed that climate change was a hoax and that forest mismanagement, and a lack of state action was to blame for the California wildfires, even threatening to withhold federal funding for the state. However, the federal government and families are the ones that own and manage most of the state’s forests. Although forest mismanagement does contribute to the creation of California wildfires, scientific evidence shows that climate change is worsening them.
Climate change has played a major role in worsening California’s wildfires. In a report done by the Environmental Protection Agency, they stated that an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a direct result of the increase in temperature in our climate. The combination of rising temperatures and declining rain are likely to increase the severity, frequency, and extent of wildfires. These conditions cause plants and soil to dry out. As a result, businesses suffer due to a decrease in crop supply and dry burned land. On top of the climate becoming dryer and hotter, climate change is causing a shift in the rain pattern in California, leading to more rain in the winter, and less in the summer and spring. A short rainy season essentially causes an extension in the annual wildfire season. With these hot and dry conditions, wildfires have become bigger, spread faster, caused much more damage, and have become very difficult to contain. Climate change is also causing a change in the Santa Ana winds. The Santa Ana winds are powerful, extremely dry downslope winds that form from cool, dry high-pressure air masses and affect coastal Southern California and northern Baja California. The California wildfire season associated with Santa Ana winds has been pushed into the winter months due to the shift in wind patterns. These fires in particular are very expensive due to the speed with which they spread and their closeness to urban areas. According to a study done in 2015, the area burned by Southern California wildfires will rise by 70% in the next 20 years as a result of hotter, dryer, and windier conditions that have been caused by global warming.
In the end, experts believe that human-caused global warming is worsening California wildfires. A study done on the impact climate change had on wildfires found that human-caused global warming has doubled the area burned by wildfires in the western part of the United States in the past 30 years. They believe that the only way to avoid the “effects of climate change” is to ‘slow global warming by transitioning away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible”. The truth is that the more global warming we cause as humanity, the worse the wildfires in California will become.
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