Grab Your Apocalypse Bag — It’s Fire Season in California

Yves here. I must confess to being more complacent than I should regarding fires, thanks to being an urban creature my adult life. For instance, we had an AM fire alarm in my hotel before I had gotten up, and I operated on the assumption that it was a false positive, which proved to be correct. And I could not have walked down one flight, let alone 17, and the method I would have used to get down the fire stairs would have been slower than walking and gotten me trampled on. Not a pretty picture.

A Bill McKibben article in the Guardian (hat tip Wat) argues that the new normal for California = increasingly uninhabitable:

Monday morning dawned smoky across much of California, and it dawned scary – over the weekend winds as high as a hundred miles an hour had whipped wildfires through forests and subdivisions….

Three years in a row feels like – well, it starts to feel like the new, and impossible, normal. That’s what the local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, implied this morning when, in the middle of its account of the inferno, it included the following sentence: the fires had “intensified fears that parts of California had become almost too dangerous to inhabit”. Read that again: the local paper is on record stating that part of the state is now so risky that its citizens might have to leave.

On the one hand, this comes as no real surprise. My most recent book, Falter, centered on the notion that the climate crisis was making large swaths of the world increasingly off-limits to humans. Cities in Asia and the Middle East where the temperature now reaches the upper 120s – levels so high that the human body can’t really cool itself; island nations (and Florida beaches) where each high tide washes through the living room or the streets; Arctic villages relocating because, with sea ice vanished, the ocean erodes the shore.

But California? California was always the world’s idea of paradise (until perhaps the city of that name burned last summer). Hollywood shaped our fantasies of the last century….

Still, it takes a force as great as the climate crisis to really – perhaps finally – tarnish Eden. In the last decade, the state has endured the deepest droughts ever measured, dry spells so intense that more than a hundred million trees died. A hundred million – and the scientists who counted them warned that their carcasses could “produce wildfires on a scale and of an intensity that California has never seen”. The drought has alternated with record downpours that have turned burned-over stretches into massive house-burying mudslides.

One fire preparation tip: Wukchumni, who as readers know hikes a ton, always has these fire hoods in his car or abode, one for each family member. This level of preparation no longer looks like an excess of caution.

By Nathanael Johnson (@savortooth on Twitter), Grist’s senior writer and the author of two books. Originally published at Grist

It’s officially fire season in California. Dry winds rush in from the desert to the east, smoke turns midday to twilight, people hurry from place to place in facemasks, and the electricity goes out.

That’s been the story for the last three years. The risk of wildfires has always been high in the fall when the wind that usually carries cooling fog from the ocean into the interior reverses course. But it has never been so consistently bad. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but behind it all is a warming climate that’s killing trees, drying out brush, and turning bad behaviour into disasters.

Meteorologists predicted the dangerously dry weather a few days in advance, and Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, let customers know that it would be turning off power to guard against windblown branches crashing into power lines. I was visiting my parents in Nevada City, a 3-hour drive east of my home in the Bay Area, when the lights went out on Saturday. The kids delighted at the novelty of it We set jugs of water by the sinks and made our way to bed by lamplight. In the morning, despite protests from the children, my father fired up the noisy generator he had hooked up to his propane tank, so we could do the dishes, cool the refrigerator, and check the news.

In Southern California, people grabbed their “apocalypse bags” of pre-packed necessities and made their way through jammed roads out of harm’s way. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and basketball star LeBron James were among the evacuees. James had to try four hotels before he found one with room for his family.

The search for housing was tougher in Northern California wine country, where evacuations from the Kincade fire have forced some 200,000 people out of their homes. People have been sleeping in churches and fairgrounds. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations from an area stretching from the active fire east of Highway 101 all the way to the Pacific Ocean as 70 mile-per-hour winds whipped the flames to the west. Some of the houses rebuilt since the 2017 fires may burn again. The smoke was dangerously thick in many parts of wine country, but farmworkers were still out picking grapes.

Many of the schools in the Bay Area closed, and those closest to the fire will be shut all week. More than 100,000 students stayed home Monday around Los Angeles. Firefighters worked to contain the Getty Fire in west Los Angeles, in anticipation of the most severe winds so far this year. PG&E expects to cut power to more than half a million customers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, when I surveyed routes for driving home, I found my options were limited. To the west, the Kinkade Fire was swallowing more of wine country. To the east, a handful of small fires were blazing. And in the middle, a wall of fire had engulfed the Carquinez Bridge, closing Interstate 80, our usual path home. We waited for hours. Fortunately, firefighters quickly put out most of the new fires, I-80 reopened, and we slipped home Sunday evening, gawping at smoking black patches on either side of the road.

The winds have calmed here in the Bay Area, but it’s only temporary. The weather is supposed to turn incendiary again by Wednesday. It’s just what Californians have come to expect. After all, it’s fire season.

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79 comments

      1. ambrit

        The politicization of nomenclature.
        A “bug out bag” is supposedly, I am sneeringly told when I mention mine in ‘polite’ company, the sign and symbol of deranged thinking deplorables. So, to rehabilitate the concept for the California disasters, which now threaten the West Coast Lodges of said ‘Polite’ company, we have “Apocalypse Bags.” Just like “Coke” and “New Coke.”
        The elite meme machine could not co-opt the term “bug out bag.” So, the machine spun the concept a bit and renamed it.

        Reply
        1. Wukchumni

          ‘Fuego Bag’ is what I call my get away quick ensemble that includes a fire hood, a fire tent & nomex fireproof clothing.

          Reply
    1. mistah charley, ph.d.

      the editorial cartoonist at the financial times, banx, today shows two people looking at a burning forest – we know it’s california because a sign says so – banx often uses this device of the sign to locate us – one is saying to the other, “on the plus side, sea levels are rising”

      Reply
    2. Ian Ollmann

      Regrettably, what it is is generator mating season. Probably this time next year, the seismic rumblings of the San Andreas will be quite mild compared to the thunder of millions of unregulated home generators turning the sky to brown ooze.

      Reply
  1. Whoamolly

    I live in the Northern California fire area. We have been evacuated four times in the last three years.

    One thing that doesn’t get noticed is the professionalism and skills of the coordinated teams of responders.

    Hundreds of people have to act quickly to keep these fires from becoming true catastrophes.

    Everyone from fire fighters, police, bulldozer operators, tanker pilots, air traffic controllers, animal control officers, to website operators…

    In the Kinkaid fire — burning just over the hill from me — over 200,000 people were evacuated, and 90,000 homes are threatened. So far there have been zero civilian fatalities, and less than a hundred homes burned. The first evacuees are returning home now.

    I would not be surprised to learn that as a result of our yearly fires, we may have one of the best trained, co-ordinated and equipped emergency services in the country. Maybe in the world.

    Reply
    1. Ignacio

      Good to know that those services are so competent. I am wondering if what has been happening in California in the last years will change the view that fires are such a necessary part of the natural cycle, when, you know, the natural cycle has been so modified by human activities and climate change.

      Reply
    2. Carla

      “…we may have one of the best trained, co-ordinated and equipped emergency services in the country. Maybe in the world.” That’s probably true. And they are exhausted. The emergency services in California deserve our greatest admiration — and a break. Unfortunately, there are few signs they will get the latter.

      And in addition to the professional safety forces, there are the incarcerated people who fight the California fires.

      In the Camp and Woolsey fires of 2018, 1,400 prisoners contributed 15% of the firefighting manpower. They are paid $3.00 an hour when fighting “an active fire.” No matter how heroic they are, when they have done their time, it is almost impossible for those with felony convictions to secure jobs as firefighters or EMTs.

      https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2019/feb/4/high-risk-low-pay-california-prisoners-who-fight-fires/

      Reply
    3. coboarts

      After this year we’ll also have the most grid independent citizenry in the techno-industrial world. Thank you PG&E. Unless, of course, our wonderful first responders as mentioned above become the hand of forced relocation out of fire prone areas and into proper zones for human habitation. Gee, looks a lot like that Agenda 21 we were warned about. And with that, what about those directed energy weapons and all those ionospheric heaters around the globe. No tinfoil hat needed.

      Reply
    4. Glen

      When are we going to restart the CCC, and give millions of people good jobs taking care of our forests? Seems like a no brainer to me that we need more of these people.

      And when are we going to take over PG&E and start rebuilding the infrastructure they neglected forever? Seems like another no brainer.

      And when somebody asks how your going to pay for it, call it the war on something or other BS and use the DoD budget.

      Reply
  2. albrt

    The dry parts of California are plenty habitable, just not by the current number of inhabitants, and not in the prevailing form of mile after mile of ranchette suburbs in the overgrown chaparral/woodlands.

    I was in Rancho Cordova last week. The trees growing into the powerlines along the roadway and between the 1 acre former horse properties have a lovely quaint-ish look about them, but the trees are all going to have to be cut to the ground and kept that way if people are going to keep living there.

    Reply
      1. Wyoming

        Hmm…sounds like a Defense Dept project there.

        California has 25,526 miles of higher voltage transmission lines, and 239,557 miles of distribution lines, two-thirds of which are overhead, according to CPUC.

        Average cost to bury is about 3 million/mile.

        That’s 1.2 trillion or so. But that does not count all of the external costs of disruptions, lost business, etc.

        May I have the contract please?

        Reply
        1. Spoofs desu

          “Average cost is 3 million/mile”? I do it for 2.5 million…

          Where do these numbers come from? This kinda stuff and constant blaming the drought (i dont think we are in a drought) is part of throwing our hands up. Why dont we start with pg&e doing there job? Doing what they get paid to do? This has been a well know and well defined problem for decade.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Burying lines is indeed way more expensive than stringing them above ground.

            And the real problem is too many people living in tinder-dry areas, most with no fire break, and even those who have then having them be way less effective due to high winds.

            Reply
            1. Whoamolly

              California probably needs something like a minimum 20 feet “no tree zone” on each side of every overhead power line in the state.

              There is absolutely no reason to permit trees growing directly under power lines, and yet I see it every where in my Northern California county.

              For some reason current weather patterns seem to encourage growth of fast-growing, fire dangerous ‘junk pine’ trees. (Not sure what the botannical name for junk pines. They are ugly, they fall over when fully grown at 60 feet high, and they burn like crazy.)

              Reply
            2. Anon

              The issue of fire-breaks in the the California chaparral landscape is a hot topic. CalFire likes them but ecologists and others say they have proven ineffectual and just extend the suburban disruption further into natural habitat.

              An extensive study of CalFire data on fire safety activity that appears to reduce probability of a home from burning down are: keeping wind-driven embers out of the attic area by using “screens”; “boxing-in” roof overhangs; protecting windows from intense heat (so not to allow interior furnishings (curtains?)) from creating internal fire; and, then the least effective, but most important “defensible space”, is the five to ten feet immediately adjacent to the structure. (The 100′ perimeter requested by CalFire improves firefighter safety, but not the probability of a home not burning down.)

              The study included data on 40,000 structures affected by wildfires in NorCal and SoCal over a 4 year period (2014 – 2018).

              Fires pushed by intense (Diablo/Santa Ana) winds are impossible to control. And even if your home survives you may no longer want to live in the resulting environment.

              Reply
          2. Anonymous

            We tried to do it In our town. Cost came to about $1.2m per mile. Many house owners did not want to participate. Ultimately we could not do anything. It’s one of the top 10 most expensive towns in the US.

            Reply
        2. Glen

          And yet, we’ve spent 6 or 7 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan. In hindsight, burying power lines is a WAY BETTER investment.

          When do I get to use the Patriot Act to declare that the PG&E C suite are terrorists who have sabotaged key American infrastructure and need to go to jail?

          Reply
          1. Wukchumni

            Why don’t we move KBR et al from the ‘Stanbox and have them be in charge of the power here?

            …yeah that’s the ticket

            Reply
            1. Glen

              I’d push for another BPA type effort myself. Or call it a GND .

              Personally, I’d put the people running KBR in the same prison as the PG&E leaders.

              Reply
  3. The Rev Kev

    Something tells me that what is happening in California will be part of the new normal. Having a bug-out bag will be considered normal now. I know that what I am about to say is late in the game but I think that it should be something to consider when this year’s fire season is over.
    Too many times I have seen in both Oz and the US people that have lost their homes which is terrible enough. But when interviewed a lot of people go on to say that they have lost all their films and photographs of their kids and their families which can never be retrieved or replaced. I nearly found this out myself when we were debating if we had to evacuate our home during some big time floods and I realized that my photo albums filled up two wash-baskets.
    That is why I recommend having an external hard-drive. Plug it into your computer and copy every foto that you have on it onto it. If you still have paper fotos, then scan them onto your computer and then onto your external hard-drive. I had a coupla thousand paper fotos which took me several months to do. You will not be sorry. If you have to leave your house, you can put that HD into your pocket and are good to go. If you want to play it safe, have a second one that you can keep at a relative’s place. A house can always be rebuilt but you will never get that foto of your parents from say, the 1950s ever again.

    Reply
  4. Wukchumni

    All quiet on the eastern front, too quiet really. Not much in the way of wind or smoke, and the gates to Mineral King are now locked up till a week before Memorial Day, although i’m never out of the woods, i’m surrounded by them.

    No chance of rain in the 10 day forecast, not untypical in our May to November divorce settlement from falling translucent water, and once it comes everything greens up and if you weedwhacked, the areas cut tend to look like an expansive lawn for a month or so until the wildgrass gets unruly on its way to 3 or 4 feet tall, auditioning for next year’s possible conflagration.

    Every annum fire doesn’t come calling yields another winter-spring of clearing out an increasingly smaller amount of tree parts, ladder fuels & the like. We’re still covered for fire et al on our insurance policies, but you wonder when the axe comes down in a politely written letter that informs that you are deemed too dangerous, sorry we had to slit our risks.

    Reply
    1. Shonde

      One of the many reasons I left San Diego County last year and moved to Minnesota was insurance. I never got a cancellation notice because I had an old policy with a guaranteed renewal. My premium however did triple. My neighbors got the dreaded letters but did manage to find new coverage at sharply increased rates. This happened after the major entrances to our subdivision were reclassified by Cal Fire to be severe fire risks. That plus homeless suddenly deciding that parking overnight in our area since it was considered very safe told me if I wanted a decent price for my house to help cover my old age needs, it was time to leave. I still miss my morning coffee on my patio 365 days a year.

      Reply
      1. Wyoming

        Well if you tire of the snow and cold and want to recover most of what you gave up leaving San Diego you could come to AZ. Half the new neighbors here in the lower AZ mountains where I live are from southern CA. It is perhaps not as cheap as MN (I have no idea what costs are there) but it is about 1/2 the price of living in CA. If you avoid the Valley (Phoenix, etc) and such places which are hot like Palm Springs as well as the high country (Flagstaff) where they have real winter you can find really nice climates (not as nice as San Diego of course). Or many have 2 houses here – 1 high and 1 low and move with the seasons.

        Reply
      2. False Solace

        In MN we actually try to shelter our homeless. If we tried to ignore them they literally die of cold in winter.

        Reply
  5. dearieme

    The attempt to link this problem to the Repent and Atone or You Will All Burn in Hell school of climate change preachers is ill advised. Decent weather records for California go back for less than 200 years. In so far as you can tell using tree rings, however, drought was much commoner in California in the centuries before Americans turned up. In other words the last century and a half has been unusually wet and therefore, when the woodland has been well managed, unusually unaccommodating to wild fires.

    If you combine the possibility of the return of lengthy droughts with the new penchant for living in the woods, however combustible, while failing to manage those woods intelligently, then of course you face heightened dangers. California also suffers plenty of other dangers brought on by population growth and Green action to prevent the construction of more water storage – dams – and to prevent the better use of the water available. Perhaps in the long term those will prove more important.

    I can see the objections to dams in a land prone to earthquakes but I can’t see how California is inhabitable without using dams. If you choose to live in semi-desert, which is what a large part of the population does, there are necessary consequences.

    Faites vos jeux.

    Reply
    1. scarn

      Yes, it appears that my state was drier before 1800.

      We don’t need more water to fight fire or prevent fire. We already have overcapacity of water storage for our population. The water is used by capitalist agricultural latifundia to grow water-hungry crops we don’t even consume. The big capitalist farmer interests have destroyed their aquifers, poisoned the air, and they are the ones spreading nonsense about needing more dams. If we tame these monsters, our water problems disappears. These water problems are not the result of population growth and attempts by the people here to have a voice in what is done to the natural world they inhabit. The water problems exist because capitalist greed contradicts human living.

      This state burns and has always burned. Before settlers arrived, natives burned purposefully. They did that to attempt to manage the natural fire regime, to modify land for gathering, and to increase game. A sensible state policy would be to follow their example and perform more controlled burns, more small timber extraction where practicable, and build many more firebreaks in our sage scrubs and chapparal. There are wide tracts of wilderness where this would not need to be done, and the natural regime could be allowed to run its course.

      Where population growth is a “problem” is not water, but sprawl and the construction of cheap and bad infrastructure. That is something that must be tamed, or the sprawl and cheap and bad infrastructure will simply burn up again and again and again…

      Reply
      1. dearieme

        My reference to water was based on the assumption that you’d like your industries to thrive, including agriculture. If you want to abolish agriculture then indeed you’ll need less water.

        Reply
      2. Danny

        Controlled slow burns in the wet season are a way to control summer forest and brush fires.

        However, every time this is proposed, the wails of anguish from the wineries worried about wine tastings being affected, or the real estate ladies moaning about their house opening being spoiled, plus that nasty ash on their white Mercedes SUVs, usually forestalls the burns.

        Mandatory brush cleaning and controlled burns would go a long way toward limiting the dangers of dry season fires. The first is in effect. The second would also help the ecosystem.

        Reply
    2. Carolinian

      The book Cadillac Desert has been mentioned here many times but the Real Estate industry conquest of the West was always on shaky ground environmentally. It turns out there’s a price to be paid for those endlessly sunny skies. Of course California could just cut down all the trees and turn itself into Scotland–problem solved. Doubtless there are many in the Trump administration who see that as a fine idea.

      All of which is to say it’s not just about AGW. Reisner in Cadillac Desert talks about how the West has always been subject to climate cycles as many hapless and deceived pioneers found out.

      Reply
      1. Wukchumni

        Was looking at a cross-cut section of a fallen 2,000 year old Giant Sequoia a couple weeks ago, and you can easily make out the 200 & 125 year long droughts that occurred around 1,000 AD +/-.

        Add in flooding events on a biblical scale that seem to come every 200 or 400 years, and yeah, we know nothing about the state from an experience standpoint as to what can really happen.

        If our recent 6 year drought had gone just a few more years, the state would’ve started emptying out.

        Reply
          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            And two hundred years before that, the Anasazi disappeared as well. I think we still debate or search for the reasons why.

            Reply
      2. dearieme

        I suspect that California would have difficulty turning itself into sub-arctic tundra.

        When we lived in Australia there was tension between people who thought critically about how best to avoid devastation by bush fires and those people who used their feelings instead of their brains. I’m out of touch with Oz these days, but the general trend in The West has been the rise of “feelz” as dominant motivations. The pitiless universe gives not a hoot for our feelings.

        My guess is that albrt is right: The trees growing into the powerlines … are all going to have to be cut to the ground and kept that way if people are going to keep living there.

        Reply
        1. Titus

          Let’s start with: “In so far as you can tell using tree rings”, being scientific one needs to compare these rings to others made world-wide and more importantly to ice cores. Has this been done, yes. Are there databases for this info? Yes. Have I read the published papers – yes. Unfortunately, what went on in California’s past is not relevant now due to CO2 @418 (in the northern hemisphere, on is averaging 427). Or any carbon gas reaching the atmosphere or interacting with the ocean. Everything in the past (given a few years here and there) was in an environment of 250 @CO2. What does increased CO2 do, given space restrictions, I’ll name just a few: increased water vapor, increased night time temperatures, and increased occurrences of polar. vortex, and very rapid +7C to + 13C increases in temperature in time spans of 20-30 years.

          Meaning what? Meaning, one should expect in season of the year, very intense, and very abrupt weather, with all the worst combinations occurring. The long term outlook is for that kind of weather to get worse. California winters will be very wet, in spring things will grow, but by summer thru winter it’s all drought. And these winds which are caused by high pressure areas (in turn caused by a collapsing jet stream, in turn caused by +9C arctic temps) in the plains, with low pressure off the California coast (caused by blog of warm water in turn caused by warm air) will cause these huge fire storms. That isnt in the tree ring record, because the trees have not lived long enough to record this pattern, but they are in the ice cores. CO2@ 250 is an average pre-industrial, it does not hold true for the last 20k years nor for every place on the the earth. At some places and for some times CO2 and methane shot-up very high. I’d point out there are places now where CO2 is 470.

          Reply
          1. Wukchumni

            Imagine a drought that lasted so long that Fallen Leaf Lake near Lake Tahoe, emptied out and trees grew to as tall as 100 feet before the lake filled again, and now said trees are 100 feet under the lake’s surface, still standing upright.

            https://www.hcn.org/issues/44.22/underwater-forest-reveals-the-story-of-a-historic-megadrought

            The evidence of shape-shifting climate in the state is all over the place, you just to look for it.

            The Santa Barbara Channel holds perfect records of past floods for many millennia, for instance.

            Reply
          2. Kilgore Trout

            +1. Thanks for the post. The “new normal” is likely to be steadily worsening conditions almost everywhere. The likelihood of Increased methane releases from melting tundra will only worsen the situation, which is why many climate scientists argue we only have 10-15 years before a true tipping point is reached and heating of the planet goes over 3C degrees before 2100.

            Reply
  6. David in Santa Cruz

    Historical Growth of California Population by U.S. Census*

    Census Pop. %±
    * 1850 92,597 —
    * 1860 379,994 +310.4%
    * 1870 560,247 +47.4%
    * 1880 864,694 +54.3%
    * 1890 1,213,398 +40.3%
    * 1900 1,485,053 +22.4%
    * 1910 2,377,549 +60.1%
    * 1920 3,426,861 +44.1%
    * 1930 5,677,251 +65.7%
    * 1940 6,907,387 +21.7%
    * 1950 10,586,223 +53.3%
    * 1960 15,717,204 +48.5%
    * 1970 19,953,134 +27.0%
    * 1980 23,667,902 +18.6%
    * 1990 29,760,021 +25.7%
    * 2000 33,871,648 +13.8%
    * 2010 37,253,956 +10.0%
    * 2015 42,370,899 *CA DoF est.

    Figure it out, people. Stop breeding!

    Reply
    1. Dirk77

      It’s all due to immigration. But Gov. Gray Davis said many years ago that the engine that powers California is not Silicon Valley and such, but population growth. This may be me getting old, but it’s looking probable that this ponzi scheme will kill us all.

      Reply
    2. anon in so cal

      Beat me to it.

      California’s population is currently almost 40 million, racing toward 50 million.

      California is becoming “increasingly uninhabitable” because surface streets and freeways are gridlocked, every last square foot of open space is being developed.

      “Over the last forty years, more than 20 million people moved to California. That’s right, California’s population has doubled, from 20 million to nearly 40 million in just the last forty years. And that rapid pace of population growth has put major strains on California. More population growth has meant more pollution, more degradation of our environmental treasures, more traffic, overcrowded schools, higher taxes, longer waits at emergency rooms, even more job competition.”

      —from Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) website

      Reply
      1. scarn

        CAPS is Garret Hardin’s far-right org. Truly awful people who are right on the edge of white nationalism. My Bircher grandparents loved them.

        Reply
        1. Danny

          Are their numbers fake? Is the data they use not real?
          Scarn, it’s attitudes like that which got Trump elected.

          “Global warming is a right wing plot, therefore we can ignore it.”

          Reply
          1. scarn

            Friend, Trump was elected because neo-liberals are as monstrous as anything the right can produce, because identity politics for white people are at least as effective as identity politics for non-white people, because he presents a (bad but at least it exists) critique of the current order, and because he is funny. He was not elected because of people who recognize white supremacists as white supremacists.

            Their numbers are probably not fake, their data is probably real. The rest is political blather. Everything in the quote above after “has meant” is unproven and questionable. There are lots of processes that create outcomes, inputs and feedback in capitalism, and immigration and population growth is just one. It’s fairly trivial to model a system of fifty million people in a geography as large as California running in a system that doesn’t create “more pollution, more degradation of our environmental treasures, more traffic, overcrowded schools, higher taxes, longer waits at emergency rooms, even more job competition” if the variables that allow for those outcomes aren’t present. Sure, population size within the system we have now exerts pressure on all of these vectors, but as a variable it is not comparable in power with capital investment or labor time allocation or even just environmental rule sets.

            Beyond a lack of systemic critique available to a focus on human population are the ethical concerns. I made a tongue in cheek comment elsewhere on this thread that called for the expulsion of every Californian over the age of 55. That’s the vector of this sort of moral thinking, in my opinion. It swings real close to the naked exercise of mass power: your existence is my problem, so my solution is for you not to exist. That ain’t a good look, brother.

            Honestly, for all my criticisms here, I do support much stronger immigration rules *at this point in time* because the immigration process under imperialist capitalism is imo a form of super exploitation and horrific violence on nations to our south, plus an easy valve for wage suppression in lots of industries, plus a socket for foreign capital to start to get in on the big US capitalism scam here (literally 90% of homes sold in the last 3 years in my neighborhood have gone to PRC nationals). We need to combine those tight immigration rules with a hardline on domestic industry using overseas labor, and our own capitalists’ massive exploitation of peasant labour in Mexico and beyond. You probably have similar-ish reasons of your own. But for all that, we need to be LOUD about condemning eugenicist, white-power people like those at CAPS who have no interest whatsoever in revolutionizing capitalism so it works better for everyone on the planet, and just want to build a lifeboat for white people.

            Reply
        2. anon in so cal

          Did not know that. Was just looking quickly.

          But does that invalidate the information?

          I think it’s a variant of the ad hominum fallacy to denounce information on the basis of who it is who provides it.

          Reply
          1. scarn

            Right, I meant the comment as informational. I couldn’t say if their stats are real or not. I assume they are, within the boundaries of their political biases. SPLC might have more on that. I didn’t intend an ad hominem. However, in my opinion, if you find yourself in agreement with a front for eugenicists and white nationalists, you should probably re-examine your opinions with some serious vigor.

            Personally, I think the focus on population as a problem is philosophically “anti-humanist”, fraught with ethical problems, and at odds with any useful socio-economic analysis because it doesn’t get to the root of why immigration happens in global capitalism. Population increase is sometimes good for a society, sometimes not, but it isn’t the cause of any single problem California faces. In our state everyone knows that the immigration debate is about race, but a left critique has to go far beyond that and look for why a subset of the working class (of a certain race) are encouraged to be in California, and how it is THAT which causes the population increase / environmental issues / union busting. And then it needs to build solidarity with that racialized subset of the working class, within that context, and across both sides of any border. Short of that, it’s just people saying “well I got mine!”

            Reply
    3. KM in California

      California’s birth rate has fallen to 11.7 per 1,000 people. Birth rates usually pick up after a recession, but California’s hasn’t yet.”

      As other commenters have noted, California’s population increase is from immigration. California doesn’t want to lose its large portion of Congressional House members. Population = Money and Power.

      Census data is used to apportion the number of House members to which each state is entitled every 10 years. Congressional seats equal more power, and California holds 53 of the 435 seats. Census data also determines the population figures that in turn help determine the distribution of federal funding. A higher population generally means more federal money for a state.”

      Reply
      1. Kilgore Trout

        Still waiting for Dem politicians to acknowledge that our actions in Uncle Sam’s backyard are the reason for migration to the US from Central America. Honduras coup under Obama/Biden/Clinton was only most recent “successful” intervention there. The immiseration of C.A. due to drug cartels, export-driven ag. economies, and corrupt oligarchy drives migration to USA, fueling backlash, driving down wages thanks to abundant cheap labor supply. Neo-liberal feedback loop resulting in race to the bottom for all. We need a GND for the hemisphere to undo what our betters have wrought: we must have a sustainable nations initiative.

        Reply
    4. JBird4049

      That census misses the then still surviving native Californians of which there about 150,000 or about half of the original pre-Spanish population. Strange that. It’s like the Americans didn’t consider them human beings.

      After 1850, the population decreased to 30,000. Anyways there are several books on the subject. One of which recently got good reviews. None of them I want to read as it describes my state’s own mini-Armenian Genocide.

      Reply
        1. JBird4049

          Certainly, the majority of natives were killed by disease instead of violence especially when the Spanish first colonized California; when the American 49’ers took over California, many decided to help nature to finish the job. So the native population was 300,000 when the Spanish arrived in numbers. IIRC, eighty years later, there was still 150,000 people in 1849 despite the epidemics. Less than forty years later it 30,000.

          Yes, like with the Conquistadors, most of the immediate deaths was caused by disease, but unlike them, the Americans had hunting parties trying to exterminate the tens of thousands of people left. Fortunately, it didn’t work and revulsion at, and the re-establishment of the rule of law against, prevented it. And the fact that hundreds of thousands of people died of disease does not mitigate the crime of the deliberate murder of tens of thousands of people.

          Reply
          1. Anon

            Yes, the slaughter of California natives is documented with glee by the newspapers of the day. Just this year California Governor Newsom officially apologized to their ancestors still living today. Unfortunately, returning ancestral lands is in the hands of the federal government.

            Reply
    5. scarn

      If we are gonna do the malthusian thing, I have a counter proposal. Instead of blaming people for making the very natural choice of having kids, let’s blame the olds. We make everyone over 55 leave, die, whatever – the important thing is they get gone. That’s like 20% of the population, gone for good! Plus, they bear the most responsibility for circumstances in the State as they have been around the longest. It’s only right that they take one for the team. See ya later boomers!

      Reply
  7. chuck roast

    Mike Davis wrote about this years ago in City of Quartz. If I remember correctly he described southern Cali as having a Mediterranean Ecological Cycle – torrential rains, drought, cataclysmic fires – wash, rinse, repeat. And the occasional monster earthquake. Davis was ripe for attack by a wide assortment of boosters and obscurantists because, you know, he was just a schmuck ex-truck driver. There was such a concerted effort to debunk the book that every one of his myriad references was checked. Apparently it was determined that one of his references was just partially correct.

    Required reading.

    Reply
    1. Anthony G Stegman

      Joel Kotkin is one of those who thinks suburban and ex-urban sprawl is a birthright of everyone. He gets lots of press. California should build more freeways, roads, and sprawling housing developments, according to Kotkin.

      Reply
  8. Wukchumni

    A funny thing about fire prone areas, is that’s where the Native Americans lived-as water is a given here, not so much in what was SD/OC/LA/SF. The population density of the Yokut subtribes here in the Sierra foothills largely, was among the highest population densities of all Native American communities.

    The fire threat to them wasn’t their structures, it was to oak trees, as acorns made up 2/3rds of their diet.

    You wonder just when they figured out how to live with fire, by setting fire to the understory late every fall (around now) without fail?

    Reply
  9. Tim

    I live a mile from the 2007 Witch Creek fire path in SoCal.

    Fires have always been a significant problem in CA. Saying “large areas” are now suddenly “uninhabitable” is little over the top. It has always been and will continue to be habitable with a caveat of needing to have fire break and minimized human sources of fire starters. Let the buyer beware. Ignorance of people populating these areas needs to be eliminated, not housing. Do what it takes to protect the investment and lives proactively.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      Family lives in Rancho Bernado, and my BIL was taking me on a walk of the neighborhood around 2011, showing me where new homes were built which replaced those taken out by the Witch Fire.

      The capriciousness of a conflagration being what it is, you’d see 3 new homes next to 5 older ones, next to 4 new homes, all in the path of destruction, but somehow the ones in the middle didn’t burn to the ground.

      Reply
  10. Tim

    Cal also doesn’t have Blizzards, or massive storms (Tornado warnings) and hurricanes that displace people, shut down commerce and schools like other areas. We have “Fire Days” instead. I don’t hear people saying those other areas are uninhabitable, even though you may literally die if you go outside unprotected during their occurrence for even a short period of time.

    Pick your poison.

    Reply
  11. ewmayer

    First thing I did after power+internet came back on – after nearly 72 hours of outage – Tuesday afternoon in my part of Marin – which is low-lying and nowhere near any of the current fires, and as late as Saturday afternoon was not scheduled for pre-emptive shutoff as per the PG&E website – was order a solar-panel-rechargeable small battery backup for my apartment (no place to put a small gas generator, and I like the solar aspect):

    https://www.amazon.com/Jackery-Portable-Power-Station-Generator/dp/B07D29QNMJ

    https://www.amazon.com/Jackery-SolarSaga-Explorer-Portable-Generator/dp/B07PGS2WN8

    I’m tempted to send PG&E a billing notice for these by way of sarcastic commentary, but I doubt it would get into the hands of the folks there who need to see it the most.

    My fear is that now that PG&E have conditioned the populace to the “every time the wind blows, we shut off the power” regime, it really will become the new normal, and will give the PG&E execs and CA pols another excuse to delay the direly needed massive statewide grid overhaul, which must include burying lines where feasible. And of course we the ratepayers, having had the part of our utility payments which should have been going to maintenance, tree-trimming, grid modernization and the like for decades now skimmed off by the criminals running PG&E and its ilk, will once again be asked to cough up the $. While neoliberal scum like Governor I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shirt Newsom implement more “market-based solutions” like the one seen in yesterday’s 2pmwc, where Newson suggested the likes of Berkshire Hathaway buy PG&E. And do what – turn it into the Clayton Homes™ of state power utilities?

    Reply
    1. jrs

      People probably wonder why people vote for people like Newsom for governor, as if anyone good was running, two sleazy Dem philanderers mostly. The choices were bad and I don’t think most were happy with them. Don’t blame me I voted for the Dem Treasurer guy. And I know Dems in CA who voted for the Republican in the general as well. It’s always ill-advised to vote Republican. But yea, it was pretty demoralizing.

      Reply
    2. smoker

      Governor I’m-too-sexy-for-my-shirt Newsom

      Indeed. That brought this August 2004 piece to mind ‘New Kennedys’ or not, focus is on city’s first couple:

      At work or at play, seriously vertical or languidly horizontal — fetchingly sprawled on Ann Getty’s well-vacuumed rug — Mayor Gavin Newsom and Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom look polished as heck in “The New Kennedys,” a spread in the September issue of Harper’s Bazaar, mainly shot at the Gettys’ house.

      to out of staters: yes, Gavin’s been being groomed for quite the while by elite San Franciscans, among others; yes those Gettys; yes that Republican, Kimberly; and yes those Kennedys as the comparison.

      Reply
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  12. Kevin

    A focus on pollution of bodies of water, the air, and the water table (by fracking) is very important. Anthropocentric climate change is a hot topic that swells animosity, which is strange when you realize the motivation for it is ostensibly to benefit everyone. Still, it is a topic that ought to be thoroughly understood (prior to irreversible action) since it has become a deciding factor for majorly impactful policy initiatives. It’s important to note that green solutions like ethanol, wind mills, electric cars, and solar, are not actually “green.” They entail the use of fossil fuels to manufacture, maintain, and distribute, the components and infrastructure. The costs of decommissioning a wind mill are surprisingly high. Wind mills also kill birds and destroy the landscape, which of course fossil fuels do as well, but it’s something not often brought into the equation. Most of them, certainly ethanol, have been proven to be far less efficient than fossil fuel. The use of fossil fuel in those systems is not insignificant. Personally, I’ve always hated fossil fuels. I believe there are viable alternatives in the scalar energy field, but that’s a whole other heated topic and it would require a serious development initiative and the ability to block the government and corporations from defeating such technology before it is made public.

    “The statement fell short of denying that Ms. Crockford’s dismissal was linked to her polar bear scholarship, which almost single-handedly blew up the climate change movement’s promotion of the bears as iconic victims of anthropogenic global warming.” -https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/oct/20/susan-crockford-fired-after-finding-polar-bears-th/

    Alternative views with solid evidence are worth perusing. See more here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYoOcaqCzxo

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEWoPzaDmOA

    Also, I’ve lived in California for 20 some years and very dry conditions are normal for late September and October. In fact, it’s been wetter (with the exception of the drought year of 2015) in the past few years than previously. Personally I feel that Climate Change (anthropogenic primarily) is a convenient excuse for governments and Corporations whose neglect of infrastructure and common decency has created seriously dangerous situations not only for fire, but for health of body and mind for everyone, especially in California. Most Californians I hear from and speak with are certain that PG&E’s (criminal?) negligence in failing to maintain their infrastructure is the primary cause of the risk of fires that has forced us to struggle without electric power, even in areas like mine where for the entire month of October we’ve had but one brief several hour period of winds just strong enough to snuff a candle. The rest of the time, we were without power, no hot water, no cooking, no heat, struggling to keep a generator going and manage daily affairs without the normal availability of electricity, and there were no uncommon autumn conditions here in the foothills.

    Reply
  13. Tom Stone

    It’s nice to be home, and have the power back on.

    The economic ramifications of the Kincade fire will be different than the 2017 fires in Sonoma County.

    Emotionally, a lot of people considered the 2017 fires a “One off” event and that has changed.
    In 2017 there were a lot of escrows that had to be unwound because homes were no longer there or they were badly smoke damaged.
    And prices went through the roof, both rents and purchase prices.
    We didn’t see many escrows being cancelled in areas not affected by the fires,this time we are.
    I don’t have any kind of firm numbers and won’t for a week or two, however more than a dozen escrows totaling a bit more than $15MM have been cancelled at my office.
    Quite a few of these buyers will stay in California and will likely buy in another County that is just as prone to wildfires…
    Because Sonoma County = Wildfires.
    Lower prices are on the way, soon.
    Marin comes to mind, the place where sudden oak death syndrome was first discovered in California.
    The fuel load is staggering, and I’m willing to bet that the death toll when it burns will outdo the Camp fire handily.

    Reply

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