Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.


Flames from the Carr Fire burn through trees and a road sign along a highway near Whiskeytown, California on July 27, 2018. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

'Climate Change...In Real Time': California's Frightening Fires Are the Nightmare Scientists Long Predicted

Wildfires ravaging the state have "spawned bizarre pyrotechnics, from firenados to towering pyrocumulus clouds that evoke a nuclear detonation."

Jessica Corbett

As deadly wildfires continue to rage in California—destroying hundreds of homes, threatening thousands more, and forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate—experts believe the blazes are part of "the new reality" that climate scientists have warned about for decades.

"This past month shows climate change for real and in real time," The Fresno Bee declared in an editorial published Monday.

The ferocious California fires, the Guardian reports, have "spawned bizarre pyrotechnics, from firenados to towering pyrocumulus clouds that evoke a nuclear detonation. These events are not aberrations, say experts. They are California's future."

"Scientists have been warning that the atmospheric buildup of man-made greenhouse gas would eventually be an existential threat. It is sobering to witness how swiftly that prediction has come true."
The Fresno Bee

"More acres are burning," Michael Wehner, a senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told the newspaper. "That is almost certainly due to climate change."

Anthony LeRoy Westerling, a professor at the University of California, Merced, added that "climate change is continuing to unfold," and "the impacts from it will probably accelerate."

California is far from alone in its current struggle to rein in a hot, fiery crisis; in recent weeks, experts have sounded alarms about heat waves and wildfires across the globe, linking the extreme weather to the warming climate.

"Scientists have been warning that the atmospheric buildup of man-made greenhouse gas would eventually be an existential threat," noted The Fresno Bee. "It is sobering to witness how swiftly that prediction has come true, from the lethal heat wave gripping Japan to the record temperatures in Europe to the flames exploding near the Arctic Circle."

As Common Dreams reported Friday, amid record-breaking temperatures worldwide, an analysis by international scientists found that the "unprecedented" heat wave which has swept across Europe and fueled dozens of fires in Sweden was made more than twice as likely by climate change.

"What was once regarded as unusually warm weather will become commonplace," concluded one European researcher, "and in some cases, it already has."

In California, as The Fresno Bee warned, "summer has been a death march and August's heat is just about to start."

The current wildfires are just the latest in a series of "explosive" blazes California has experienced in recent years. Just last December, the state saw a "once-in-a-generation" firestorm that ravaged an area about six times the size of Manhattan and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.

And as anthropogenic global warming has generated a "new era of western wildfires" that are harder to control, experts have warned that traditional firefighting methods are inadequate.

"If this is the new normal for wildfires, then California must do better. But prevention is only part of the equation," The Fresno Bee continued. "California must plan now for these and other aspects of global warming, as more of the state becomes too hot, too dry, or too fire- or flood-prone to safely live in, and as more of the world braces for the era of climate refugees."

Many argue that in addition to improving wildfire management and emergency response tactics, preparing for the future means ramping up efforts to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming.

In a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown—a Democrat known for taking bold climate action but also, in some cases, not going far enough—five Nobel Peace Laureates acknowledged the "devastating" fires and called for the state "to become the first major fossil fuel producer to begin a managed and just transition off oil and gas production, in turn protecting the climate, citizens on the front lines of extraction, and setting a new direction for global climate action."

"As climate change creates its own weather," Oil Change International's Andy Rowell wrote Monday, "how many more people have to die, how many of our children do we have to bury, or how many brave firefighters put their lives in danger, before society acts decisively?"

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA's Environmental Justice Office 'Won't Make Up for' Manchin Deal, Campaigner Says

"We've seen a lot of structural changes on environmental justice in the Biden, Obama and Clinton administrations, but we need to see the results," said Wes Gobar of the Movement for Black Lives.

Julia Conley ·

Historic Tropical Storm Fiona Sweeps Homes Into Ocean in Eastern Canada

"Climate change leads to warmer ocean water at higher latitudes," said one Canadian civil engineering professor. "A warmer future increases the probability that more intense storms will reach Canadian coasts."

Julia Conley ·

Federal Judge Allows 'Untenable' Plan to Send Juvenile Inmates to Angola Prison

"The move defies all common sense and best practices, and it will cause irrevocable damage to our youth and families," said one children's advocate.

Julia Conley ·

'Catastrophic': Arizona Judge Allows 1864 Abortion Ban to Go Into Effect

"No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom," said one rights advocate.

Julia Conley ·

US Progressives Express Solidarity With Iranian Protesters After Death of Mahsa Amini

"The right to choose belongs to us all, from hijabs to reproductive care," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo