In his first public statement on the wildfires that have ravaged over 150,000 acres in California, President Donald Trump confounded and frustrated many on social media with a tweet blaming California's "bad environmental laws" for the blazes.
While climate scientists in recent weeks have stated that above-average temperatures in the state throughout the summer, driven by the climate crisis, have created conditions in which wildfires have spread rapidly and have been difficult to control, the president spouted out right-wing talking points in response to the disasters.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
"Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn't compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change," Professor LeRoy Westerling, who researches wildfire and climatology at University of California-Merced, told the San Francisco Chronicle in response to Trump's theory.
Alex Hall, a climate scientist at UCLA, told the New York Times that while the causes of wildfires can be complex, sustained high temperatures contribute to their rapid spread.
"What has been really unusual in the Western U.S. this summer has been the sustained heat," Hall told the Times last week. "It really pulls water out of vegetation, and that sets up conditions for big fires."
While many on Twitter saw Trump's latest tweet as a topic for ridicule, Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy called the president's statement "vile, repugnant, and dangerous" in its inaccuracy—especially considering Trump's attempts to undermine climate action that would help to stem the climate crisis.
1. CA does not "divert" an ounce of water into the Pacific. 2. Trump's far-right talking point that CA has not dammed enough of its rivers is another lie. There are no good dam candidates left. 3. Even if pt no. 2 wasn't a lie (don't forget: it is), irrelevant to wildfires.— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) August 5, 2018
"Not enough water in dams" is not why California has wildfires. The reason is shorter, dryer wet seasons, longer, dryer and hotter dry seasons, and timber die-offs due to a combination of drought stress and invasive beetles. So Trump tells two lies to make that "point."— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) August 5, 2018
On "must tree clear!" A massive fire program to reduce the fuel load runs across this vast state runs year round. But it is simply not humanly possible to get on top of this problem given the pace of climate change. That this shit came from the US president is fucking sickening.— Dan Murphy (@bungdan) August 5, 2018
As Murphy mentions, the president appeared to reference an argument made by Republicans about building more dams as a means to reduce the damage of California's droughts. Fourteen Republican lawmakers appealed to the California Water Commission last year to secure funding for a $3 billion dam proposal on the San Joaquin River.
But as science columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote in the Los Angeles Times in May, dam-building has fallen out of favor in the U.S. in recent decades, due to "recognition that dams are expensive, environmentally disastrous, and offer benefits that are frequently oversold and fade away over time."
Additionally, firefighters who have battled the Carr and the Mendocino Complex fires in northern California have not reported a lack of water to fight the blazes.
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.@CAL_FIRE Deputy Chief Scott McLean swings back at Trump after Sunday tweet in which he claimed CA wildfires are exacerbated by “bad environmental laws" that have left firefighters with a shortage of water.— Chris D'Angelo (@c_m_dangelo) August 6, 2018
Statement to HuffPost: pic.twitter.com/uddWQPZB4y
According to Climate Central reporter John Upton, Trump's call to "tree clear" was a likely reference to the logging industry—which the president has sought to help before in his attacks on national monuments.
If you ask the logging industry how to solve an environmental problem, it'll answer, 'More logging.' That's where Trump was coming from with his "tree clear to stop fire spreading" comment.— John Upton (@johnupton) August 6, 2018
The water part of that tweet was unrelated, adapted from @westlands_water talking points.
Hey Mr. Trump:— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) August 5, 2018
These wildfires are being magnified by human-caused climate change
You are attempting to sabotage international efforts to ACT on climate change.
That's a crime against the planet. Add it to the list...