Outside the window of my Oakland office, instead of seeing the East Bay hills, I see smoke. The acrid smell clings in the air, even inside this large office building. It is difficult to take a deep breath and my eyes are watering. Yet, I am extraordinarily lucky. Oakland is more than 40 miles from Napa and Sonoma counties, which have been ravaged by some of the most intense fires in Northern California memory this week. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate and thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed. Millions of people are indirectly impacted by terrible air quality throughout Northern California. And the California fires are just the latest in a series of Western fires this summer and fall – all supercharged by climate change.
Is this the new normal? Summers and autumns filled with extreme hurricanes in the East and fires in the West. Billions of dollars of damage, thousands of lives uprooted – many lost completely. We know that the climate has been warming for decades and that, unless we act soon, global temperatures will continue to increase. We know that this has contributed to more intense hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Three weeks after Hurricane Maria, most of Puerto Rico is still without clean water and power. And this is just in our corner of the world; Africa and Asia have suffered horrific impacts of flooding as well.
In California, higher than average rain and snowfall this past wet season led to more growth. Then a hot dry summer removed all the moisture creating an explosive situation that supercharged these fires. These types of events – intense fires and hurricanes – will only increase unless we do something fast to restore our climate.
The view from Food & Water Watch’s Oakland office.
What can we do? As a country, we need to recognize that climate change is not some theoretical harm in the future that we can wait to address. Its significant and devastating impacts are occurring all around us right now. We need to do something bold and immediate as climate change poses an existential threat to life as we know it.
Climate change is not some theoretical harm in the future that we can wait to address. Its significant and devastating impacts are occurring all around us right now.
My grandparents’ generation faced a similar threat to life as they knew it. That threat was Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which resulted in World War II. In response, the United States engaged in a nationwide mobilization to restructure the economy to take on that fight. Now, we do not need a militarized economy, but one that is completely restructured in a just and equitable way to combat climate change – to move us off of fossil fuels and onto a 100% renewable energy future.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has introduced legislation to do just that. Her Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) would require 80% of our electricity to be powered by renewable energy in the next 10 years, and 100% by 2035. It would require all cars and trains run on renewable energy by the same date and stop future fossil fuel projects, halt the export of oil and gas, and take the money we currently use to subsidize the oil and gas industry and put it into funds dedicated to an equitable and just transition to a renewable energy future.
While this bill will not do anything immediate for the thousands affected by the California fires, the other fires in the West, or the hurricanes that ravaged the East, it would give us a fighting chance of avoiding even worse climate chaos in the future. We do not have time to delay or settle for half measures. We must act now to build the political will before it’s too late.