Last week, the skies literally turned red on the western coast of the United States. Ash is still falling from the sky. More acres have already burned in 2020 than in any year in recorded history.
Climate change is making wildfires worse
Climate change and the wildfires are linked: rising temperatures, increased droughts, and unusual rain patterns are creating hotter and drier conditions. As land and brush dry out, they are more likely to burn.
In the landmark 2018 National Climate Assessment, 13 federal government agencies came together to present a dire warning about the causes and effects of climate change in the United States.
In particular, the report found that as climate change accelerates, fires will become more frequent, more intense, and burn more land. It anticipated that fire season will also spread across the Southeast United States.
More broadly, the report predicts that if we do not take significant steps to reverse it, climate change will slash US GDP by at least 10% by 2100.
How you can help
We cannot wait: it's time for all hands on deck to address the climate crisis. Here are 3 things you can do today:
1. Donate to relief for vulnerable populations
If you have the means to donate, there are lots of people who could really use the support. There is no single right way to help; consider which type(s) of relief speak most strongly to you.
Support fire victims and evacuees with immediate relief via the American Red Cross (you can donate online or text "CAWILDFIRES" to 90999 to make a $10 donation) or The Salvation Army. Both organizations provide food, water and emotional support to evacuees and first responders.
Support first responders with urgently needed N-95 masks, medicine, and health resources via Direct Relief. Donate to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and injured firefighters and their families.
Provide resources for unhoused populations who are doubly at risk from COVID-19 and the wildfires. Mask Oaklandis a volunteer network that has distributed over 140,000 N-95 masks to people experiencing homelessness during the last four fire seasons. People’s Breakfast Oakland is also providing resources for Black homeless populations, and the Homeless Youth Alliance in San Francisco works with young unhoused people.
Note that all organizations on this list are four-star charities certified by Charity Navigator, with the exception of the Salvation Army (exempt because it is a religious organization) and the organizations serving unhoused populations (small community organizations not yet rated).
2. Support climate policies and vote in climate candidates
Email Governor Gavin Newsom to reform use of inmate firefighters. California has used inmates as firefighters since the 1940s, and in recent years. inmates have made up more than a fifth of fire crews. But on the job, inmate firefighters are paid as little as $3 per day. Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows nonviolent offenders to pursue careers as a firefighter once they are released. But there is a lot more reform needed: prison labor is still comparable to slave labor.
Raise awareness of indigenous prescribed burn practices to prevent wildfire.Indigenous communities have long understood the importance of restoring forests regularly through prescribed or controlled burns. But in 1850, the U.S. government banned the practice. Recent wildfire prevention efforts are making use of native burning techniques, but as a recent Stanford paper articulates, the US still requires massive expansion of public support, resources, and regulation for prescribed burns.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: When you talk to friends and family about the wildfires, raise awareness about the role of colonialism on wildfires and the importance of prescribed burns. Donate to The Nature Conservancy, which is one of the few organizations that works closely with indigenous and government organizations to expand use of prescribed burns.
Elect climate leaders, and vote climate deniers out of office using the League of Conservation Voters environmental scorecard. Climate leadership has never been more critical. We need a price on carbon, caps on polluters, and investment in clean energy and clean jobs.
3. Take ownership of emissions within your control
We don't control all greenhouse gas emissions. At least 40% of all emissions can only be reduced by the government and companies. But we can take ownership of the nearly 60% of global greenhouse gases that we do influence.
It is a radical act to take ownership for our own emissions and hold ourselves accountable to do better. Furthermore, when we act together, reducing our emissions at scale can buy us valuable time for longer-term solutions and innovations.
Download Joroto make climate action part of your personal practice. Track your carbon footprint, reduce your emissions with climate challenges and carbon offsets, and join a community of people taking collective climate action.