The West Coast’s lengthy history of wildfires continues, as a hot streak of fires ravage California, Oregon and Washington state.
Both natural causes and the actions of people can cause the fires. According to the New York Times, a gender reveal party sparked one 20,000-acre wildfire in California.
Nadia Seeteram, a doctoral researcher in the Earth and Environment Department at Florida International University, moved from Miami to San Diego two weeks ago. During those two weeks, she has already experienced wildfires for five or six days.
Seeteram, like many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, has made an effort to get out of the house at least once a day.
“With this COVID-19, I always made it a point to be outside at least once a day for a walk, a chat on the phone or exercise,” Seeteram said. “And now that risk is your lungs.”
Seeterman used to reside in Miami, as her previous works dealt with monetary valuation of ecosystem services in the Florida Everglades.
“It’s very surreal leaving the threat of hurricanes and storm surge and being fully immersed in this wildfire smoke,” Seeteram said.
This bleak situation for the environment has prompted activism among students and professionals alike.
“Continue the fight for climate action, specifically the fight for the Green New Deal,” Seeteram said. “We need to drop greenhouse gasses now.”
The Green New Deal outlines a plan that, if passed by Congress, would work towards tackling climate change. Many different versions of the deal have been considered, but after the 2018 midterm elections, the deal is still under discussion.
The deal was introduced by Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Democratic Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. The proposal asks the federal government to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used in the United States.
The increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere affects more than just the west coast.
“As a resident of Miami, I feel devastated to see an increase in both sea-level rise and the severity of hurricanes as a result of climate change,” Co-President of Science National Honor Society Ella Sleeman said.
A positive feedback loop seems to be occurring due to the massive amounts of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. More greenhouse gases, warmer atmosphere, drier land, and inevitably, wildfires.
“I am very concerned about the wildfires because they are emitting an abundance of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas,” Sleeman said.
The wildfires on the West Coast can teach others how to handle climate change and prevent it from becoming a catastrophic debacle. Learning from events such as the gender reveal that started the wildfire, can serve as valuable teaching moments.
Residents and students in the Bay Area have experienced the immediate effects of the wildfires.
“Breathing the bad air quality for extended periods usually leaves me there coughing for a while,” University of Berkeley student Kevin An said.
Major aspects of everyday life are affected by the fires as well.
“There’s also been a few days last year where PG&E, the company that provides electricity to most of California, had to shut off access to power in certain areas when the weather was predicted to be really dry and windy,” An said.
The fires have an extremely costly effect on the economy, as well. According to The Balance, the wildfires have destroyed over 6.7 million acres of land, the majority located in Arizona and California. Over 900,000 acres have burned across Oregon alone, according to the New York Times.
On the morning of Sept. 10, residents of California woke up to the surprise of orange skies due to the immense fires raging in the state.
“I looked out the window and the sky was all orange,” An said. “My housemates were joking that we were in an apocalypse. Despite the bad things that caused it, I thought the sky looked quite beautiful in a sinister way.”