California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) made an exasperated plea for people not to “debate” the reality of climate change, as his state experiences record-breaking heat and devastating wildfires.
“This is a climate damn emergency,” Newsom said, standing amid the ashes of the North Complex fire in Oroville in Northern California. The fire is one of 28 major blazes currently raging across the state — four of which are among the 10 largest wildfires in state history.
“I’m a little bit exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue,” Newsom said of climate change, standing in Butte County, the same county that suffered the Camp fire in 2018 — the deadliest in state history — only to face massive fires again this year.
“The debate is over on climate change,” Newsom added. “Just come to the state of California.”
Wildfires have burned through a record 3.15 million acres across the state — representing an over 2,000% increase in acreage burned compared to this time last year. In the past three weeks, fires across Northern California have killed at least 19 people, burned over 3,900 homes and other structures, and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes. And fire season is just getting started.
The governor described the conditions across the state as “a climate emergency” and a “climate crisis,” noting that this is what scientists had been predicting for decades with the “hots getting a lot hotter, the dries getting a lot dryer.” This past weekend, a record-breaking heat wave delivered Los Angeles County its highest temperature ever recorded, 121 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures in several parts of Northern California also reaching triple digits.
“California, folks, is America fast-forward,” the governor warned, pleading for people to “disabuse ourselves of all the B.S. that has been spewed” in denying climate change. “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to a community all across the U.S. unless we get our act together on climate change.”
Further up the coast, Oregon and Washington were also facing major fires, with tens of thousands of Oregonians forced to evacuate and entire communities leveled by the blazes.
High levels of smoke from the fires have spread along the coast in recent weeks, with the Environmental Protection Agency deeming air pollution levels “unhealthy” and even “hazardous” in parts of Northern California on Friday, and Portland’s air quality ranked as the worst worldwide.
Newsom heralded Western states’ “climate pact,” as well as the 25 states forming the U.S. Climate Alliance, while urging other states to “come on board” and commit to investing in low-carbon emissions and green jobs.
The California governor also called out the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations, saying he was “very proud of California’s leadership in the absence of national leadership” on climate change.
While Newsom acknowledged that the state had to do more to improve forest management, such as prescribed burns to mitigate against fire risk, he pointed to climate change, including “mega-droughts,” as more significant contributors to the worsening fires in recent years.
Some environmental groups have criticized Newsom for the state’s approval of dozens of permits for fracking wells — a process of extracting oil and natural gas from the earth that has been shown to pollute waterways and release toxins into the air.
“Explaining this to my 4-year-old, who’s moved from talking about a novel coronavirus to now talking about what’s going on outside and why he can’t play around … that’s not the world I want to leave to my kids ... to your kids,” Newsom said. “And we don’t have to.”
CLARIFICATION: The number of Oregonians forced to evacuate due to fires has been updated after state officials revised earlier figures.