GreenHounds Column: Orange Skies on the West Coast and Why it’s not Just a Pretty Picture
Kelly Knutelski, Staff Writer
The orange skies you’ve seen across social media are not a new Instagram filter, they’re real. This is a result of the 80 wildfires raging across 13 western states. In California alone, there have been 28 significant wildfires this year as of September 14th. One of those fires, the August Complex Fire, was recorded as the largest wildfire California has ever faced, burning over 471,000 acres.
The orange skies are one of the many visible effects of these catastrophic flames. According to NBC, the smoke from the fires has blocked out the blue light we usually see in the sky and only orange, red, and yellow light can pass through. This development shows how much more intense and frequent the fires are becoming.
The real question: Why is all of this happening? The simple answer: climate change. Our planet has been experiencing a significant warming trend and for the west coast it brings about frequent droughts and increased heat. This summer, west coaster residents have experienced a massive heat wave. According to bioclimatologist Park Williams, the connections between the warming planet and wildfires are “straightforward. Warmer temperatures dry the fuels, and all you need from there is a spark.” As we know, the spark has been significant.
These uncontrollable fires have created unbelievable hardships for those living right on the west coast. In California, more than 2.5 million acres have burned and there have been at least 8 wildfire-related deaths so far this year. Even Oregon, a state that has been untouched by fire for decades, is experiencing significant effects. West coast residents are facing major health risks, in addition to the ongoing pandemic. According to NBC, “In some places, breathing it in is the same as smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes.” As these health concerns arise and neighborhoods burn, many families have become refugees, forced to stay in motels and local evacuation points, surviving off donated food.
The solution is not as straightforward as the cause. NPR claims, “A lot of money is being put into extinguishing these fires that there is little left to put toward preventing them in the future.” An increase in forest funding would allow for better prevention plans to be put in place. However, to create a lasting solution, we must look at the bigger picture.
The Environmental Defense Fund strongly believes a boost in research on forest management and an implementation of strategies to reduce the effects of climate change can create the ultimate solution. Steps toward reversing current effects and preventing further consequences of climate change must be taken if we want mass destruction, such as the wildfires, to finally come to an end.