Socialist Worker

US wildfires—‘This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it’s happening’

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2722

An orange haze has enveloped parts of Oregon

An orange haze has enveloped parts of Oregon (Pic: David Geitgey Sierralupe on Flickr)


Human and ecological catastrophe is raging through the western United States.

Wildfires fanned by winds amid record heat have destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 25 people.

The fires have so far burnt a total 4.5 million acres—an area slightly smaller than Wales—in recent weeks, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.

As well as the worst-affected states of California, Oregon and Washington, fires are ripping through nine other US states.

Beatriz escaped the fires with her children in Oregon but had to make a terrifying drive with fires burning on both sides of their car.

“Everything is gone. We have to start again from nothing, but we are alive,” she said.

Evacuation

People are camping outside evacuation centres in motor homes, cars and tents. But fast-moving fires mean that the infernos sometimes aren’t far behind.

“It’s hard to buy a tent because everyone wants one,” said evacuee Sam. He was forced to move to a safer spot after his initial evacuation centre was in danger of being engulfed.

“I’ve never been so afraid,” said Shyanne, who fled Dickie Prairie in north west Oregon. “Now we don’t know if we have a house to go back to.”

It is a disaster directly caused by climate change. Extended drought, increasingly dry conditions and high temperatures make wildfires more likely.

California governor Gavin Newsom said, “What we’re experiencing right here is coming to all communities all across the United States of America, unless we can act on climate change.”

"The debate is over, around climate change," Newsom told reporters. "This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it's happening."

In Oregon, the flames threatened to engulf the most populated parts of the city Portland, and 40,000 people were evacuated.

The air is filled with ash and smoke over densely populated metropolitan regions of Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities. They are enveloped in an orange haze.

Portland, Seattle and San Francisco now have the worst air quality in the world, while Los Angeles ranks seventh-worst.

This is a climate damn emergency. This is real and it's happening

Emergency services are stretched thin trying to control the blazes, and struggled to keep up as different fires merged with each other.

Prisoners form a large element of the firefighters on the front line of fighting the wildfires, and earn just pennies from their work.

Capitalism and climate—the system’s recipe for disaster
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In Washington state governor Jay Inslee said, “This is not an act of god. This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways.”

These fires, much like the ones that burned through Australia in January, are wreaking more damage than recorded before.

Blazes in California have razed 3 million acres this year—a record amount—and are joining together to form giant fronts of flame that are difficult to contain.

In Oregon, the last week of fires has burned nearly twice the average annual losses in just seven days

There is a reason that wildfires are becoming more severe.

Nine of the world’s ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with devastating impacts for people and the planet.

This is the climate crisis already in action.

It’s no longer a theoretical debate if climate chaos will tear through every continent—it’s a question of how society will cope with the huge threatt.

It is capitalism, which developed the fossil fuel economy,, that has created the climate crisis.

It is this system, which protects the interest of a tiny minority, that has generated the conditions leading to the blazes.

Taking on the climate emergency will also mean challenging the system that has birthed it.

 


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