We know California wildfires can be deadly: Look no further than the Camp Fire in northern California that killed at least 88 people last month. A new analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey reminds us that these disasters can also be a slow killer through the pollution and greenhouse gases they emit.
On Friday, the Department of Interior announced new findings that show that this year’s wildfire season in California released the equivalent of 68 million tons of carbon dioxide. That’s roughly how much carbon the state’s electricity sector releases in an entire year. Not even Secretary Ryan Zinke can deny that it is a big number.
“We know that wildfires can be deadly and cost billions of dollars,” he said, in a press release, “but this analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey also shows just how bad catastrophic fires are for the environment and for the public’s health.”
No mention of climate change there, but sure. Wildfires are both a climate and a human health hazard, emitting 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year around the world between 1996 and 2016, according to global 2017 study. In California, the result of the recent deadly wildfire seasons is air quality so poor that it may already be shortening people’s lives, especially low income and communities of color who are most vulnerable to these events.
The Department of Interior appears interested in helping prevent these wildfires from sparking up by improving land management strategies (and, no, that doesn’t mean more raking). It would also help to recognize the reality of climate change, which wildfires are only making worse.