Oped by CA, Torence Councilmember, Tim Goodrich, Air Force Veteran. (Rt.)
This year, we witnessed more than 4.1 million acres burn — and more than 9,000 homes and other structures destroyed. Tragically, we lost at least 31 souls. Some say this was a once in a lifetime event. But the fires are getting worse yearly. New research shows “fire weather” days in California will rise 40 percent by 2065.
Torrance is a city of 150,000 within Los Angeles county which has 10 million people. You wouldn’t think that we would be affected by forest fires, but this year we were. Just an hour’s drive away they were raging. I was shocked to learn that up 25 percent of the forest where hundreds of thousands recreate, was wiped out. Now they’re closed to recreation as the restoration takes place, which could take years.
My Labor Day weekend trip was cut short because smoke rolled into the eastern Sierra Nevada Owens Valley. I’ve seen forest fires come through before but this was the first time I’ve ever seen the entire Owens Valley covered in 200 miles of smoke-filled gray skies. You couldn’t make out the mountains a couple of miles away. It was horrible, eerie. The air quality recordings were up in the 600s for some of these mountain communities, when anything over 100 is considered unhealthy. We’re talking about air quality much worse than what you see in Beijing, China. Across the west air pollution soared to unprecedented levels.
All nations face security risks with extreme weather. Conflicts around the globe have been exasperated and some have started because crops have failed or been wiped out from extreme storms. Climate change is a national security threat multiplier. Overseas, when crops fail the farmers often are forced into gangs or they become terrorists, to support their families.
Our agriculture is at risk too. The LNU Lightning Complex Fires have burned more than 341,000 acres in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, impacting agriculture communities known for diverse family farms.
Climate change is expected to increase the veracity and occurrence of weather-driven disasters, thereby increasing the risks to communities of color and low income. These are communities already hardest hit by systemic racism and environmental injustice. In October a study, published in Cardiovascular Research estimated that about 17 percent of deaths in North America could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.
The Californian fires increased the risk. According to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association, wildfire smoke is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses—making those who breathe it more susceptible to COVID-19. In Torrance there was a period of about two weeks where it was recommended to keep all our windows and doors closed, and not to exercise outside. The smoke smothered Los Angeles impacting people’s health. Historically high concentrations of wildfire smoke from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1 have been found responsible for at least 1,200 and possibly up to 3,000 deaths in our state, according to an estimate by researchers at Stanford University.
Fossil fuel production drives the climate crisis and is responsible for the deaths of 12,000 Californians each year. I wish Governor Newsom would see he has a historic opportunity to lead our nation on a pivotal path away from fossil fuels. He has publicly recognized that we are in a climate emergency. The production of fossil fuels has affected health outcomes for decades, causing cancer in children and adults, asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and premature and/or low birth weights. Fellow Californians breathe in petroleum-related air toxins like benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and xylene daily. In the Airforce, I took an oath to the Constitution to serve and protect my nation. We must protect our people from these pollutants. Over 315 bipartisan mayors, county supervisors, and local elected officials have been urging Governor Newsom to phase out the production and burning of oil and gas in California, with a just transition for workers and the communities these operations are in.
It’s undeniable that climate change is impacting national security. It’s been acknowledged by the military for a number of years. In the past few years, we’ve seen Russian and China grow their influence on an international stage. They’re moving forward and putting money into research and development and growing their clean energy businesses. In order to become the world leader in this area we need to take advantage of this opportunity to spur new businesses, jobs, and training, as well as fund research and development. This way our businesses will thrive in a clean energy economy that they helped build.
The last four years stalled progress on the national stage and hampered states. In order to catch up and excel we need President-elect Biden and Congress to commit to a National Emergency Climate Plan as soon as possible. Over 130 elected officials from across the country have signed a letter of support to help make it happen.
All nations face insecurity with extreme weather. Conflicts around the globe have been exasperated and some have started because crops have failed or been wiped out from extreme storms. Our agriculture is at risk too. The LNU Lightning Complex Fires have burned more than 341,000 acres in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, impacting agriculture communities known for diverse family farms. Climate change is a national security threat multiplier. Overseas, when crops fail the farmers often are forced into gangs or they become terrorists, to support their families.
The oil/gas industry is failing and only contributes less than 0.9 percent of California’s GDP and just 0.2 percent of jobs. At the same time there’s a growing call for renewable energy, there’s a need to implement this on a huge scale like we haven’t seen before. We’ve already created tens of thousands, well-paying jobs here in the state to support the clean energy industry. If we do that as a nation, will lead worldwide on this issue.
We need a national energy policy that puts the health of the American people first, not the profits of fossil fuel companies. We have a moral obligation to the world to lead in the transition to clean, renewable energy. I served proudly and had three deployments. I don’t want to see our people sent overseas to war zones because conflicts worldwide are destined to increase with the climate crisis. We need to rid the world of fossil fuel dependency, so people will be able to live in peace.