September 2, 2020

Firebaugh City former Mayor & current council-member Felipe Perez

Oped by Friebaugh council-member Felipe Perez

Dear Governor Newsom,

During mid-August, dozens of fires raged out of control forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes as a prolonged heat bubble pushed temperatures into triple digits and threatened to overload the state’s power grid. Death Valley recorded the hottest recorded temperature on the planet at 130 degrees. These crises erupted during your heroic fight against the pandemic, which has seen too many become jobless and communities of color disproportionately affected. As an elected official I understand you’re doing your utmost during this historic time and I thank you.

However, while you wasted no time declaring a state of emergency for coronavirus, and another for the catastrophic fires, you’ve neglected the climate emergency that is the root cause of the infernos. Yet, in a press briefing of August 21, you said human use of fossil fuels causes greenhouse gasses which in turn has fueled, “the ferocity of the fires.” Then you confirmed your commitment to moving the state off of fossil fuels. 

Addressing the nation you said, “We are just coming off a record week . . . The hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier. Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California. This is an extraordinary moment in our history. Mother Nature has now joined this conversation around climate change. And so, we, too, need to advance that conversation anew.” 

Indeed, you need to advance that conversation now.

When I first immigrated, I worked in the fields. My experiences led me to help with irrigation. I’ve seen the ravishes of climate change firsthand. The people I represent — you represent too —suffer in extreme temperatures, in drought conditions, and heavy rains while dealing with agricultural chemicals and fossil fuel industrial pollutants from nearby operations.

Over 310 Californian elected officials have previously written to you acknowledging that we are in a climate emergency, asking you to take positive action. Yet, the state has issued 190 percent more new oil and gas drilling permits in the first six months of 2020 than your first six months in office, according to an analysis of state data by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. California issued 2,691 permits to drill new wells or rework existing ones plus 48 fracking permits. You sir, are betraying your promises made during your election.

You can make amends before it is too late for the health of your state and her people. Declare a state of emergency for the climate crisis in California. The order will afford you certain abilities so you can develop and implement a climate emergency plan.

The smoke became unbreathable in some areas, and compounded respiratory problems and the likelihood of a further spread of COVID-19, especially in Brown and Black neighborhoods where deaths from coronavirus are twice as likely. Municipal budgets have already been stretched to their limits. The fires exasperated an already unimaginable situation.

The climate crisis caused the convergence of these crises, none of which would have happened without increased human activities that disrupted the environment. You’ve readily stated such.

That’s why it is incomprehensible you haven’t declared a state of emergency for the climate crisis. Only bold executive actions can stop fire seasons becoming worse.

Residents have been fearing for their lives and livelihoods before the pandemic. Possible evacuations, rolling blackouts during Covid-19 and triple digit temperatures are the things nightmares are made off. To live in fear is not how we wish our children to grow up.

Businesses were shuttered and shattered from the pandemic to the fires. We can’t return to lives we’ve known, everything has changed. As you said Mother Nature has joined the conversation, we best heed her call to action.

We are living in a climate catastrophe. 

Only a state of emergency for the climate crisis will ensure immediate actions to address the situation will be taken, in a timely fashion. We can’t wait any longer. You need emergency powers to halt the expansion of the production and burning of fossil fuels that, as you’ve stated, are driving the climate crisis.


Firebaugh City former Mayor & current council-member Felipe Perez