California’s wildfires & Governor Newsom’s climate hypocrisy

by Tim Donaghy

September 11, 2020

It’s not enough for Governor Newsom to believe in climate science if his actions continue to fuel the problem. Newsom must stop expanding fossil fuels production in California.

© David McNew / Greenpeace

Last weekend, my family was heading up to the mountains to visit our family cabin at Huntington Lake, a beautiful spot in the Sierra Nevadas where I spent every summer as a kid—but these plans were quickly dashed as the Creek Fire erupted across the Sierra National Forest. Years of drought and forest mismanagement have left the Sierras vulnerable to extreme fires. The flames spread quickly, requiring helicopters to airlift out hundreds of people trapped by the fire’s advance. Fire crews are still fighting to save mountain communities, but the Creek Fire remains zero percent contained. While I’m counting my blessings that I have a safe place to live and did not have to evacuate with my family, I’m also grieving the loss of a place that holds decades of memories for me, all burned up in a matter of days.

I’m not alone in dealing with the toll of these fires and extreme weather events. Millions of Californians are suffering from dangerous air pollution from the smoke, more than one hundred thousand have had to grapple with what it means to evacuate during a pandemic, and millions more are coping with record-breaking heat waves that complicate fire fighting and strain our electrical grid.

What we are seeing right now is climate breakdown—fueled by the very person appointed to protect us from these emergencies.

While Governor Newsom has been quick to appear on national news pointing out how a warming climate is fueling these fires, he is simultaneously green-lighting the expansion of the fossil fuel industry that is feeding the climate crisis and contributing to larger and faster fires. In the first half of this year, Governor Newsom issued 190% more permits for new oil and gas wells in California, compared to the same period last year. Governor Newsom’s words are at odds with his actions—this is climate hypocrisy.

California Lake Fire Burns

A home burns in Pine Canyon during the Lake Fire on August 12, 2020 in Lake Hughes, California. The wildfire exploded to at least 10,000 acres in the first few hours with no containment and destroying several homes and out buildings in Pine Canyon. The Climate emergency is exacerbating the conditions that make fires more catastrophic. Hotter and drier conditions are extending the wildfire season and contributing to larger fires.

It’s not enough for our governor to believe in climate science, if his actions continue to fuel the problem. Governor Newsom recently said, “Never have I felt more of a sense of obligation and a sense of purpose to maintain California’s leadership, not only nationally, but internationally, to face climate change head on.” If Governor Newsom wants to be a true climate leader, he must stop expanding fossil fuels production in California.

If we want to hold Governor Newsom accountable, we must speak out. Join me in taking action to demand that Governor Newsom show true climate leadership and stop his climate hypocrisy, by addressing the root cause of California’s climate crisis—fossil fuels.

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Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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