The politics of fire in California
Burn baby burn
If it’s summer, it must be fire season in California. From a historical perspective, this is not a surprise. The ecosystem is designed around fires. Here’s one article that explains that “California is supposed to burn.” Here’s the state of California’s scientific assessment that “Almost all of California’s diverse ecosystems are fire-dependent or fire-adapted”. Much like Canute and the tide, the government of California is not going to stop fires.
However, after 100 years of short-sighted and stupid fire-suppression policies, the state is a tinderbox. Fires are deferred until it is literally impossible to control them, so some of them burn in ways that might develop not necessarily to the advantage of the state. The only solution is to have more burns, hopefully ones that can be kept under control when necessary. (Some of you may be amused that one obstacle is that concerns about pollution restrict controlled burns, while the pollution from uncontrolled burns simply isn’t counted.)
However, the treatment of this issue by the body politic is far different, and far worse. There are two insidious memes regarding fires in California which must be stopped.
First, the meme that “this is because of global warming”. At the margins, perhaps. But even if global warming were completely fixed tomorrow, California would still expect massive forest fires over the next decade, even larger than the ones today. Despite what many stupid liberals parrot on Twitter, not all weather events are caused by evil fossil-fuel-burners. This is a different problem than global warming. There will need to be a different solution.
Second, the meme that assigning blame for causing fires is in any way good. There are already court actions trying to determine if PG&E is legally responsible for the Dixie Fire. This after the company declared bankruptcy related to liability for 2017 and 2018 fires, and was found criminally liable for the 2020 Zogg fire. Quite simply: this is insanity. After all, California is going to burn in any event, and trying to find a reason to blame the electric company does nothing to fix that. If anything, they should be thanked for resolving the issue before the fires get even worse.
And at a higher-level view, there are only two possible outcomes here. One is that PG&E becomes owned-and-operated by the State of California. These various legal actions are just a kabuki show to avoid stating there is an implicit government bailout program. The second outcome is that large parts of California simply lose access to electricity. This sounds impossible, but at a certain point, if you believe the claims about legal liability, it’s the only decision that makes business sense.