LOS ANGELES – Daniel Kohanbash could see the raging Getty Fire from a dorm room window at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It smells like there’s a barbeque on campus, times ten,” Kohanbash said, a sophomore at UCLA. “It’s obviously something that was scary.”
The Getty Fire came close enough to UCLA’s campus for the university to cancel classes last October. The fire destroyed homes and caused dangerous air quality conditions as it blazed for days in Los Angeles. It was not a fatal fire, but more than 100 people died in California wildfires in 2018 and 2019, according to Cal Fire.
Some of the most devastating wildfires in California’s recent history have been ignited by power lines, not climate change. But experts said the effects of climate change — including high heat, drought and dry shrubbery — fan the flames.
“Climate change can set the stage by creating really favorable fuel conditions,” Katharine Reich of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability said. Reich said California can expect an increase in days hotter than 100 degrees.
Democratic candidates for president have appealed to California voters by promising to address climate change in the West Coast specifically. Former Vice President Joe Biden has committed to making progress on a California high-speed rail, in hopes of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said his Green New Deal can curtail California’s now infamous wildfires.
Experts say a shrinking water reservoir and rising sea level are also concerning California residents.
“It’s something that will impact everybody in some way or another,” Reich said. “Climate change isn’t going to spare you.”
While environmental legislation hits close to home in California to a higher degree, voters across the nation see climate change as a more pressing issue than ever, according to a recent survey from Climate Nexus, Yale and George Mason University. It’s second only to health care among Super Tuesday voters.
All the remaining candidates in the Democratic field have vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
“We live in a system that was built on burning fossil fuels,” Reich said. “We can try to decarbonize our own lives as much as we can, but in the system we’ll only get so far. With collective political action we can actually start to change that system.”