I’m from Northern California, Napa to be exact. Usually, this isn’t something I lead with, however, this fact is typically always followed by a concerned facial expression and a swift “is your home okay? Did the fires affect you?” The real question is, which fire? Before 2017, this conversation would have felt extremely trivial, and honestly, it probably wouldn’t have made any sense to me. Northern California has been ravaged by fires since 2017, when we made it to national news with a fire that lasted multiple weeks and burnt over 245,000 acres.
At first, it felt like an isolated incident. A one time tragedy. Blame it on the drought or the notorious hot weather that thousands flock to our state for, but no one expected this to be a repeated, or worse, an expected event. But here we are, three years later, bracing for frequent planned power outages due to the deadly combination of high winds and over 80-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. What once used to be a season full of apple picking and spending time with family, is ravaged with fear for your home, your livelihood, and those you love. Fall is now referred to as “fire season” filled with frequent power outages, hurricane-level winds, dangerously hot weather, and smoke covered skies that make it hard to breathe. We are seeing our temperatures consistently rise at an alarming rate, and it’s gotten to a point where no one can ignore the very real effects of climate change.
What frustrates me the most, is how climate change is discussed as a problem to address now, so that we can avoid it in the future. The fact of the matter is, this was a problem that should’ve been addressed years ago, and we are already and have been reaping irreversible damage. Growing up in a beautiful valley, I have watched my favorite trees and once-thriving fields full of flora and fauna burnt down to the ground. What once used to be a place filled with tourists is now becoming barren, with a lot less to welcome during the dryer months of the year.
The most notable effects of climate change are the extinction of species, rising temperatures and sea levels, more extreme weather patterns which make the earth eventually uninhabitable. California is amongst the luckier regions (if you can even call any of us lucky anymore), because we have a first-world economy that will keep us adaptable. We are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change, however, if that isn’t clear from before, some places are feeling it more than others. Places with extreme temperatures such as the Arctic and Africa will be heavily impacted by climate change in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
When the fires initially happened, it was hard to walk around my neighborhood and believe it was the same place that I had grown up in. Even the people walked around with heavy hearts and shoulders, burdened with the reality of our environment. When my high school finally reconvened once the air quality was healthy enough, multiple mental health professionals joined our school’s administration and screened many of us for PTSD as a precaution. GoFundMe’s spread across local social networks for those who had lost their homes. What we didn’t know is that this would become a regular, a scary tradition.
When dealing with an issue as wide-scale as climate change, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. The reality is, climate change isn’t going to be solved by one person implementing one policy, but rather a group effort of small actions. Fighting for environmental justice and climate change doesn’t have to be costly or inconvenient. Did you know that 75% of greenhouse-gas emissions produced from a single load of laundry are from warming the water to wash your clothes in? By simply using cold water to wash your clothes, you are effectively joining the fight against climate change. Keep a few of your favorite tote bags in your purse or in the trunk of your car for whenever you can go grocery shopping and eliminate the need for those pesky plastic bags. Start carrying metal or wooden straws and pass up on the plastic next time you are ordering your morning coffee before work. If you are ready to join a global effort, take part in Meatless Mondays to start cutting down on global greenhouse emissions that come from methane. It may seem trivial to you, but a small effort on your part can help to save the livelihoods of individuals globally who are already suffering at the disposal of climate change’s ruinous effects.
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