Opinion: Human impact on climate sparks California fires


Jenna Ho-Sing-Loy, Sports Editor

Hundreds of fires, sparked by strong winds, high temperatures, and lightning have raged across California since August. These fires have displaced thousands of people and are nowhere near contained. While this news is devastating, it isn’t unexpected. 

In recent years fires have become more extreme and frequent with 10 of the most destructive California fires having happened in the last decade alone. These calamities likely aren’t the worst of it either.  As the climate changes, natural disasters, like fires and hurricanes, will only become stronger and more deadly.  

Much of this can be attributed to human activity like oil drilling and atmospheric pollution, which is damaging the environment at an alarming rate.  

Just 10 days ago environmental scientists recorded 2020’s Earth Overshoot Day.  This means that on Aug. 22 humans used up all of the renewable resources for 2020. For the rest of the year we will be depleting resources from future generations.  This date was calculated by the Global Footprint Network, which has recorded the Overshoot Day creeping further and further into the year since 1970.  This year has been the only exception as the pandemic shut down many factories using resources and kept cars off the roads.  Nevertheless, this isn’t cause for celebration as once all businesses open up again the Overshoot Day will be right back where it was  in 2019.  

“Humanity currently uses 60% more than what can be renewed,” said the press release, Earth Overshoot Day is August 22, more than Three Weeks Later than Last Year.  “It’s as much as if we lived on 1.6 planets.” 

As we only have this one Earth to live on, this is very bad news.  By using up all of these non-renewable resources, the Earth cannot sustain itself and it’ll become harder and harder to live here.  Hotter temperatures are just the start.  People are already starting to see rising sea levels and increased ocean acidification, extreme famine and droughts, and mass extinctions. 

Luckily, there are ways to combat the depletion of global resources.  These include switching to a more plant-based diet, opposing deforestation, and significantly reducing our greenhouse emissions. They, however, do not include approving a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.  

The Trump administration recently announced that it will allow more than 1.6 million acres of Arctic coastline to  be auctioned off to oil companies.  The Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, said that there might even be a sale by the end of the year.  

But how does drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic affect the lives of San Diegans? 

To answer this, the process of mining these fuels must be explained.  The oils and gases in the earth are extracted in a process called “fracking,” which is where a high-pressured water-and-sand mixture is blasted at rock (usually shale) to crack it open and release the valuable oil and gas.  

Fracking is awful for the environment as it releases methane trapped within the crust of the Earth. According to Cornell ecologist Robert Howarth, methane heats the climate over 80 times more than carbon dioxide.  

“The amount of methane added to the atmosphere in the past decade also corresponds to studies that show fracking operations leak, vent, or flare between 2 and 6 percent of the gas produced,” Howarth said.  

With all of this methane going into the atmosphere, along with the groundwater pollution and the destruction of non-renewable natural reservoirs, the Earth is heating up and becoming less hospitable. When global warming occurs, the weather patterns and climate changes, leading to unpredictable storm activity and increased natural disasters.  

This leads full circle back to California’s fires, which are just another effect of our rapidly changing climate.  It’s only a matter of time before another large fire hits San Diego. So, while many think that 2020 has been a fluke of a year and are waiting for things to get “back to normal,” this year is more of a precedent for the events yet to come if we don’t take major steps to fix our planet now.