California On Fire: Newsom Releases A Hobgoblin
While visiting yet another charred part of California last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was “a little bit exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue. This a climate damn emergency.” It’s a statement he can make confident that few of California’s 39.8 million residents have recently, if at all, read Henry Louis Mencken.
Because it was Mencken, whose 140th birthday was Saturday, who often cut through the rhetoric to expose the too often deceitful nature of politics. In one of his many artful proverbs, he said “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Newsom’s comment isn’t quite the perfect fit. The wildfires are real and the public is alarmed enough without a politician unspooling a diatribe about how dangerous and destructive they are. But it nevertheless applies. The governor is trying to scare the populace to forward a political, rather than practical, agenda. One, he wants the bureaucracy to speed up the state’s plunge into an all-renewables energy regime. Two, he’s using a global story (the world has an almost perverse can’t-turn-away-from-the-train-wreck interest in California’s frequent Old Testament-scale disasters) to scorch the Trump administration and its energy policies in the last two months of an election campaign.
Social media hardly advances the debate in any instance. Sometimes, though, salient points are boiled down into 280 biting characters. Actor James Woods, using a map that shows the fires are largely restricted to the U.S., asked on Twitter “why does ‘climate change’ stop abruptly at the Canadian border?” while others questioned Newsom’s leadership and said blaming the climate “is an intellectually lazy answer.”
Which it is. Newsom can press his bureaucracy to work on the green transition until everyone is so overworked no one can work. He can appeal to lawmakers to push the 2045 renewables-only deadline up a decade. He could issue climate- and energy-related executive orders until he’s out of paper and ink.
But the climate, stubborn thing that it is, won’t budge. Only about 1% of all human emissions of greenhouse gases, which we’re told are causing the planet to overheat, are produced in California. If that was cut to zero in the next decade, or next year, or next month, the impact on the global climate would be zero. Yet a visibly angry Newsom is demanding “we . . . step up our game.”
“Our goals are inadequate to the reality we’re experiencing,” he said. “We’ve got to fast-track all of that if we’re going, I think, to be judged well in the future.”
The governor’s anger is justified. But it is misdirected. The fires are fueled by poor forestry management, a problem that didn’t simply emerge only this summer. Carl Skinner, who joined the firefighting world more than 50 years ago, and put in 42 years managing and researching fire for the U.S. Forest Service, told ProPublica he has watched the tinderbox fill with kindling.
“We’ve been talking about how this is where we were headed for decades,” he said.
Bob Zybach, a forest researcher with a doctorate in environmental science who has studied wildfires, tells the Daily Caller that decisions made by the Clinton administration “created the conditions necessary for massive wildfires to consume portions of the West Coast” today.
“If you don’t start managing these forests, then they are going to start burning up. Thirty years later, they are still ignoring it,” he said.
Newsom should also be blaming state-approved fire-deterrent plans that create incentives for utilities to spend resources on projects that don’t reduce the risk of wildfires, and the rush to renewables, which has resulted in utilities allocating funds needed for wildfire prevention to programs to political purposes instead.
Yet we get the climate-change act, which was a tiresome routine long before Newsom took office.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.