Photo from the USDA Forest Service from 2018's Woolsey fire.

Fight Fire with Fire: We Can’t Breathe, But We Can Speak

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It hurts to breathe where I’m writing from in Hollywood. Friends in D.C. say they’re getting the West’s smoke. So are people in Canada. And Mexico. The fires rage on. Mt. Wilson Observatory, which overlooks L.A. from the San Gabriel Mountains, barely managed to fend off the Bobcat fire, which is still engulfing one of our precious forests.

The last day of California’s legislative session was Aug. 31, just a week before the Bobcat fire erupted. We were already sick of disaster, and we knew the “fire season” had barely gotten started. But what was accomplished in Sacramento that day? Not enough for climate change and nature, despite mounting warnings from scientists everywhere and the evidence in front of our eyes.

In our morbid pandemic isolation, this failure felt like further evidence that we’re speeding toward our doom. But there’s another way to look at the fires: They are the result of a set of bad decisions that we have the power to change.

The solution is simple, really. Put our money into big transitions for becoming sustainable, plan them out, and get to work. We know this is possible. There are already cities in California, for instance, looking to convert buildings off of gas dependence while simultaneously investing in renewable energy for power.

But big business knows it’s really hard for most of us to let go of the things we love. Take plastic, a substance we’ve integrated into every aspect of our lives. Producing plastics means drilling for more gas. And drilling releases greenhouse gas emissions. And those emissions are contributing to the conditions that lead to wildfires on an epic scale. So wouldn’t it make sense just to cut back on as much plastic production as quickly as we possibly can?

That’s one choice California lawmakers didn’t make in August. Two bills to reduce single-use plastic, Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 1080, or the California Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act, lost by just four votes. It should have been a shoo-in. But oil companies and plastic manufacturers lobbied heavily against it. We can raise our hands in frustration and blame it all on their power and money, but the silence of our voters helped them along. Though environmental nonprofits campaigned heavily in favor of the legislation, more people, all kinds of people, needed to speak up, too.

What could have made the difference for SB 54 and AB 1080 would have been people explaining that they’re scared, they’re serious, and they want the kind of change that will stop the planet from overheating. This is civic engagement. And it makes an impact when enough people contact their elected leaders and participate in grassroots action.

Here’s a short list of easy actions you can take right now:

1) Ask your representatives for a “green recovery” to our environmental and pandemic crises.

Look up your city, county, state, and federal representatives. Call or write a letter explaining that you believe the best way to recover economically from our crises is to heavily invest in measures that address human health and well-being, climate change, restore habitat and enact environmental justice. You can also get involved locally with an organization like L.A. Forward that simultaneously fights for environmental and social justice issues.

2) Get California’s green legislation back on track.

Once again, go to your state representative this fall — before the new January legislative session — and tell them that you want ecologically sensitive and environmentally just responses to our mounting crises in health, climate and nature front and center in the next session. Demand that they address the increasing plastic and air pollution and fight to go zero-waste. Tell them to fast-track getting us off fossil fuel dependence and unsustainable practices in agriculture and water usage. Feeling daunted by the ins and outs of legislation? Get involved today with an organization like the California League of Conservation Voters.

3) Tell TV news stations to make the wildfire and climate change connection.

Organize a petition or contact TV news organizations directly and tell them you want full coverage of the links between the West’s wildfires and climate change. Make sure you have your list of points on the subject ready to go.

4) Fight environmental racism.

Communities of color have historically gotten the worst of pollution, extreme weather and other environmental impacts. With the world heating up, the situation isn’t improving. Go ahead and get engaged with an organization or group that’s fighting environmental racism like SCOPE L.A.

5) Put an end to developing habitat in fire-prone areas, protect wildlife corridors and tell officials to defer to science — not industry — when getting fire-safe.

Tell your L.A. County supervisor you want development stopped in fire-prone areas. Get involved with organizations that monitor and act on development issues that will impact habitats like the Center for Biological Diversity, the California Native Plant Society  or Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation is also building a wildlife corridor across the 101 freeway! For good fire and habitat practices, follow the California Chaparral Institute or, locally, Friends of Griffith Park.

6) Get behind California’s global leadership.

Did you know there’s a global biodiversity treaty? A lot of people in the U.S. don’t because America never ratified the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, the global biodiversity treaty currently in action. But California could actually wield a lot of influence as an “observer” and member of the treaty’s Advisory Committee on Subnational Governments. Call up or write to California’s Natural Resources Secretary, Wade Crowfoot and tell him you want California to get on board with the CBD stat! While you’re at it, contact Governor Newsom, too.

7) Don’t just criticize. Propose and participate in solutions. 

Learn about what’s out there and sign up to participate. There’s the L.A. County Climate Action Plan. Congressman Adam Schiff is working hard to create habitat protections around L.A. with the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act. Engage with plans to revitalize the L.A. River. The City of West Hollywood has a Climate Action Plan. L.A. has Green New Deal plans. Engage with an organization looking to transform businesses, like the Young Entertainment Activists and their Climate Ambassadors Program for the entertainment industry. Finally, help get the environment into classrooms by volunteering with organizations like the Los Angeles Audubon Society or start working on L.A.’s urban forest to cool our city down with TreePeople!

Los Angeleno