It’s been more than a month since winter rains began, turning our brown hills green and bringing yet another harrowing fire season to a close.
Now, while we’re enjoying the rain and green grass, we can think more calmly about fire—or rather, about how to better live in our fire-prone environment. But where do we begin? What should we be doing differently today, or half a year from now when the grasses turn brown and temperatures climb? How can we, residents of a fire-prone part of the world, hope to feel real security in this Valley we love? (Or anywhere?)
For answers, we need to revisit the big picture—and it is big. Climate change isn’t the only driver of recent super-fires, but it is a major one. And as we’re seeing now in Australia, the problem of raging wildfire (as well as its flip side, flooding) is worldwide and year-round. So a clear first step is doing everything we can, individually and societally, to curb greenhouse gas emissions and promote drawdown strategies. That includes relatively simple things such as driving less, driving electric cars, applying biochar to our crops, growing trees, and electing good leaders.
Climate change itself may be huge and incomprehensible, but the things we can do to stop it—here, today, in the New Year—are not.
Climate aside, the way we structure our communities can have a huge effect on our security, including our safety during wildfires. For example, our homes should have ember-resistant siding and vents, and non-combustible decks and roofs. And the landscapes around our homes should be designed to be fire-safe, water-wise and wildlife-friendly. Equally important, the location of our homes is vital to home security and public safety. Studies show that homes in more densely developed areas are less likely to burn during wildfires. Studies also show a striking benefit from simply being better connected socially with our friends and neighbors, with more connected people suffering less injury and death during extreme weather events.
Some have responded to California’s wildfires by opting to move away (others had no choice). Unfortunately, there is no place on Earth immune to the forces of nature, which climate change has amped up everywhere, not just here. The better course, if you can do it, is to take good care of the place where you live. Carpool. Ride your bike more often—and ask local leaders for more bike paths and functional transit. Capture rainwater for your garden—and ask state leaders to capture water wisely on a large scale. Get to know your neighbors—and encourage neighborly habits throughout the community. That’s real security.
This year, as Sonoma Ecology Center turns 30, our New Year’s resolution is to promote actions that lead to real security for everyone. They include helping to guide local climate science research and policy, educating the public and local officials on how to best respond, designing and executing restoration projects around the Valley that are fire-safe, water-wise and wildlife-friendly, and much more. We hope you’ll join us in these efforts; if everyone does, we are certain to succeed. Happy New Year to all.