California Wildfires Are Abrupt Climate Change, Ecological Collapse

It's OK America, pop pills and watch TV. Don't worry about abrupt climate change, environmental collapse, or perma-war blowback from your oil addiction.

Only a couple centuries ago California was mostly covered in lush naturally evolving ecosystems that surrounded and provided ecological habitat for relatively small settlements of Native Americans. Grizzly bears roamed and redwood forests towered. Now the heavily industrialized state is an over-populated ecologically collapsing mess. Natural ecosystems are surrounded by an endless sprawl of human filth, and the very climate is abruptly changing.


California’s recent drought and wildfire outbreak is an exemplar of what surpassing a bioregion’s carrying capacity and resultant ecological collapse looks like. For decades naturally evolved ecosystems which make California habitable have been treated as resources to be devoured for industrial development. California’s fragmented and no longer connected natural ecosystems have been further destabilized by abrupt climate change and are no longer able to stably provide human habitat.

Everywhere one looks in California one sees over-populated over-consumption, over-development’s destruction of natural ecosystems, and resultant ecological collapse further worsened by industrial emissions. For four years California has been ravaged by a climate change intensified epic drought. In the worst impacted communities, hundreds of households have no access to running water.

California’s drought, a state of emergency since January 2014, has reached unprecedented levels, the worst in recorded history. The state’s mountain snow pack – which provides 30% of California’s water – is at the lowest level in at least 500 years, 5% of its usual water content. Parts of the state have a four-year precipitation deficit of more than 70 inches. 2015 is expected to be the warmest ever recorded.

Ecologists strongly agree that climate change is linked to California’s wildfires. Human-caused warming is clearly contributing to drier conditions, which make forests more susceptible to burning. One estimate is that 20% of the California’s forest trees are sick or have died from the drought. Record heat has increased evaporation and dried out the soil and tinder dry vegetation has become literally explosive. This has caused harsh wildfires as fragmented and sick forest ecosystems are ablaze.

In recent months, two of the most destructive wildfires in state history have raged across Northern California, and over 1 million acres have burned. Forest ecosystems are a mess after a century of terrible land uses including suppressing fire, allowing sheep and cattle to graze forest understories, and endless sprawl fragmenting natural forest ecosystems. Today’s forests are more dense and filled with combustible materials, allowing fires to spread more easily from the ground to the forest canopy, more often killing trees. Since 1970 climate change has extended the California fire season by 78 days.

California’s ecological tragedy only shows signs of worsening as warm ocean temperatures are 5 degrees above normal and the El Niño weather phenomena show signs of unleashing dramatic flooding upon the heat hardened Earth. Two weeks ago a record 1.81 inches of rain fell in Southern California in 30 minutes, a once every 1,000-year rain event. Extreme weather events threaten California’s existence.

It is no wonder that California is ablaze as forest ecosystems collapse. Grizzly bears are long gone, and redwood forests tiny remnants.

Recently the California state legislature passed a new climate bill which requires greater use of renewables by 2030. But far more must be done if state-wide ecological collapse is to be averted. There must be an immediate end to building in forests. Forests must be allowed to age and recover, and in most cases forests allowed to burn naturally to renew ecosystems. Emissions must be cut far more and faster than currently proposed – in order to end the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. And people are going to have to have fewer children and live less-consumptive lifestyles.

Worldwide our last great forests that support the biosphere are crashing as a result of climate change. Hotter droughts that are associated with climate change are causing stress and death for trees, and these increasingly unnatural forest conditions are leading to apocalyptic forest fires like have never before been seen. The world continues to be in a state of perma-war as distant societies and ecosystems are plundered for oil. As more ecosystems collapse, the entire biosphere is threatened by death.

The situation in California, similar in so many other locales, is a direct result of ecocidal industrial growth destroying natural ecosystems, and our addiction to fossil fuels. The impacts of California’s collapse will be felt far beyond, as over half of America’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California.

California is a nice place to visit, but soon no one may be able to live there.

Large and connected natural ecosystems surrounding human communities are a prerequisite for sustainability and well-being. In California and throughout the world we must allow forests to regenerate, age, and become large and reconnected, surrounding human communities. Old-growth forest logging must end. Large and intact natural ecosystems are required as the context for humanity in order to continue providing the ecological services which make Earth habitable. Otherwise we all face the sort of ecological collapse occurring in California.

Americans don’t know or appreciate what is being lost as California collapses, as we self-medicate and watch TV. And we are all going to needlessly die as a result.

Entire bioregions like California are collapsing and will become uninhabitable and have to be abandoned. It is absolutely stunning that with ecological collapse so far progressed in California, many continue to deny the problem, and we do not yet have a coherent policy in place that is ecologically sufficient to ensure bioregional and global ecological sustainability.

Dr. Glen Barry is the President and Founder of EcoInternet. He is recognized for contributions to the environmental movement by communicating the severity of global ecological crises and actively organizing with others sufficient responses. Read other articles by Glen, or visit Glen's website.