Editorials

Wineke: Must we abandon California?

MADISON, Wis. - California is on fire ... again.

Wildfires are burning the famed Sonoma wine region of the nation's most populous state. Fires are destroying luxury homes near Los Angeles. Fires are near San Francisco.

Hurricane strength winds of more than 90 mph are whipping the flames, sending tens of thousands of residents away from their homes. Electric utilities keep shutting off service to millions.

This is the third year California has been threatened by historic fires. Because of its geography and climate, the state is always at risk of substantial autumn fires but the trend these days is toward the catastrophic.

We know the reason. The reason is climate change. But we don't want to acknowledge the reason because that might require us to act.

But here's the thing: We can't abandon California. California is a state with a $3 trillion economy -- larger than that of Britain, France or India.

And it is on fire.

Florida is not on fire. Florida is at risk of drowning — at least, coastal Florida is at risk of drowning. Even on nice days some Florida cities face flooding because the Atlantic Ocean is spilling through the storm sewers and into the streets. If you build a new home near the Florida coast, you are most likely going to build it on stilts. One estimate is that 18,000 Miami Beach homes will face chronic flooding in the next 30 years.

We're not going to abandon Florida, either. Florida has a $1 trillion economy. If it were a country, it would rank 17th among the world's economies.

We know why Florida is flooding. Florida is flooding because of global climate change.

When I say "we" aren't going to abandon California or Florida or the other states affected by climate change, I really mean the nation can't afford to ignore what's happening.

The real world may have other ideas.

Are you likely to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new home in California if you face a real prospect that it might burn down in five years? Will you find an insurance company willing to insure your investment? Insurance companies underwrite your property on the assumption that it won't burn down.

Homes near the Florida coast still sell for vast amounts of money. But Miami Beach is talking about spending another half-billion dollars for pumps to keep its streets dry. That has to be a short-term prospect.

Yet, every day I read posts on Facebook by people sneering at those who warn about our climate change future and ridicule those who seek to minimize its effects.

The optimists among us say we have about 30 years to institute radical worldwide changes or face catastrophe.

Thirty years is the span of a conventional home mortgage.

 

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