California has record-breaking acreage burned before peak of fire season
02:17 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Matthew Albracht is a social justice advocate, researcher and writer. He is the former executive director and currently a board member of The Peace Alliance, a US-based NGO which advocates for domestic and international peace-building priorities. He is also the author of the forthcoming book, “Nourish Your Self Whole.” Follow him on Twitter. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

A few years ago, I would never have guessed that my beloved Northern California would be a ground zero for the global climate crisis—not here, and especially not this soon. But here we are. This year’s devastating fire season, which is turning the sky an apocalyptic orange over the San Francisco Bay Area, is only one harrowing example.

Matthew Albracht

While we are hardly the only people slammed by disaster on the planet, we who live here have lost so much. We will have much to figure out as we recover and move forward in this charred, complicated landscape. But for now, I am simply grieving over the enormity of what is lost. I won’t lie, it’s heavy.

I just learned that part of my most cherished nature spot, in the Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve, was wiped out by fire. Now it lives only in my memories. It’s the latest reminder of a hard truth: The climate crisis is unyielding in its ferocity and has already irreparably injured my home state, with much more to come.

One of the first and biggest tangible signs of a problem was the recent years’ mega-drought, the longest in modern California history. Then the vast fires started, returning year after exhausting year, wiping out so much in their paths. The once-in-a-generation dry thunder and lightning storms that ushered in this year’s fires offer a vivid warning for what this planet is facing— a howling harbinger of what’s to come.

Climate scientists warned that all of this was likely to be our new normal. Many of us pushed it out of our minds, praying these new patterns were an anomaly. But this year, at least for me, the stark reality is finally settling in: This isn’t going away. So much of what I love about this magnificent area, both physically and emotionally, is already gone or seriously damaged. There will still be much to love, and I must have hope for the future here, but neither can I deny that what was will never return.

It’s been like the death of a loved one. So many magnificent creatures gone. The pristine land itself scorched and scarred, millions of acres with countless trees, including redwoods more than a thousand years old.

Fall typically brings our best weather. It’s the time we want to be outside and carefree, but now we are beset with worry, making contingency plans, readying evacuation kits and escape bags, which litter hallways and fill the backs of cars for months at a time, never knowing when there might be a new fire and evacuation order.

It’s also the inability to go outside and simply breathe because of all the thick, toxic smoke which stains the skies and our lungs. It can be hard to breathe inside as well, as a result of weeks of unusually hot weather and closed but leaky windows and mediocre HVAC systems that do their best against mounting challenges, but too often just aren’t up to this level of attack. Then there are the rolling blackouts, an attempt to mitigate new fires which can be caused by downed power lines during windstorms.

Will we have to essentially write off one to three months a year, every year, to deal with these recurring fires? It’s a lot to hold. But we will have to figure out how to navigate these new climate change realities—and those unknown but yet to come. These are the kinds of things those of us living in the parts of the world that are already being hard hit are grappling with now.

There is still a lot of beauty left here in Northern California, at least for now, and the wiped out trees and wildlife will emerge back in time—hopefully with better land management practices and less human sprawl, which are also part of the problem. But that innocent, magical ease that used to be a part of life here for myself and many others feels gone, at least in this tender moment.

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    What we are left with is a warning, to America and the world, about the dangers of global warming. It’s not too late to forge forward far more sustainably, blunting the worst impacts of man-made climate change. We are smart and inventive. We can build a cleaner, greener society and economy that will not only keep the worst at bay, but also create a much healthier planet.

    Let’s not continue pushing our pain and fear down into denial and complacency. Instead, let us deeply feel into our new reality, accept it and let it motivate us into productive action. We can do this. We must do this.