Claim: President Donald Trump claims that the California wildfires are primarily caused by the state’s forest mismanagement, and climate change has had no impact.
Rating: This claim is FALSE. Climate scientists have found that increasing temperatures in California have driven the increase and intensity in wildfire frequency. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), five of the six largest wildfires in California history occurred in August and September 2020.
As of October 31, 2020, there were 22 wildfires across the state of California. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), five of the six largest wildfires in California history occurred in August and September 2020. One of those, the North Complex fire, was one of the most destructive and deadly fires ever. Lighting strikes from thunderstorms were a primary cause of these fires.
In 2020, the fires have resulted in 31 deaths in California and over 10,000 destroyed buildings. The smoke from the fires can significantly worsen the air quality, which can increase emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses or hospitalization. The smoke exposure, according to Stanford researchers, has likely caused 1,000 to 3,000 excess deaths and 5,000 extra emergency room visits in September.
In response to these devastating fires, California applied for a federal disaster relief package to cover six wildfires that burned 1.8 million acres, destroyed thousands of structures, and caused three deaths. Although Trump previously approved 68 fire-related aid packages during his presidency, he rejected the state’s application for funding on October 16. He reversed his decision two days later, after Republican politicians in California asked him to reconsider his rejection.
Trump has politicized the California fires, threatening to cut off funding for wildfire relief unless California improved its forest management, which he has blamed for the fires. He said that if the forests were cleaned of brush, the annual wildfires in California wouldn’t happen. Trump has not addressed that 57% of California forest land, or 33 million acres, is owned or managed by the federal government, which means that his administration is actually responsible for forest management on those lands. In addition, a majority of California fires do not begin in forests.
Miles Taylor, a former senior Trump administration official who has now endorsed Biden, stated that Trump wanted to stop funding fire relief in California for political reasons and to punish the state’s large liberal base that opposed him in 2016.
During the presidential debate on September 19, Trump denied that climate change was a factor in the fires. By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and climate scientists have continually cited climate change as a factor in wildfire increases.
Since 1880, global temperature has warmed by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the 1980s, the wildfire season has lengthened across 25% of the world’s vegetated surface. The rising temperatures have exacerbated California’s dry season, causing its vegetation to dry out more than before. This means that when a fire breaks out, the surrounding dryness causes the fires to spread faster and further.
Trump’s climate change denial is an extension of his environmental policy. The Trump administration has reversed 72 environmental regulations. The aim is to dismantle nearly 100 regulations (a majority of which were from the Obama Administration) which address issues like air pollution, water pollution, and regulations of toxic substances. Researchers predict that these regulatory changes could result in another 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide added into the atmosphere by 2035.
Trump’s environmental policy directly impedes the world’s ability to reach “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, which scientists believe to be necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
By contrast, Biden’s climate plan has a goal of achieving a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions in the U.S. no later than 2050. This includes investments in clean energy businesses and divesting from fossil fuels; updating America’s aging infrastructure; and giving people a federal rebate on their old vehicles so they can purchase new, energy efficient ones. And Biden will put the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement on climate change, which Trump had removed the country from.
Conclusion: The assertion that the California wildfires are caused by forest mismanagement is FALSE. The data from climate scientists prove that as global temperatures have increased, so have the size and frequency of California wildfires.