California Gov. Gavin Newsom unsuccessfully pressed President Trump on Monday to acknowledge that climate change is making wildfires worse across much of the West Coast.
“We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier,” Newsom told Trump at a roundtable in Sacramento, Calif., where the president stopped for two hours on a fundraising trip for his reelection campaign. “When we’re having heat domes the likes of which we’ve never seen in our history — the hottest August ever in the history of this state, the ferocity of these fires, the drought five-plus years, losing 163 million trees to that drought — something’s happened to the plumbing of the world. And we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.”
But as the roundtable continued, and Trump was briefed on record-breaking temperatures in the state by Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary of natural resources, he rejected the suggestion that climate change was a factor in the wildfires.
While Newsom, Trump and the other California officials all agreed on the need for more resources to be put into forest management, the president never mentioned the words “climate change” in his remarks. Speaking with reporters before he entered the briefing on the record-breaking wildfires that have ravaged California, Trump focused solely on forest management.
“We have to do a lot about forest management. Obviously forest management in California is very important, and now it extends to Washington and extends also to Oregon,” Trump said. “There has to be good, strong forest management, which I’ve been talking about for three years with this state, so hopefully they’ll start doing that.”
“If we ignore that science and put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed at protecting Californians,” Crowfoot responded.
“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump replied. “You just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot said.
“Well, I don’t think science knows actually,” Trump retorted, laughing.
While fire experts in California agree that more controlled burns and selective logging could help control future wildfires by depriving them of fuel, they also point to climate change as another factor making the blazes worse.
“It’s just that there’s more opportunity for an ignition to coincide with bad fire weather, which allows it to escape our suppression,” Brandon Collins, a researcher with the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Fire Research and Outreach, told Yahoo News.
Numerous other factors also play into the blazes that have scorched more than 3 million acres so far this year, including the ongoing construction of new homes in fire-prone areas and an increased infestation of bark beetles thanks to rising temperatures, which has killed millions of trees in the state. Trump, however, seemed to want to blame local officials for not properly cleaning up the state’s immense forests.
“You can knock this down to nothing,” Trump said of the wildfire problem. “You know you go to Europe and different places in Europe, countries where they’re forest countries and they’re very, very strong on management, and they don’t have a problem.”
But Newsom also used his remarks at the roundtable to remind Trump that the bulk of the land where the wildfires are raging is federally owned.
“We acknowledge our role and responsibility to do more in that space, but one thing is fundamental: 57 percent of the land in this state is federal forest land,” Newsom said. “Three percent is California, so we really do need that support.”
Walking a delicate balance, Newsom praised the federal-state partnership that has doubled the rate of forest clearing. The governor took a much more measured tone Monday than he did last week as he toured the fire devastation wrought by the North Complex fire in Oroville.
“Record-breaking temperatures, record droughts, and you’ve got something else at play, and that’s exactly what the scientists have been predicting for a half a century,” Newsom said Friday. “It is here now. California, folks, is America fast-forward. What we’re experiencing right here is coming to a community all across the country unless we get our act together on climate change, unless we disabuse ourselves of all the BS that’s being spewed by a very small group of people.”
Moments before Trump touched down in Sacramento, Joe Biden delivered an address in Wilmington, Del., on the need to combat climate change. He said the president’s policies had made the problem worse.
“As he flies to California today, we know he has no interest in meeting this moment. We know he won’t listen to the experts or treat this disaster with the urgency it demands,” Biden said.
There is perhaps no single issue on which Biden and Trump disagree more than climate change, a point Biden hammered home during his speech.
“Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term these hellish events will become more common, more devastating and more deadly.”
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