Thousands of emergency workers in California struggled to fight fast-growing wildfires near Yosemite National Park on Sunday, with President Joe Biden continuing to declare a national climate emergency, a move that campaigners say could be triggered by extreme weather. There is an urgent need to respond to the threat and lay the groundwork for a livable future.
Dubbed the Oak Fire, the California fire was completely uncontrolled by Sunday afternoon, having tripled in size since it began on Friday. The fire has burned more than 14,000 acres, making it the largest California wildfire of the season.
Terrifying video of wild fire in California
"Explosive fire behavior is challenging firefighters," Cal Fire said in a statement Saturday, describing the fire as "extreme with frequent runs, spot fires, and group torching." Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Mariposa County on Saturday as officials urged the immediate evacuation of thousands of people in potential fire paths.
Climate scientists have long warned that drought, extreme heat, and other conditions driven by planetary warming could make wildfires more intense. A UN report published earlier this year raised the risk of an ever-worsening "global wildfire crisis" if governments worldwide, especially the countries most responsible for carbon emissions, radically change their energy policies. And do not phase out fossil fuels.
California is hardly the only one currently facing devastating wildfires. Reuters reported on Sunday that "Greek firefighters evacuated nearby settlements as the heatwave sets in, battling wildfires on the island of Lesbos as well as new fires in western Peloponnese and northern Greece for the second day on Sunday."
"The temperature in some parts of Greece reached 40 °C on Sunday, has spread eastwards to other parts of Europe, and is expected to remain for most of the coming time (day)," the outlet said. " "In the north of the country, a pristine forest near Dadia, a natural habitat for black vultures, continued to be ravaged by wildfires as the authorities struggled to stop its destruction."
Despite what experts describe as growing real-time evidence of the dangers of climate inaction, Biden is still deciding whether to declare a national climate emergency, a move that will bolster the country's renewables. Accelerating the pace would free up critical federal officials and resources.
The world is burning from California to Croatia, and right now Biden's fight is with the trickle out of a garden hose," lamented Jean Su, director of the Energy Justice Program at the Center for Biological Diversity, declaring it under the law is entirely different things. Saying a climate emergency would unleash the full force of Biden's executive powers to tackle climate chaos and signal the climate leadership we desperately need. Facing mounting pressure from progressive lawmakers and climate organizations, Biden said last week that he was "treading on the authority I have" and would "soon make a decision on a declaration of emergency." "Climate change is the biggest existential threat facing our planet," Warren said. "That's why I, along with my allies, urge the President to declare the climate crisis a national emergency."