Fire, Fumes, and Fear
Climate, Health and Equity Brief

Fire, Fumes, and Fear


Hot Topic: California is on fire. California continues to be engulfed in flames as massive wildfires, historic blackouts and unprecedented evacuation efforts continue in vast areas near San Francisco and Los Angeles. Smoke plumes can be seen clearly from satellites as far as 22,000 miles into space, showing the extent of the devastation.

Aside from the obvious and immediate dangers presented by wildfires, there is increasing concern among scientists about the long-term health impact of exposure to wildfire smoke, which can reach populations even hundreds of miles away. Unlike naturally occurring summer forest fires that used to burn only trees and other organic matter, massive fires fueled by climate change are now consuming homes filled with chemicals, paints and plastics that become easily inhaled toxic particles.

Evidence also suggests that mental health is an increasing concern during wildfire season, particularly among children. Los Angeles-area school counselors have reported spikes in anxiety, depression, and fear among kids in response to the report of fires, or even just the possibility of high winds.
What steps will we take in the face of climate-related events that are already taking lives, destroying communities, scarring our landscapes, and striking fear in our children?

—Matt & Traci, GMMB

Smoke and dust particles from California’s wildfires threaten health complications ranging from asthma attacks to cancer, affecting even populations not in the immediate vicinity. (Vox) Scientists are only beginning to explore and understand the long-term health effects from inhaling wildfire smoke as toxic fumes continue to penetrate the air in California. (National Geographic) California’s wildfire season has already increased by 75 days as hotter and drier than normal conditions, among other climate change-related circumstances, become the state’s new norm. (CNN) Anxiety has spiked among Los Angeles children and youth as new fires exacerbate trauma from last year’s blazes that destroyed their homes and communities. (The Los Angeles Times)

Wealthy Los Angeles communities and residents are hiring private firefighters to protect their homes, limiting desperately needed services to a select few. (The New York Times)Gardeners and housekeepers are going into evacuated areas to continue their work for affluent Los Angeles families, fearing loss of income. (The Los Angeles Times)More than 2,000 prison inmates are fighting fires in California, but most will be denied firefighting jobs after their release. (CNN)

Politics & Economy
President Trump’s EPA is set to roll back Obama-era coal plant regulations designed to limit the leaching of toxins into U.S. water supplies. (The New York Times)

A new report finds that climate change is the number one issue among young American voters, who will make up 37% of the 2020 electorate. (Our Daily Planet)

Former Governor Jerry Brown will head the newly established California-China Climate Institute, a trans-Pacific initiative to explore innovative solutions to climate change. (The San Francisco Chronicle)

A newly released Harvard study reveals the best places to install renewable energy across the U.S. to maximize health and climate benefits. (SciTech Daily)

Los Angeles’ mayor has launched the Cool Streets LA initiative to plant street trees and install cool pavement to ease the effects of the climate crisis. (Smart Cities World)

Interested in California’s wildfire history? Check out this interactive map that shows more than 100 years of fire perimeter data recorded by Cal Fire and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“Our house is on fire.”
—Greta Thunberg

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