Biden Says California's Devastating Wildfires Show the 'Fury of Climate Change'

The fires burning California forests, the storms battering the coast of Florida and the droughts damaging wheat fields across the Midwest show the “fury of climate change everywhere, all this year and right now,” said Joe Biden on Monday in wide-ranging remarks on the climate crisis.

In a livestreamed speech from Wilmington, Delaware, Biden detailed how California’s record wildfire year is the latest example of extreme weather events touching all regions of the country driven by global heating.

The last 10 years were the hottest decade ever recorded,” he said. “The arctic is literally melting. Parks are actually on fire. And what we are seeing in America and in our communities is connected to this.”

Biden tied this message to his central critique of President Donald Trump, saying his administration has abdicated leadership on climate change — just as he charged Trump did with the worst pandemic in a century.

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"These interlocking crises of our time require action, not denial, require leadership, not scapegoating,” Biden said. “It requires the president to meet the threshold duty of the office, to care for everyone, to defend us from every attack seen and unseen, always and without exception.”

"Here's the deal,” he continued. “Hurricanes don't swerve to avoid red states and blue states, wildfires don't skip towns that voted a certain way. The impacts of climate change don't pick and choose. That's because it's not a partisan phenomenon. It's science.

"But like with our federal response to COVID-19, the lack of a national strategy on climate change overall leaves us with a patchwork of solutions,” Biden said. “Matter of fact, it's been made worse by the changes this administration has made."

Biden made his remarks a short time before Trump landed at Sacramento McClellan Airport to receive a briefing from Gov. Gavin Newsom. California wildfires have burned more than 3.2 million acres, 4,200 buildings and homes and took the lives of 24 people this year.

Currently, 28 major wildfires are still burning across the state, and the air quality in the Bay Area has been dirtied by wildfire smoke for four straight weeks.

Speaking to reporters in front of Air Force One, Trump deflected a question from KQED’s Katie Orr about the role climate change has played in California’s fires, repeating his well-worn assertion that all California needs to do is manage its forest lands.

There has to be good, strong forest management, which I've been talking about for three years with the state,” Trump said. “So, hopefully they'll start doing that.”

Trump did not mention that the U.S Forest Service and other federal authorities manage 57% of California’s forests. Trump refuses to acknowledge that climate change exists and has rolled back policies meant to combat warming.

It’s true that big fires in California have been stoked by a century of fire suppression that has loaded the state’s forests with fuel. But that vegetation is baking in arid, dry temperatures driven by climate change.

Many of California’s largest wildfires in recorded history have occurred in the last decade, with five of the state’s 20 largest fires burning this year, according to Cal Fire. 

During an introductory session of UC Berkeley’s fall fire science seminar series, Crystal Kolden, a fire scientist at UC Merced, detailed the many different ways that climate change has exacerbated wildfire conditions in California.

“It is the incident of drought,” she said, during remarks last week. “It is associated with some of the beetles that are also contributing to vegetation mortality. And then, of course, what we've seen this year — and other recent years where we've had large events and fatal events — is extreme fire weather.”

“The frequency of those things and the magnitude of those things has all been pretty clearly and demonstrably linked to anthropogenic climate change,” she said.

Summer forest fires are pushing up the annual burn rates across the state.

California has seen a five-fold increase in areas that burn in any given year, with an eight-fold increase in summer forest fires, according to research conducted last year by scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

That research suggests hot weather is drying out forests along the North Coast and Sierra Nevada, and the warming temperatures are leading to a steep rise in acres burned every year.

Millions of Californians have moved into forested areas in recent years. These people — and the power lines and infrastructure that support their communities — are igniting an increasing number of fires.