Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apocalypse....now?

I joked about the four horsemen the other day, but since Sunday, watching the fires engulf Southern California (my dad left me a voicemail yesterday saying, "The whole damn state is on fire. Again.") has tipped my hand.

There will be no goats to get us out of this. I've never seen anything on this scale. Every single area in SoCal that is fire prone in a normal year is ablaze now. Possibly not unlike the persistent fires in Greece this past summer, these fires may burn for weeks. Certainly, the state doesn't have enough trained firefighters in place to tackle fires of such magnitude. This makes me think about some of the more dire planning strategies associated with addressing the seismic vulnerability of the Delta. One scenario offered, termed the "Abandoned Delta" scenario, suggests allowing levees to break and islands to flood, and a more or less triaged approach to dealing with the consequences (like, say, not sending water to those parched parts of the state currently ablaze). I wonder if sustained drought conditions, coupled with massive fires like we are seeing now, will prompt similar scenarios in terms of forestry and fire protection.

I may be jumping the gun and being unneccessarily doomsdayish about this, but I'm really struck by how precarious this balance we've developed, locally, nationally and globally, is. This year started with a hard freeze that jeopardized crop yields, not just for the state but the country. We got zero rain over the winter to accompany that freeze. Now the consequences of that dry winter are becoming apparent. On the economic front, speculation regarding stupid driving is putting upward pressure on the underpinnings of our food system (corn) and driving up the cost of food even further. Now with the push to rebuild that is sure to follow this fire craziness, I just have to wonder how long we can keep mitigating environmental impacts on the economy (whether you think it's global warming or not, these effects are expensive), or if we'll start seeing harsher responses to these disasters.

Apocalypse, indeed.

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