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Mendocino Complex Fire August 2018 - Northern California - USA

Mendocino Complex Fire now largest fire in California history – August 2018 – California/USA
Photo Credit: ABC News (Noah Berger/AFP)


In Southern California, we’re experiencing temperatures of 88 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. At our local garden center two Saturdays ago, around ten o’clock, I had to seek shelter from the Sun. Heat stress aborted my fun-time outdoors while selecting succulent plants. Then, the following week, I suffered another episode of heat stress at the hair salon. The air-condition system in the one-story, flat-roof building wasn’t up to the task.

The danger is far greater in areas where firefighters battle to contain ferocious wildfires. The Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires in Northern California have together burned more than 486,000 acres of land and destroyed 1,828 structures. Hundreds more structures are damaged or under threat. Only 51 percent of the wildfires is contained. The California Fire Department expects to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire by September 1st.

The fire season in California has now become a year-long phenomenon. After our most severe drought (2012-2016) since record-keeping began, coupled with record-breaking hot temperatures, approximately 129 million trees died, providing lots of fuel for firestorms.

In his opening letter in the 2018 Report: Indicators of Climate Change in California, the Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency noted: “Climate change is not just a theory. It is a real, immediate, and growing threat to California’s future.”

Lots more heat awaits humanity. So says sixteen international climate scientists in their study, Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, published on August 6, 2018, in PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. If we continue our path of ever warmer temperatures, they warn, we risk triggering “a cascade of feedbacks [that] could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a ‘Hothouse Earth’ pathway.”

A pathway of no return.

Earth System on Path to Hothouse Earth

Earth System on Pathway to ‘Hothouse Earth’
Credit: U.S. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)


We’re around one degree Celsius warmer than the days before we started burning coal and are already experiencing extreme impacts. To exceed two degrees Celsius could be catastrophic.

Co-author Professor Rockström sees the current heatwaves in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Japan as possible warning signs of instability. “One should learn from these extreme events and take these as a piece of evidence that we should be even more cautious,” the professor told the BBC.

The authors are optimistic that we humans can avert our path to Hothouse Earth. This would require concerted global action. We have to end our reliance on fossil fuel energy by 2050, plant more trees and protect our forests, develop ways to remove carbon from the air, and manage heat from the Sun. To succeed, we would have to change our value system.

Each one of us must become stewards of the Earth System.

The Climeworks carbon sucking plant - Switzerland

The Climeworks carbon sucking plant – Switzerland
Photo Credit: Science Magazine (Climeworks)


Overwhelmed at the task at hand? You’re not alone. Can we do this? Not with the lack of leadership in the current American administration.

If some toxic cloud doesn’t strike me down first, an extreme heat wave in the years ahead could well take me out. Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to stay cool and well hydrated.