California Wildfires: A Working Class Issue

The wildfire in Butte County, CA.
The most devastating wildfire in California history.

As wildfires roared through both Northern and Southern California, the SF Chronicle reports the weather prediction (as of Nov. 12) is for “Mostly sunny skies with dry conditions throughout the week for the Bay Area” (and beyond). California is burning as conditions get hotter and dryer, and yet there are solutions. But only if working class people seriously study the facts, the science, and organize to take power. Because it’s being proven day after day that the capitalist class will do nothing significant.

Science Matters
With that in mind, let’s start with the scientific facts – and, yes, “science matters” and also, yes, working class people are perfectly capable of understanding the science. And, finally, yes, “knowledge is power” (or, at least, it’s necessary for having power).

We deny it at our own risk, but global warming is a proven fact. However, a better term is global climate disruption, because that’s what’s happening – the climate in one part of the world after another is being disrupted. Earlier winters in some areas. Unusually heavy rains and floods in others. And drought in still others.

That is what is happening on the West Coast of the US. Long term drought, extending and intensifying the fire season in California. According to the NY Times “The 10.1 million acres that burned in the United States last year [2015] were the most since before 1960, and the top five years for acres burned since then were in the past decade. The federal costs of fighting fires rose to $2 billion last year, up from $240 million in 1985.”  See the graphic at bottom of article for further statistics.

This last is what’s happening along the entire West Coast of the United States, and scientists are starting to understand why: California (and the West Coast in general) gets its much of its rain from rainstorms generated across the Pacific. These sweep across the Pacific, drawing moisture from the ocean itself, and deposit that water on the West Coast, unless…

The “Triple R” high air pressure zone that is blocking rain storms from reaching California from the Pacific Ocean

High pressure zone
Unless a high pressure area exists right off the coast, forcing the storms to the north. A high pressure zone is a body of air that is relatively cool. The cool air contracts, making it more dense than the surrounding air, blocking that surrounding air from entering the zone. (Air passing from one zone to another is simply what we experience as wind.)

That is what happened in the seven-year drought that ended in the winter of 2017-8 and seems to be starting again this season. This high pressure zone is called a “ridge”, and in fact scientists have come up with a nickname that seems to have stuck: The “ridiculously resilient [long lasting] ridge” or Triple R.

Here’s how it normally works: The pressure zones are usually determined by the warm and cold air masses that swirl around, which is 20-50,000 feet above the earth. Here’s how Weatherwest.com describes the situation: “These swirling air

SF Bay Area weather report for Nov. 12.
Still no rain in sight.

masses interact with each other, causing cold air to collide with warm air and wet air to collide with dry. The resulting pressure patterns are those wavy lines that TV meteorologists present on their weather maps, said private consultant Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services. Ordinarily, those pressure patterns move, and the weather changes every few days. But sometimes an air mass in one part of the world stalls out. When that happens, “instead of the weather changing every few days, it can stay stationary for weeks,” Patzert said. That’s what happened in December as a high-pressure ridge stalled over the northern Pacific Ocean.”

Cause of “Triple R” High Pressure Zone
From reading the literature, it doesn’t seem that scientists are exactly clear on the mechanics of how this happens, but it seems there are two factors:

  • One cause seems to be increased ocean water temperatures.
  • Another, whose effect scientists are just starting to understand, is the melting of the Arctic ice cap. Exactly how and why this is having an effect hasn’t been completely explained yet, but it does seem they are starting to conclude that it is.

In any case, normally the pressure zone changes from high to low and back again every few days. In fact, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) there are normally five waves of high and low pressure zones that move around the planet. “The waves at times become almost stationary, thereby influencing where storms occur. The result can be persistent weather patterns that produce droughts, floods and heat waves. An example was the so-called Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, a large and persistent high-pressure ridge that blocked storms from reaching California during much of the drought.” They also write that “it could be involved in the weather all over the place.”

The persistent high pressure “ridge” over the West Coast is mirrored

Smoke from the Paradise fire affecting air quality 260 miles away in Oakland. Thousands of people in Oakland are walking around with dust masks on in an attempt to filter out the smoke.

by a persistent low pressure “trough” over the mid west and Eastern United States. This low pressure trough is what has tended to suck in cold weather and winter snow storms over that region. This is another example of why “global climate disruption” is the most accurate term – because it’s disrupting the climate in different ways in different regions.

Capitalist Cover Up
In 2012, Donald Trump claimed that the concept of global warming was a “hoax” invented by the Chinese. More recently, he changed his tune a little bit, now saying that he doesn’t think that it’s a hoax, but that it will change back.

Clinton and Trump at presidential debate.
They had a “gentleman’s/ladies’ agreement” not to mention climate disruption. And the media never called them on it.

More significant than what happens to spill out of the mouth of this lying idiot is the fact that he’s hardly ever been challenged on this issue. During the 2016 presidential elections, if Hillary Clinton mentioned the issue at all anywhere, we don’t know when. And, most significantly, neither she nor any of the questioners ever raised the issue during the “debates”.

It’s the same today with the wildfires, just as it was with the devastating hurricanes like Hurricane Michael: While the capitalist media is happy to give sensational reports, your chances of hearing them explain that these extreme weather/climate events are due to global climate disruption are just about as great as winning the jackpot in the Lottery. This booming silence is what is responsible for the general failure in the public’s mind to see global climate disruption not as something that might affect us in the somewhat distant future, but as the cause of global disasters right now and right here. And the result of this failure is that it’s easy for the capitalist politicians to simply avoid the issue, or as the liberal/“progressive” wing of the Democrats do, to support little minor tweaks that will basically have no effect on the current disasters and won’t prevent the long term global disaster that looms.

Drought in Eastern Africa. The lives of millions of people are threatened. this is a global issue.

The problem is political
And yet, there are things that can be done. As this article in Oaklandsocialist shows, a fundamental change in how we produce food would lead to the soil absorbing huge amounts of the carbon dioxide that we produce. In the coming weeks, we hope to have a follow-up article to this.

But the main step is political. Agribusiness and the related industries, including the chemical industry, have too much profits involved to allow this alternative approach to agriculture to develop on a mass scale. It is the same with the oil industry and renewable energy sources.

Just as with all other issues, from racism, sexism and bigotry in general to poverty, it is being proven that the capitalist class and the system over which they rule – capitalism – are incapable of resolving this looming environmental disaster. Only the working class can resolve it. In order to carry out its historic mission, it has to organize as a class, build its own political party, and move towards seizing power. This is impossible as long as we are linked to one of the two parties of the owners of capital – the Democratic Party. We need a mass, working class party. Such a party could put forward some immediate goals:

  • Mass funding for the transformation of food production along the lines indicated here.
  • Mass funding for other steps including building a real mass transit system and a renewable energy system.
  • A 25 hour work week with no loss in pay, to allow workers more time to travel back and forth to and from work.
  • Expropriate the oil industry.

These are just a few steps that would be necessary and possible along the road to a socialist society, with production planned and under the democratic control and management of the working class itself. 

The wildfire in Butte County, CA.
The most devastating wildfire in California history.





















































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2 replies »

  1. Great article. Nice succinct explanation of the science. People were walking around in the Pacific NW with masks on this summer. The smoke from wildfires mostly in OR and Canada.

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