Absurd Journalism: The Washington Post on California Wildfires

To anyone who knows something about a topic, any topic, the national press coverage of that topic often appears absurd. One cause is that the article might be animated by the ideologies of all the right people rather than anything as lowly as an ordinary question.

The Feb. 9 Washington Post article, “California’s rainy season now starts nearly a month later, increasing wildfire risk,” by Diane Leonard, “a science writer covering natural hazards,” quotes a Serbian climatologist in the third graph:

“Wildfires can occur at any time in California, but fires typically burn from May through October, when the state is in its dry season,” Jelena Lukovic, a climate scientist at the University of Belgrade in Serbia, and lead author of the study (in Geophysical Research Letter–bh), said in an email. “The start of the rainy season, historically in November, ends wildfire season as plants become too moist to burn.”

The other expert in the article was Daniel Swain, a climate scientist from UCLA. He offered this modestly accurate insight: “When you get to Thanksgiving, it’s pretty wet in Northern California – at least it used to be.”

You can read the entire article by the science writer specializing in natural hazards and you will not find one reference to anyone or organization, local, regional, national, public or private or public-private/win-win partnership, who has ever been responsible for fighting a wildfire – the natural hazard allegedly the topic of the story — in California, Serbia, or Washington DC. And yet the US Forest Service (located in the Department of Agriculture), which has its offices at 1400 Independence Ave. SW, in Washington CD, could probably put a reporter who asked in touch with people who had actually fought forest fires, even in California.

In other words, you will not encounter anyone in this article or in the entire industry of the ideology it espouses, who have ever had to do anything about a natural, political or economic event claimed under the suzerainty of CLIMATE CHANGE, the High Castle of Environmentalism.
I will just note, as a journalist yet no longer a resident of far Northern California, where the fires just keep on burning, that 40 years ago I was aware that it was common knowledge among anyone with any responsibilities in forests, that late rain=taller grass=more fire danger.

One illusion left by Ms. Leonard’s piece is that late rains are something that have only occurred recently in California wildfire history. Another illusion is that late rains could only be of importance to forest managers and residents in danger of being burnt out, neglecting the tremendous significance of late rains to California agriculture. These omissions make the story so superficial that it is inaccurate.

But of course, such prosaic commonplaces as late rain=taller grass, etc., would have destroyed the drama of this brief abstract of the no doubt far more fascinating report in the geophysical journal, at least for those who enjoy such things, about CLIMATE CHANGE. (Strains of Beethoven’s 9th, please)

California has had nine major droughts since 1841, two of which lasted seven years. Since 1821, there have been 23 major floods.

The Post’s article included, for example, a large photo of a washout on Highway 1 in the Big Sur in late January. Northern Californians of a certain age at least, know that washouts on that highway are more common than late rains, besides which, a January storm is not a late rain. In fact, washouts on that road are as old as the time when my grandfather snatched my uncle out of the pool hall, when he should have been in high school, and sent him down to the Big Sur to work on the crew building Highway 1. My uncle, in the mid-20th century, probably greatly enjoyed such pictures and stories in the “Eastern” press as he sat in his Sutton Place apartment in Manhattan later on in life, having benefitted enormously from his father’s lesson.

I took my weather philosophy from a farmer in Watsonville, who dry-farmed, i.e. without any irrigation. He said that either trying to predict the weather or believing the weatherman, or the associated habit of complaining about the weather, caused madness, pure and simple. That’s the voice, and I do not think it is a unique voice, of someone who depended — for his whole life — on the weather.

So, excuse us for regarding as absurd the opinions about climate of people, who live their lives in climate-controlled universities, newsrooms, houses and apartments.

And, as for the “news” quality of this piece, there ain’t none. What is new is that a number of people who live in climate-controlled homes and offices are discovering, usually too late, that they are in danger of being burned out. But, consider for a moment, not just the burned-out Montecito millionaires or county employees of Paradise, California.

For real cosmic agony, consider the effects of the now constant threat of more and more wildfire devastation on the aged, addled New Settlers of the North Coast, with their mental amalgam of Rudolph Steiner/Chadwickian French Bio-Intensive Double Digging/Elvis, Dylan and the Dead/Steinemr/Jesus/Small Is Beautiful Buddha/ Ed Abbey/Marx and Lennon/Kerouac and Beat Poetry, plus miscellaneous channeled luminaries of the Astral Plane — filtered through clouds of constantly improving strains of cannabis.

The horror! The horror!

Bill Hatch lives in the Central Valley in California. He is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of San Francisco. He can be reached at: billhatch@hotmail.com.