Confronted by that same question, at the urging of a relative, UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab biologist Kristin Aquilino said she just doesn’t view leaving the area as a viable option — both because she loves her life here and because, where would she go?
“The entire planet has a changing climate,” Aquilino said. “There are natural disasters that are possible no matter where you live.”
Still, she’s found herself veering between “disaster porn mode” and a desperate search for bright spots during days already made challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic, as she works full time trying to save a species of sea snail from extinction and parents two young children, 2 and 5, shut in at home.
Her daughter, a freshly minted kindergartner, was not quite 3 when Aquilino’s parents lost their home to the North Bay Tubbs fire, so seasonal wildfires have “been her life since she was cognizant.” But Aquilino, whose professional life is devoted to promoting reproduction of scarce white abalones, believes children are extremely resilient, “as long as they’re surrounded by love.”
Like Hopkins, she also has deep faith in the power of human innovation and scientific discovery, if people are willing to come together and invest in meaningful change, politically and financially.
Technology already exists to derive power from sources other than fossil fuels, both said, and there are proven practices to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help sequester carbon if we scale them up. There also are fuels management techniques and firebreak systems that would help reduce wildfire risks, thus limiting the release of additional carbon into the atmosphere.
“What just boggles my mind,” Hopkins said, “is why are we not treating this like the international emergency that it is? Why is there an inability to act? Why can we not connect the dots?”
Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, on CNN last week, laid blame at the feet of government leaders in the nation’s capital, whom he accused of “sleepwalking” amid the world’s suffering.
“Right now, California is giving a graphic picture of where America and the world is going,” Brown said. “So, wake up America, and wake up world.”
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said the biggest obstacle to addressing the challenges is the current U.S. president — a man who has repeatedly rolled back environmental and climate policies, including those designed to reduce fossil fuel emissions from power plants and motor vehicles and to otherwise address global warming.
“Donald Trump is bad for our climate, and we’re going backward,” McGuire said. “We have an opportunity in about 50 days to make significant investment in our climate by un-electing Donald Trump.”
McGuire said California, “home to some of the brightest minds on the planet,” would remain the nation’s leader on confronting the climate emergency, though even here “we all have to redouble our efforts.”
Ann Hancock, co-founder of the Climate Center, a Sonoma County-based nonprofit dedicated to greenhouse gas reductions, agreed.
She said the climate crisis demands a war-time effort, and said she and her organization are looking to Gov. Gavin Newsom to take command in a way he so far has not.
“We can see that if we don’t take action, we will be overwhelmed, not just how we breathe and, you know, by the heat, but also financially,” Hancock said. “Our economy cannot withstand more of these wildfires, and more sea level rise. We know there’s not enough money to adapt to this. It’s completely untenable. … It’s unsurvivable, actually.”
“This can be a moment of transformation for us,” she said, “where we recognize what’s going on and really put in place the huge solutions that are needed, and that’s what we’re aspiring to, is to frame this moment as an opportunity time for us.”
Local lawmakers are on board, but they also know what frustrations likely lie ahead, given the challenge of partisan politics, generally, and the climate change issue, specifically. It’s not only politically divisive, but also overwhelming in scale and paralyzing to most of the public.
“We need people to embrace change,” Assemblyman Jim Wood said, “and that is the hardest thing for people to do.”
Wood, D-Santa Rosa, said he thought the North Bay firestorm in 2017, the 2018 fire season, which included both the deadly Camp fire and the massive Mendocino Complex fires, were all wake-up calls. The same goes for the 2019 Kincade fire, the largest in Sonoma County’s history.
Yet Wood said he’s found himself, “banging my head,” particularly where wildfire prevention and fuels management issues were concerned, grappling with entrenched interests in the state Legislature and state agencies to look beyond the problems of the moment and address long-term needs.