I took these photos at midday as I went about my usual chores. The forest fires that have been burning across California sent ash over San Francisco turning the sky a freakish shade of orange. Birds sat on the ground looking confused. The streetlights remained on since their sensors indicated it was still night at noon.
My neighbor sent up his drone and captured images from directly above our building. I got an instant Blade Runner 2049 vibe. Is this life imitating art? Or is art giving us a sneak preview? As grim as the air quality is in the city it’s even worse in the countryside closer to where the fires are burning.
I had to drive down to the tech suburbs south of the city and the scenes were equally spooky. The YouTube headquarters, Merck, SAP, and Walmart’s IT center were all wrapped in an orange shroud.
The maintenance shop for prototype autonomous vehicles out by the airport seemed welcoming compared to the outside world. As nature becomes ever more stressed humans are retreating into our machines.
Every time there’s been a wildfire in California for my entire life the authorities and media insist on finding “the person” who started it. There’s always a camper that lights up a barbecue in the woods or a teenager who thinks it would be fun to play with matches. The reality is that these same activities in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania simply don’t result in half the state catching fire. The California landscape wants to burn periodically and people just happen to be in the way.
What we’re witnessing is a shift from one baseline climate to another emerging baseline climate. The fossil record from prehistory shows that California has gone through many periods of multi-century mega droughts as well as long periods of increased precipitation. At times there was much more or much less tree cover in the state depending on rainfall and temperature. I suspect we’re going to keep having more fires until Northern California has a landscape that’s closer to Southern California. And Southern California’s landscape will resemble Baja down in Mexico.
Civilizations spring up in certain locations during favorable periods and tend to decline when conditions change. History suggests people are obsessed with short term concerns and don’t alter much of anything until they have absolutely no other choice. Eventually failure fixes itself…