Sounds so sweet, “Mother Nature.” The expression originated nearly 800 years ago: to recognize and honor the life-giving and nurturing aspects of our natural world.
But I’m guessing those weren’t the adoring words you uttered during the record-breaking heatwave. Nor were those the words spoken in the wee hours Sunday morning when rare thunderstorms swept through our region.
My first word Sunday morning was “earthquake.” Instead, I leapt out of bed at 2am to witness a magnificent sky illuminated by concurrent lightning strikes, with a supporting cast of rolling thunder and sonic booms. It was awesome, majestic, omnipotent. It seemed way better than an earthquake – in that moment.
But we all could sense the timing was bad. Mother Nature was angry, not nurturing. Though fire season in California is now year-round, an August storm is bad news for an area that hasn’t had significant rainfall since April.
So far in 2020 we have faced a pandemic, economic seizure, the most intense political divisiveness of our lifetimes. That’s all pre-storm.
Today, we’re a community with yet another significant disaster, or three. As of the Weekly’s print deadline, 1,500 structures are threatened near River Road and San Benancio, with the fire only 7-percent contained, displacing families and animals, and potentially harming crops with smoke.
That’s the River Fire. As I was writing this, the Carmel Fire broke out on Cachagua Road with roughly 500 acres burned and zero-percent containment four hours later. Evacuation orders were immediate. Then overnight from Aug. 18-19, the Dolan Fire in Big Sur burned 2,500 acres.
The collective desire for normalcy will have to wait. The reality: It’s time we prepare to live with volatility, and plan accordingly.
2020 is one of the two hottest years on record thus far, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Death Valley reached 130 degrees last week, arguably an all-time record high on the planet (debatable because 134 was recorded there in 1913, but without current weather technology). This summer, the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reached over 100 degrees, the first time recorded temperatures above the Arctic Circle reached triple digits. It’s unlikely that this trend will change in our lifetimes.
Still, we can do a few things, beginning now.
First, remember the serenity prayer, a north star in rough times: Accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Second, let’s get really honest. While there are many structures at risk in these fires, that’s no big surprise. The wildland-urban interface is a growing concern for fire officials, where human infrastructure is adjacent to fire-prone areas.
Every major wildfire our community has faced in the past 40 years should have forced us to better separate wildlands from urban areas, to not build in the wrong spaces. Individual desires – to live in nature, privacy – are in conflict with the collective. We simply have not adopted smart policies to ensure adequate spatial separation from our forests, despite major fires we’ve dealt with: in Pebble Beach, Carmel Valley, Palo Colorado, Big Sur, Carmel Highlands. The River Fire is simply the latest edition of this story.
The River Fire is another wakeup call: Local governments shouldn’t approve developments that increase density in wild areas. The River View assisted senior living facility proposed at Las Palmas is one example of a good idea, but in the wrong location. Other projects would also increase density near wild areas: Harper Canyon, Paraiso Hot Springs, more homes in San Benancio, Corral de Tierra and Las Palmas. The Monterey County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors ought to stop that expansion.
Finally, take a stand for the environment. Put solar on your roof, take advantage of incentives for an electric car, walk or ride your bike to the store, buy local food and shop locally. Do what you can to save energy and decrease your carbon footprint.
We cannot solve all the world’s problems. But we can begin to address our own. With a little prayer, lowering our personal impacts plus some obvious, smarter public policies, we can take some vital steps. Mother Nature will thank us.