Donald Trump’s threat to withhold federal aid from California to help it cope with devastating wildfires – because of his unscientific views about climate change – is the latest sign that he is not fit to be US President, writes Ian Johnston.
According to US President Donald Trump, there is no reason for the “massive, deadly and costly” wildfires in California “except that forest management is so poor”. “So many lives lost,” he added, “all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”
Given the latest death toll is 31 and that more than 200 people are listed as missing, this was clearly a highly controversial thing to say. After all, if someone’s “gross mismanagement” has caused dozens of deaths, should they not now be facing criminal prosecution?
The reaction from firefighters was swift. Brian Rice, of California Professional Firefighters, said Trump’s remarks – and particularly his threat to withhold federal US funds – were “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” to those fighting the fires.
But, to use one of Trump’s favourite phrases, the idea that forest management is the sole reason for wildfires is, without a shadow of a doubt, fake news.
Clearly it does play a role, but a scientific study published last year concluded the western US had entered a “new era of wildfire” because of climate change.
The burning season, the researchers found, had become three months longer than during the 1970s because of rising temperatures. And a 2016 study, funded partly by Nasa, concluded that the area affected by forest fires in the western US had doubled over the last 30 years.
Temperatures in the region, which was already known for wildfires, have risen more quickly than the global average. No one remotely credible disputes this. And it doesn’t take much knowledge of science to join the dots between warmer, drier weather and more wildfires.
Trump’s response is yet another example of him being grossly offensive, stupid and just plain wrong. But he is the individual who is currently considering a request from California’s Governor Jerry Brown to declare a “Presidential Major Disaster Declaration” that would, among other things, release funds to help people who have lost their home find somewhere to live, assist the ongoing emergency response, and repair infrastructure like roads and bridges.
The California wildfires are a major disaster, but so is the US President.