The fire season has just begun in the United States and already it has left the nation staggered by its ferocity. In California alone almost a million hectares have burnt so far, though conflagrations are being fought in 12 other states.
This week the temperature reached an all time record of 49.4 degrees in one Los Angeles suburb and the skies of San Francisco darkened to blood red throughout long hot days. News reports are full of clips of horrified residents saying that they thought they knew the risks of wildfires, but that nothing prepared them for this.
Asked if he had ever witnessed such conditions, the renowned climate scientist Michael Mann said during a radio interview this week: “Yeah, well I was on sabbatical in Sydney during what they now call the Black Summer fires… and it had that same sort of haunting orange hue. And it is the same phenomenon; unprecedented heat and drought last summer gave them unprecedented fires.
“We’re seeing the same thing happen in California, as we warned - as we have long warned - we would see if we continue to warm the planet by polluting the atmosphere with carbon pollution.”
In another time this might have prompted the sort of searing national debate over the need to properly tackle climate change that broke out here in Australia before the rolling catastrophes of 2020 diverted our attention.
But the US is not only battling a pandemic and the consequential economic collapse but relentless civil strife supercharged by a poisonous election campaign.