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Opinion newsletter: California’s historically hellish week

Fires in California
People watch the Walbridge fire, part of the larger LNU Lightning Complex fire, in Healdsburg, Calif., on Aug. 20.
(AFP / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

And what a week it was. Perhaps we’ve grown so unfazed by chaos that it would take a two-bedroom apartment in Hollywood renting for less than $2,000 to make anyone aware that something had changed, but in a normal world with normal sensitivities, a week as cataclysmically terrible as the one we just experienced would be high in the running for “where were you when” status.

Consider: If someone had told you in early 2020, with impeachment fully underway and the world not exactly in great shape, that within the span of a single week in August, enough acreage to cover the entire state of Rhode Island would burn, all campuses in the state’s largest school district would be closed to students, we’d have rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001 — and all this, with overnight low temperatures barely dipping below 80 degrees — what fresh hell would you have thought awaited you?

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Oh, and throw in chicks — as in, infant fowl — dying in the mail. Yes, what a week in was — to wit:

The power went out in a heat wave; some blame renewable energy. Of course, those people are wrong, but in a state that has gone it alone on climate change, there’s always a bogeyman for critics during a crisis. The truth is, says the L.A. Times Editorial Board, fossil fuel use has caused climate change and the attendant prolonged heat waves, and the transition to renewable energy sources is meant to mitigate these effects, hopefully leading to less of the extreme weather that causes power outages. L.A. Times

Yes, global warming is causing our wildfires. Climate scientists have long demurred on linking any specific weather event or catastrophe to climate change, but that’s changing with the lightning-fueled wildfires scorching Northern California. Higher temperatures and altered precipitation patterns over the last decades have primed the vegetation in California to burn more easily; add rare dry thunderstorms, and scientists are seeing the effects of climate change on these specific events much more clearly. MIT Technology Review

L.A.'s schools still are closed, but the superintendent is working on that. Austin Beutner, head of the Los Angeles Unified School District, writes in a Times op-ed article that the best way to ensure students’ safety in the classroom is to test everyone — as in, nearly 700,000 of them — for COVID-19, and have a contact-tracing program in place at the district: “Testing and contact tracing will cost money. We expect the effort in Los Angeles Unified to cost about $300 per student over the course of a year. But that is a small fraction of the $17,000 Californians invest each year to educate a student, and the dollars pale in comparison to the importance schools will play in reopening the world’s fifth-largest economy.” L.A. Times

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California’s still in a pandemic, and many in the state face the impossible choice of fire safety versus coronavirus safety. For months we’ve been told to stay at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and perhaps even save our own lives. Now, many are being told to save their own lives by doing the opposite: packing up and leaving home at a moment’s notice. “Hence the Californian’s dilemma,” writes the Atlantic’s Jacob Stern. “Those who flee risk infection; those who stay risk incineration. Something has to give.” The Atlantic

So now, we put our hope in ... Joe Biden. I concede that a lot of the criticism of the Democratic presidential nominee is laced with ageism, but as someone who voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, I am less than thrilled about turning out in November for the former vice president. For lukewarm Biden voters like me, columnist Nicholas Goldberg has a message: Get over it, and do your part to unseat the most dangerous president in recent history. L.A. Times

And finally, a message for the Democratic party: Black women aren’t your mules. It’s been fashionable for the party’s leadership to lionize Black women as saintly oracles who can fix everything that’s wrong with the country, a sentiment that Erin B. Logan finds patronizing and counterproductive: “Even if Joe Biden and [Kamala] Harris are elected, police brutality will still be a problem. So will racism in medicine, housing, wealth and just about every area of life. So, to all of you on the left who aren’t Black women: Don’t just count on us. Real democracy requires everyone.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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