Opinion: It’s not a drought if it’s always hot and dry

Burned rubble is all that remains in a residential area of Paradise, Calif, destroyed in the Camp Fire in November 2018.
Burned rubble in a residential area of Paradise, Calif., destroyed in the Camp fire in November 2018.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, May 8, 2021. One year ago today, in what felt like a huge relief at the time, Los Angeles County hiking trails reopened after a weeks-long closure; since then, a lot more has reopened. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Amid all the talk of late about life returning to normal, one thing remains stubbornly off: the drought, which is bad enough in Los Angeles but perilously worse in much of the state, especially in parts of Northern California that appear primed for another record wildfire season. But don’t take what you are about to read at face value, and certainly do not take comfort in it: There is, in fact, no drought.

That isn’t a statement of climate denialism or agribusiness propaganda. Rather, it’s one that recognizes the unsettling reality for California: Our expectation of what counts as normal was set during an anomalously wet epoch in the climatic history of the now-American West, and these warmer, drier seasons that prime our forests for explosive wildfires are in fact “normal.”


So in that sense, says The Times’ Editorial Board, there truly is no drought:

“Droughts come for a year, or two, or even 10 — and then end. Seasonal crops are fallowed, lawns are ripped out, car washing stops — and then life, lawns, crops and car washing all return to the way they were before.

“That’s not what we’ve got. Drought does not erase the coastal fog that once was commonplace in the Bay Area, or suck all moisture from the ground even after flood winters the way it has done not just in Sonoma and Mendocino but also in Topanga, Malibu and the Santa Susana Mountains, as was the case before 2018’s Woolsey fire. Droughts are deviations from the norm. What we have now is no deviation. It is the norm itself. Our climate has changed. As much water falls from the sky as before, but at different times and in different ways....

“The years of steady and predictable water flow are over, and there is no sign of them coming back in our lifetimes. This is it. We have to build, and grow, and legislate, and consume for the world as it is, not as we may remember it.”

File this also under “new normal”: We’ll probably never reach herd immunity. The editorial board brings more bad news on the things-will-never-be-the-same front: “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have collectively focused on that point in the future when so many people have been inoculated or have obtained natural immunity, normal life could resume and this painful period would dissolve into the mists of history. But it seems that this magical moment in which the U.S. hits ‘herd immunity’ and COVID-19 is stopped dead in its tracks isn’t likely to happen soon, if ever.” L.A. Times

Let’s hope the recall doesn’t become a new normal (and as you may recall after reading last week’s newsletter, it might). John Cox, the Republican who lost to Newsom in 2018, brought a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear to his campaign kickoff news conference in Sacramento; for obvious reasons, he shouldn’t have done that, says editorial writer Carla Hall. Instead of focusing on the recall, California Republicans should try to get Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert elected state attorney general in 2022, says former L.A. Times writer Dan Morain.


A lot has to go wrong for Newsom to lose, but a successful recall could be catastrophic for the state — if, that is, no other Democrats runs to replace him. Right now, prominent Democrats remain loyal to Newsom and are faithfully urging voters to oppose the recall, period, rather than oppose the recall but vote for me just in case — a much more muddled message. Writing in the New York Times, Miriam Pawel, a former L.A. Times editor, encourages Democrats to consider what might happen if a Republican replaces Newsom and then, say, has to appoint a replacement for Sen. Dianne Feinstein. New York Times

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Southern California’s Inland Empire has become a mecca for massive logistics warehouses, enabling e-commerce to thrive in much of the country. Problem is, all those new warehouses in communities such as Moreno Valley and Fontana bring with them constant truck traffic, and those trucks spew toxic diesel exhaust fumes over the adjacent residential areas. “It’s inhumane to consign residents here to unhealthy levels of pollution that can permanently damage children’s lungs and raise adults’ risk of heart attacks and strokes,” says the editorial board. Perhaps new rules adopted Friday by the South Coast Air Quality Management District will help. L.A. Times

Asian Americans make up less than 1% of the country’s top CEOs yet account for 12% of the professional workforce. They are the group least likely to be promoted to management, and they are almost always overlooked in discussions about workplace bias, writes UCLA business professor Christopher S. Tang: “For Asian workers, the anti-Asian violence has triggered demands to address the employment bias that hinders their career growth. The stereotypes — lack of leadership qualities and assertiveness — are particularly used against women, who are seen as docile and unable to fit in with the corporate executive culture. American corporations will have to root out this kind of racial bias if they want to develop leaders who reflect an increasingly diverse employee and customer base.” L.A. Times

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