The raging wildfires in the Western United States show how crucial it is to act to combat climate change, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Monday.
The fires have burned over one million acres in Oregon alone and forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of families in California, Oregon, and Washington state.
“We have to act as a nation. It shouldn’t be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky and are left asking if doomsday is here,” Biden said from a field at the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington, where he read prepared remarks and took no questions from reporters.
Biden linked the fires to hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the United States recently, as well as flooding and droughts across the Midwest, calling it “the fury of climate change.”
“I know this feeling of dread and anxiety extends beyond just the fires. We’ve seen a record hurricane season costing billions of dollars. Last month, Hurricane Laura intensified at a near-record rate just before its landfall along Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. It’s a troubling marker not just for an increased frequency of hurricanes, but more powerful and destructive storms,” he said.
“They’re causing record damage after record damage to people’s homes and livelihoods. And before it intensified and hit the Gulf Coast, Laura ravaged Puerto Rico—where, three years after Hurricane Maria—our fellow Americans are still recovering from its damage and devastation. Think about that reality.”
Biden pointed to a Pentagon report (pdf) from last year that said about two-thirds of 79 installations addressed in the report were vulnerable to current or future flooding and many others were vulnerable to drought or wildfires.
Because extreme weather will only come with more frequency, action is necessary, the 77-year-old said.
Solving the “climate crisis” will include shifting jobs to alternative energy sources and building modernized infrastructure, implementing energy conservation measures, and manufacturing windmills and other “green energy” resources in the United States, he added, before calling President Donald Trump both “a climate arsonist” and “a climate denier.”
A quarter of a million jobs could be created by plugging oil and natural gas wells that were abandoned by the companies that drilled them, Biden continued. Other jobs would be created through a Civilian Climate Corps “to heal our public lands and make us less vulnerable to wildfires and floods,” he added.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, sounded a similar theme during a press conference Friday in a burned-out area of his state near Oroville.
“California is in the midst of an existential climate crisis. It was just two years ago that this area saw the deadliest wildfire in our history. Now, just a few miles away, another deadly wildfire has ripped through these same communities. There is no doubt—climate change is here, and it is happening faster than most had anticipated,” Newsom said.
“While California balances on a knife edge when it comes to climate impact, our state is leading the world in turning our climate resolve into results. We aren’t just making bold promises—we are using our economic strength and innovation to lead the nation and the world towards a greener future. As the events of the last month have shown us, that work has to move faster, too,” he added.
Vice President Mike Pence, speaking in Janesville, Wisconsin on Monday, attempted to reassure people affected by the fires, telling them that the federal government was working with state officials to respond.
“And all of those that are in harm’s way in the Gulf or on the West coast, know that you’re in our prayers and know that we’re going to stay with you every step of the way until we build back bigger and better than ever before,” he said. “That’s our promise.”
President Donald Trump, 74, a day after saying his administration wanted better forest management, traveled to California Monday to meet with Newsom and other state and local officials.
“Thank you for being here. We have meetings with FEMA and with a lot of people. They’re doing an incredible job. This is by far the highest burns we’ve ever seen. There has to be good strong forest management. So hopefully they’ll start doing that,” he told reporters after landing just after 11 a.m.
Better forest management includes removing trees that fall down and leaves, Trump said.
Asked if there is a climate change issue in California, he said: “You’ll have to [ask] your governor that question. I don’t want to step on his toes.”