Santa Barbara has suffered fires and floods since time immemorial, but thanks to climate change, they've gotten hotter and more destructive. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN CALLING:  The phone rings. It’s still early in the morning. A major mover-n-shaker in downtown business circles is wondering whether I’ve read the Book of Revelations. “Do you think we’re in the End of Times?” he asks. I say no. How many times throughout human history, I ask him back, have we gone to hell in a handbasket? Yet somehow, I say, we always managed to make it back.

Only thing wrong with this. I have no clue what a handbasket is.

Couple weeks ago, we started our days waking up to an egg-yolk orange sun rising high in a Martian sky. Back then, the fires were just getting warmed up. Now, our days start out with a cool and drizzly faux fog so fat with smoke and ash we have to keep the streetlights lit until 8 in the morning. That’s what happens, I guess, when more than 5 million acres of forest go up in smoke all at the same time. Hurricanes of heat. Showers of lightning. Nuclear winter in the middle of a long hot summer. Even the street preacher by the San Andres Street gas station who screamed salvation through his exhausted amplifier has fled.

But where can you go?

Smoke from the 273,000-acre North Complex fire in Butte County creates a Mars-scape near Concow Mountain.

So long as we keep things Biblical, we can always blame God. Insurance companies would love that. They don’t have to pay out for calamities that can be chalked up as “Acts of God.” Unfortunately for them, however, the facts suggest the Almighty cannot be held responsible for our current mayhem. We are.

Not all humans, however, are equally culpable on the question of Climate Change. Our 45th president saw fit to break his month-long silence on our raging infernos this Monday and actually met with firefighters, Governor Gavin Newsom, and a slew of state officials up in Sacramento. “It will start getting cooler,” he assured them, speaking in his customary mask-free manner. “You wait and see.”

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Coming from the lips of a man who predicted no less than 32 times COVID would miraculously disappear — when we now know he believed it to be the paramount national security challenge of his administration — I was less than reassured.

It should be noted 45 was getting hot under the collar when he said that. A state official named Wade Crowfoot with the Natural Resources Agency had just admonished him against “burying our heads in the sand.” Climate change, Crowfoot insisted, must be acknowledged. The mercury just hit 130 in Death Valley. Perhaps more astonishingly — he could have said but did not — it climbed all the way to 122 in downtown beautiful Solvang. “I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot told El Prez. In a rare display of controlled curtness, El Prez retorted, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”

Well actually, it actually does.

It turns out that 99.9999 percent of all scientists really do agree climate change is real, and that it’s been caused by human activity. That includes scientists working for the oil industry, who as far back as 1988 expressed concern — though only in internal memos — that by the time climate change is detectable it could already be too late. The only scientists, it turns out, who believe otherwise are the ones hired by the right-wing think tanks that the oil companies fund to insist otherwise for their PR purposes.

David Legates embodies the 0.0001 percent of the scientific community that insists there’s no debate over climate change.

A case in point is Dr. David Legates, an associate professor of geography at the University of Delaware, who has made a comfortable career blaming the sun for climate change, not the carbon dioxide we put in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, he said, is the molecule by which big government “can take control of your lives, of your efforts, and everything that goes on.”

I mention Legates only because El Prez just appointed this man second in command of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency now most responsible for climate forecasting within the federal government. Legates insists fossil fuels have gotten a bad rap by climate catastrophists — whom he has described as “a bunch of thugs” — who he says cashed in on the easy research dollars to be had by providing doom-n-gloom forecasts. (Legates forgot to mention that he himself received significant research funding from oil companies and the Koch brothers when specifically asked about such support by a federal judge who heard a climate change case in the Bay Area at which Legates testified.)

When not blaming the sun for climate change, Legates has also argued that the global surge in temperature can be chalked up to the capricious whims of natural variability. But it’s well worth noting that five of the hottest years on record — globally — have happened since 2015. And nine out of the 10 hottest happened since 2005. This year appears poised to break all heat records with temperatures of 100 degrees being recorded for the first time above the Arctic Circle.

Santa Barbara’s climate has always been defined by the violent extremes; it’s feast or famine, fire or flood. But with three significant fires followed immediately by violent debris flows since 2016 alone, our record indicates things are getting more violent and more extreme. And it’s not random.

I have since learned that handbaskets are where they used to put the heads of people decapitated by the guillotine. So maybe we are going to hell in a handbasket.

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