I was staring up at the biggest lemon tree I'd ever seen when a friend told me that California isn't a natural environment for human beings. I'd moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn less than three weeks beforehand, so that was startling to hear, considering we were sitting at a ranch among a small crowd of guests wearing sunglasses, smiles, and summer formal wear. We were awaiting the start of an outdoor wedding. Early April in Los Angeles feels a lot like June in New York, if you subtract the humidity and add vegetation. The lemon tree loomed over a grove of its brothers and sisters, yards beyond the gazebo where the vows were about to exchanged. Flowers of every shade, brighter than any I'd seen, colored the area. Looking around, I couldn't find anything that wasn't beautiful.
But I was still a little freaked out because right outside the ranch, I'd seen my first "Beware of Coyotes" sign. It instantly recalled the most frightening death from Six Feet Under, in the "Ecotone" episode: A yuppie jogger, out of breath while running in the mountains, stops to check his pulse and is mauled by a cougar. I'm a city boy at heart, not terribly used to encountering wild animals around me outside of the occasional subway mouse or raccoon clawing through the garbage. Now we're talking about animals fierce enough to be sports mascots? If I get a dog, will I have to beware of coyotes scooping her up for dinner? What had I gotten myself into?
This is the kind of overreaction that indeed feels like an overreaction while you're experiencing it. But considering the risk of wildfires and earthquakes, the dangers of the desert, and the random critters that apparently lurk about, I'm still a bit worried. I'm here on borrowed — no, make that confiscated — land with millions of others, gentrifying Mother Nature, pushing out the animals who can no longer afford the rent. And then there's the drought.
The state of California, home to some of the most fertile agricultural land on the planet, just endured more than five of its driest years in recorded history. From north to south, wells were barren, rain was a rumor, and hundreds of millions of trees died. The poor suffered more than the wealthy, as usual. Governor Jerry Brown recently announced that the drought is officially over after a series of heavy rainfalls soaked the state. But the damage the drought wrought, both to California's environment and to the utility bills of citizens, is still being tallied up.
This is the kind of thing that Californians have not only long prepared for, but know to expect. And climate change has played a big part in making things worse. In 2015, as the state was coming out of the worst of it, scientists told the New York Times that global warming caused by human emissions made the drought about 15 to 20 percent more intense. "To say you’re going to ignore that there’s a huge risk here, the way we’re filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, is folly, ignorance and totally irresponsible," Governor Brown told the Times, adding that Republicans in Congress were in fact being that ignorant and irresponsible.
Brown's voice has been one of the loudest in the nation in opposition to the planet-killing policies and executive orders put forth by Donald Trump's White House, and rightly so. With a solidly Democratic voting base and one of the top economies in the world, California is well-equipped to be the Yavin 4 of whatever rebellion emerges on the left. Some of the largest American crowds during last weekend's March for Science were here in the Golden State, and that march was just the latest in a string of California-based anti-Trump efforts. That's a good thing, because along with states like Louisiana and Florida, we're on the front lines of the war against climate change. Californians will be some of the first troops to go down if we lose that war.
So, considering all the droughts and fires and natural calamities Californians have endured, why are we still here at all? Should we put our political power to use somewhere else, dispersing it throughout the nation by moving to less populous states that voted Republican, making them purple if not blue so that we can elect leaders who take this environmental threat seriously? I wish it were that easy. So, no, we're staying, and resisting here. Have you seen this weather? We'll enjoy all this beauty while it lasts. Well, as long as the coyotes let us, anyway.
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