Cli­mate ‘not a par­ti­san is­sue,’ Har­ris warns

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Dustin Gar­diner

AUBERRY, Fresno County — As she sur­veyed the dev­as­ta­tion of the Creek Fire, Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris said she couldn’t help but no­tice how lit­tle the flames left be­hind. For some, all that re­mained stand­ing were the chim­neys.

“Those chim­neys re­mind me of tomb­stones,” the Demo­cratic vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee said.

It’s a land­scape that the West is likely to see more of if the coun­try doesn’t ac­cept the re­al­ity of cli­mate change science and act ac­cord­ingly, Har­ris said Tues­day as she re­dou­bled the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial ticket’s new em­pha­sis on the threat that an unchecked out­put of green­house gases poses for peo­ple’s lives, health and prop­erty.

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den seized on the is­sue Mon­day, af­ter a week when wild­fires through­out the West killed more than 30 peo­ple, turned the mid­day skies or­ange in Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon and laid down a blan

ket of smoke from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia into Bri­tish Columbia. Bi­den called Trump, who has sys­tem­at­i­cally rolled back en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and pulled the U.S. out of the Paris ac­cords lim­it­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, a “cli­mate ar­son­ist” who ig­nores the dan­ger of wild­fires “burn­ing the sub­urbs of the West.”

It’s be­come a point of sharp de­mar­ca­tion with Trump, who re­it­er­ated his re­jec­tion of cli­mate change science Mon­day when he told Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials that “it’ll start get­ting cooler.” He added that “I don’t think science knows” whether peo­ple are con­tribut­ing to cli­mate change, although in fact sci­en­tists are in wide agree­ment that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is driv­ing the phe­nom­e­non.

Har­ris sought to em­pha­size the di­ver­gence as she vis­ited her home state Tues­day. She and Gov. Gavin New­som viewed a town largely lev­eled by the Creek Fire, which broke out in the Sierra foothills near Se­quoia Na­tional Park on Sept. 4 and has burned more than 220,000 acres.

Har­ris and New­som stood in front of a burned play­ground out­side an el­e­men­tary school in Auberry, 35 miles north­east of Fresno, where in bet­ter times chil­dren would have been play­ing dur­ing lunchtime re­cess. Ash fell from the sky as they spoke.

“Sadly, these wild­fires and the dev­as­ta­tion they cause are ut­terly pre­dictable,” Har­ris said. “This is not a par­ti­san is­sue. This is just a fact. We have to do bet­ter as a coun­try.”

The school it­self sur­vived the flames, but the play­ground is a to­tal loss. Charred pine trees, their fo­liage burned away, stick up from the sur­round­ing hills for miles.

“We have to un­der­stand that Cal­i­for­nia, like so many other parts of our coun­try, has ex­pe­ri­enced ex­treme weather con­di­tions,” Har­ris said. “It is in­cum­bent on us, in terms of the lead­er­ship of our na­tion, to take se­ri­ously these new changes in our cli­mate, and to do what we can to mit­i­gate against the dam­age.”

Har­ris has called for elim­i­nat­ing car­bon emis­sions from the elec­tric­ity­gen­er­at­ing sec­tor by 2035 and has put for­ward a plan to spend nearly $2 tril­lion over four years on in­creas­ing re­new­able power and cre­at­ing in­cen­tives to build more en­ergy­ef­fi­cient build­ings, homes and cars. Bi­den pre­dicts this would cre­ate 10 mil­lion jobs in the clean en­ergy sec­tor, triple the cur­rent to­tal.

Har­ris said that “the peo­ple who are vic­tim­ized by these (fires), they could care less ... who they voted for in the last elec­tion. This is not a par­ti­san is­sue.”

Har­ris praised fire­fight­ers who have been bat­tling the Creek Fire, in some cases as their own houses burned.

“They are work­ing around the clock with­out rest,” she said. “They have been work­ing 90­hour shifts, some of them, to save fam­i­lies, to save prop­erty.”

New­som, who a day ear­lier gen­tly urged Trump in a wild­fires brief­ing out­side Sacra­mento to ac­cept that “cli­mate change is real, and that is ex­ac­er­bat­ing this,” bumped el­bows with Har­ris as he ar­rived. The two peered at the rub­ble of a home that burned down to its foun­da­tion and looked at a burned pickup truck nearby.

New­som al­luded to Trump’s visit as he spoke along­side Har­ris: “If you don’t be­lieve in science, come to Cal­i­for­nia and ob­serve it with your own eyes,” he said. “You can­not be in de­nial about this re­al­ity.”

The gov­er­nor said Har­ris “gets it” and that a Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion would be com­mit­ted to rapidly over­haul­ing Amer­ica’s en­ergy econ­omy by re­duc­ing the amount of green­house gases emit­ted into the at­mos­phere.

The Creek Fire is al­ready the 12th­largest in Cal­i­for­nia his­tory and it’s still burn­ing, hav­ing been just 16% con­tained by Tues­day. Five of the state’s 20 largest fires have hap­pened this year, as a dry win­ter, sear­ing heat and an Au­gust light­ning storm com­bined to light the state ablaze.

Both Har­ris and New­som talked with emer­gency of­fi­cials who gave an over­view of the fire’s ex­ten­sive dam­age, and talked with fire­fight­ers who have been on the front lines.

“What a year, you guys,” New­som could be heard say­ing.

Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris tours the burned foothills out­side Fresno.

Car­los Avila Gon­za­lez / The Chron­i­cle

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, the vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, and Gov. Gavin "ew­som speak amid the dev­as­ta­tion of the Creek Fire.

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