The more I explored California’s coastline, hiked the trails of the Sierra, stared up at the granite walls of Yosemite, and met others who felt pushed or pulled here, the more I developed what I jokingly call a “zeal of the convert” attitude toward the state.
And it’s been infuriating to see commentators pounce on the tragedies, or the planned electricity blackouts designed to prevent them, and declare that they’ll doom the state or spark a mass exodus.
Accelerating climate change, development along wilderness boundaries, and rigid forest management practices have all increased the dangers of devastating wildfires in the state and across much of the American West.
And to meaningfully address most of its mounting problems, the state must finally grapple with its fundamental inability to approve and build housing and infrastructure in reasonable amounts of time.
California is a bright, shining example that you can build a humming engine of economic growth, even in a state that embraces relatively high taxes and progressive values—an unforgivable assault on conservative worldviews.
The upsides to living in one of the most expensive parts of the world aren’t as clear when you can’t enjoy its amenities; when its dense collection of restaurants, bars, museums, and concert venues are all empty; when you’re forced to communicate with friends by Zoom whether you’re down the block or three time zones away.
At the time, I was less drawn to California in any specific way than determined to escape a state that was too conservative, homogenous, and religious for my tastes. Plus, oof, the winters. But that soon changed.
And so it’s been heartbreaking to watch my adopted state suffer through some of the deadliest and most devastating fire seasons in its history.
Last month, the state’s main grid operator ordered a series of rolling blackouts, California’s first unplanned outages in nearly two decades, as millions of air conditioners strained to keep up with blistering heat waves.
Fires have destroyed thousands of properties and killed eight people in the state so far this year.
It also helps to have a Democratic supermajority that can occasionally pass substantive laws, as evidenced by the suite of climate regulations pushing the state toward an ever-cleaner mix of energy sources.
As frightening as life was in early March, when the first cases were reported in the US, I was comforted and at times even proud, watching state and local leaders take fast and decisive steps.
It’s an increasingly popular take, producing ridiculous headlines like “California is becoming unlivable, according to science” and “California is a failed state. How do we know?
About a year after graduating from college, I packed my possessions into a rental van I’d split with a near stranger and departed my home state of Ohio.
That same week, hundreds of small lightning-sparked fires converged into conflagrations that soon ripped across more than a million acres, forced more than 100,000 residents to vacate their homes, and filled Northern California’s sky with dangerously high levels of particulate matter.
Doing it all without having to shut down electricity service from time to time will require overhauling the state’s antiquated distribution and transmission systems, which could take years and cost billions.
But the region’s world-class universities, cluster of tech companies, stunning natural beauty, leftish politics, and diverse demographics have drawn bright, engaged minds from around the world for decades.
Family members who offered me places to stay live in red or swing states where I’d dread walking into grocery stores packed with people proudly refusing to wear masks.
In defense of California https://t.co/Kk26gpvboA— MIT Technology Review (@techreview) September 6, 2020
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