In The Nation, prominent political theorist Mike Davis, a California native, discusses the political and environmental backdrop to the wildfires that have swept across the state in recent weeks. He notes how invasive plant species have provided ample fuel for the fires, and make it difficult for native plants to regrow once the fires have passed. Climate change accelerates the destabilization of California’s traditional ecosystems, leading to “a new, profoundly sinister nature,” writes Davis. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
Our burning deserts are regional expressions of a global trend. Mediterranean vegetation has coevolved with fire; indeed, oaks and most chaparral plants require episodic fire to reproduce. But routine extreme fire in Greece, Spain, Australia, and California is now overriding Holocene adaptations and producing irreversible changes in the biota.
Although Australia is a close contender, it is California that best illustrates the vicious circle in which extreme heat leads to frequent extreme fires that prevent natural regeneration—and with the help of tree diseases accelerate the conversion of iconic landscapes into sparse grasslands and treeless mountain slopes. And with the native plants, of course, go the native fauna.
Image: Charred Joshua Trees in the Mojave National Preserve, California, September 2020. Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.