California fires: climate change is getting personal


The images are hard to comprehend. They aren’t just from another disaster movie. They range from the surreal to those of real devastation: from Disneyland California coated with ashes to the large swathes of Santa Rosa laid waste

The fires have burned at least 210,000 acres, leaving at least 40 people dead and hundreds more missing, with about 100,000 forced to flee their homes.

I’m more acutely aware of this particular disaster than on other occasions because I know people in the affected areas. The fires are within three miles of SOMO Village in Sonoma County – an ambitious $1 billion re-development of a former industrial site 40 miles north of San Francisco, which Bioregional has been working with to help it realise its sustainability vision for almost ten years now.

SOMO is being developed as a One Planet Community. It aims to generate 100% of its energy requirements from renewable onsite sources and to date has one of the largest privately owned solar arrays in Northern California. It is being designed as a living model of how to create communities that enable people to live truly sustainable lives.

By doing so SOMO intends to contribute to preventing runaway climate change, where we’ll see more frequent, and more devastating extreme weather events. More events like the record-breaking heat that California has been suffering over the past weeks, which together with strong winds, have created the perfect conditions for the fires to take hold and spread.

I have friends in Sonoma County who have lost their homes in the fires over the past few days. SOMO was used as a temporary evacuation centre. The SOMO Event Center has been helping provide meals. Credo School, an amazing high school where staff and students alike have embraced One Planet Living, is shut.

I’ve been tracking the news on Facebook, and in all this, what is striking is the community-spirit that’s being brought out. People are opening up their homes to those who have lost theirs.

At Bioregional we are relieved that no-one we know has been hurt so far. Our thoughts are with those people who have lost loved ones, or whose friends and family are missing, or who have been hurt or have lost their homes.

What’s happening in California is no disaster movie. Climate change is happening now, and it’s getting personal. We have to change – every one of us. It’s time to get real.


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