Trump's "Theory" About The California Wildfires Enraged And Confused Pretty Much Everyone


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Wildfires are getting worse in California, but water policy isn't to blame. Digital Media Pro/Shutterstock

The President is hardly known for his scientific prowess, which is why it’s entirely unsurprising that he decided to have a pop at the wildfires currently raging across California through his preferred digital megaphone. His first tweet on August 5 appears to have been deleted, but a very similar one to the original appeared soon afterward.

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!” he blustered.



The causes of these wildfires can’t be boiled down to a single cause, or even a couple of villains. The rapidly proliferating Mendocino Complex fire, which is now officially the worst in the state’s history, was driven by multiple antagonizing factors.


These included a wet winter – helping to create plenty of flammable grasses for 2018 – persistent drought-like conditions, more people living near wildlands, policies that allow flammable vegetation to spread uncontrollably, and, of course, the long-term, anthropogenically induced warming trend, per Earther.

Trump’s assertions are, as you might expect, nonsense. As the state’s fire agency has clearly noted, they certainly aren’t draining water into the ocean that could otherwise be used to douse and mitigate the fires.


Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told AP Fact Check that there also is plenty of water available to fight wildfires. This is universally true for the state, but it also applies to this specific situation: the current wildfires are within range of large lakes and the biggest river in the state.


Peter Gleick, a renowned expert on climate, energy, and water at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, told Politico that the “idea that somehow state water policies are leading to a shortage of water for fighting the fires is too stupid to rebut.”


Daniel Berlant, the assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, was unequivocal when speaking to The New York Times. “It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” he said.

In fact, one way of looking at Trump’s tweets is that he’s implicitly taking a shot at climate science. Although Trump normally left more explicit climate change denial duties to his acolytes, he does sometimes give it a pop.


There’s more to the story than that, though. The Trump administration is essentially waging a war on science that’s inconvenient to the industries it, and much of the GOP, have been heavily lobbied by – petrochemical, fossil fuel, transportation, and so forth.

The regulatory rollbacks, from fuel-efficiency standards and the Clean Water Rule to the shrinking of national monuments, are all part of an industry appeasement strategy, always on the opposing side to environmental advocacy. So when the administration has a go at environmental laws, it’s normally due to an ulterior motive.

In this case, it’s likely that Trump is siding with another group that’s run afoul of environmentalists, and Berlant suspects that this time, it’s farmers.

They have frequently argued that more water in the area should be given to help irrigate crops, whereas environmentalists have suggested that this would be a detriment to the state’s rivers and associated endangered and threatened fish stocks. The New Republic speculates that the Trump administration is doing something more specific: signaling its attempts to stop California from regulating its own water networks, for much the same reasons. 


Funnily enough, limiting water extraction from certain tributaries would let more drain into the oceans. So what Trump – and other GOP officials – are saying in that one respect is technically true, but as ever, it's being taken out of context.


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