A Fire in the Hills

I remember when I was little, there was wildfire near my elementary school. The other kids and I were so excited when we saw ash falling from the sky. We thought it was snow.

One morning this past October, I woke up to a sky overcast with muddy ash once again. I stepped out for a second to check it out, but the air was heavy with the taste of coal and my throat became sore. Ash rained onto the street. I checked social media, only to see my friends, neighbors, and classmates posting videos of themselves being evacuated from their homes or capturing the hills covered in the hellish orange flames that towered over the houses they threatened to consume.

Those of us who live in Chino Hills have experienced our fair share of wildfires at varying degrees of devastation. Little did we know that this most recent incident would be one of the worst wildfires in Chino Hills, burning nearly 14,000 acres of land, endangering our neighborhoods and forcing nearly 6,000 of us to be evacuated. This is the city we call home. Our homes are where we keep our most precious belongings and where we expect safety from the elements. But that safety is being compromised. The flames are closing in on us, and they are becoming more frequent and more devastating every year.

Wildfires have always been a hazard here, with the city even banning fireworks to help prevent them. So why have recent wildfires been so much more widespread? These last few years have seen an unprecedented rise in wildfires in California. This is because of the much longer dry seasons and consistently higher temperatures that dry out the hills our town is named for — making them the perfect candidate for fueling dangerous and uncontrollable wildfires. But what’s causing this?

To put it bluntly, the culprit is climate change. Some of you may be wondering how we can know that for sure, and I understand your resistance. How exactly do scientists know that climate change is caused by humans and isn’t some natural phenomena? Some of you may have heard people argue that the scientific community does not have a consensus on how humans are connected to climate change, but I want to dispel these myths. More accurately, I invite you to think critically on this issue yourself. Individual scientists may say one thing or the other, but we must realize that scientists aren’t infallible, nor are they immune to bias or corporate influence. So even though I could show you peer-reviewed studies confirming that 97% of active climate scientists agree that climate change is human-caused, I could also invite you to look at the data yourself.

Climate change is not a “belief.” We know it exists just by looking at climate data. In 2019, the global average temperature was 1.15 degrees Celsius (2.07 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the pre-industrial revolution average, and was the second warmest year ever recorded. A 1.15 degree increase may not seem significant, but when you consider how big Earth is, the amount of energy that it would take to raise the global average temperature by even a fraction of a degree is quite literally astronomical. This “global warming” is the direct result of increased CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere — the greenhouse effect.

We need to do our part to ensure our home isn’t destroyed, and we can start small. The livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, but until meat substitutes are a cheap and viable option for everybody, it’ll have to stay. To compromise, buy dairy and other animal products from local farms and farmer’s markets in Chino, instead of from corporate supermarket brands. Try to minimize driving, and instead walk or bike when running errands around the city. Recycle your plastic, save water, save electricity. Follow wildfire prevention guidelines, especially if you’re near the hills. And whatever you do, don’t host an explosive gender reveal party in our state parks.

This November, when researching candidates on our ballots for local government, I noticed an odd correlation between many of the candidates and Calvary Chapel. For instance: Andrew Cruz. He’s been a member of the school board since 2012, and is probably most well known for his infamous rant during a school board meeting where he compared sex education to Nazism. Cruz, along with board members James Na and Sylvia Orozco, were targeted in a lawsuit for their insistence on prayer and reading Bible verses during school board meetings. Notably, this trio are all active members of Calvary Chapel. After looking up more of the candidates on the ballot, I discovered that for any local government position, there was at least one person associated with Calvary Chapel running for that position. It turns out that the head pastor at Calvary Chapel actively mixes politics into his sermons and is active on the political right. He even prayed during a service for Donald Trump to win over Joe Biden. He’s often found himself in legal trouble with the IRS, who’ve threatened to take away the church’s tax exemption for his actions. He actively encourages his followers to engage and run for local politics, which explains why so many candidates on the November ballot were associated with the church. That’s unacceptable and borderline corrupt, considering how large his congregation is, and I’m saying that as a Christian myself.

Calvary Chapel has been known to be outright hostile toward climate mitigation and environmental concerns, so the fact that they are trying to push their candidates into local politics is worrying for the future of Chino Hills, a city that is especially vulnerable to climate change. At worst, Calvary Chapel associated politicians would attempt to push back on any proposed climate change response for the city. At best, they would be completely indifferent to it–and that’s a problem in itself. So come next election season, be sure to do your research before voting, and vote with our community in mind. Vote for someone who understands the gravity of climate change. Even better, run for the positions yourself. If you are religious, talk to your local place of worship about bringing climate change awareness to the congregation. Our community, and our planet, is our responsibility.

Addressing climate change is social justice. Its harmful effects are even worse for those who live in poorer conditions, since it exacerbates existing issues such as health and poverty. We need people to recycle and save water and electricity. But we can’t stop there, not with large corporations being allowed to burn ungodly quantities of fossil fuels for their factories. Recycling isn’t going to be what saves our homes from burning to the ground when the next devastating wildfire occurs. What we need is increased awareness and education on climate change so that companies and politicians won’t be able to exploit our ignorance. Climate change is not your fault. You are not guilty. But you are responsible for helping to ensure that our city, our homes, and the nature that makes them beautiful, are safe.

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