US bushfires bring climate change to the fore in presidential race

West Coast disaster highlights opposing stances of President Donald Trump and his challenger Joe Biden

ARCADIA, CA - SEPTEMBER 13: Mill Creek Hotshots set a backfire to protect homes during the Bobcat Fire on September 13, 2020 in Arcadia, California. California wildfires that have already incinerated a record 2.3 million acres this year and are expected to continue till December. The Bobcat Fire, burning in the San Gabriel Mountains, has grown to about 32,000 acres and is only 6% contained.   David McNew/Getty Images/AFP
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Climate change moved to the forefront in the US presidential race on Monday as President Donald Trump travelled to California to be briefed about devastating bushfires on the West Coast and his Democratic rival Joe Biden planned a speech on the issue from Delaware.

Mr Trump, who has pulled the US out of the Paris accord to limit global warming and promoted the use of coal, blamed poor forest management for the fires raging in California, Oregon and Washington states. Democrats have said that climate change plays a role, and Mr Biden is expected to emphasise that in his remarks.

Wildfires torch millions of acres in US

Wildfires torch millions of acres in US

The West Coast fires, which have burnt faster and farther than ever before, have destroyed thousands of homes and a handful of small towns, razing more than 1.6 million hectares and killing more than two dozen people since early August. Numerous studies have linked US bushfires in recent years to global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

Mr Trump will visit McClellan Park in California to meet local and federal officials for a briefing about the fires. California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat frequently targeted by the Republican president, will attend before leaving to separately tour fire areas, Politico reported.

During a tour of devastated areas on Friday, Mr Newsom said the fires dispelled any doubts about the reality of climate change.

“The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California, observe it with your own eyes,” he said.

Mr Newsom noted that California had experienced back-to-back heat waves and its hottest August on record, with record-setting temperatures in Death Valley. There were 14,000 dry lightning strikes that set off hundreds of fires, some that combined into creating five of the 10 largest fires in the state’s recorded history.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Sunday called climate change “a blowtorch over our states" in the western US.

"It is maddening right now that when we have this cosmic challenge to our communities, with the entire West Coast of the United States on fire, to have a president to deny that these are not just wildfires, these are climate fires," Mr Inslee said on Sunday on ABC's This Week show.

Some Republicans, despite scientific evidence of climate change, question the data and the need for broad and expensive measures to fight it.

Mr Trump has blamed the fires on poor forest management, accusing states of failing to thin trees and clear brush to reduce the risk of large blazes. White House adviser Peter Navarro echoed that on Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, saying that for many years in California, "particularly because of budget cutbacks, there was no inclination to manage our forests".

Mr Biden has included climate change in his list of major crises facing the US, along with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 194,000 and pushed the country into an economic recession.

"Vice President Biden will discuss the threat that extreme weather events pose to Americans everywhere, how they are both caused by and underscore the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis, and why we need to create good-paying, union jobs to build more resilient infrastructure," his campaign said on Sunday.

Fighting climate change is a key issue for young people and progressive-leaning voters who Mr Biden needs to turn out to vote in the November 3 election.

Mr Trump lost California, Oregon and Washington – all Democratic strongholds – in the 2016 presidential election. Mr Biden's running mate, US senator and former prosecutor Kamala Harris, hails from California.