It's Always Sunny in Pompei

By Susan Estrich

October 26, 2019 5 min read

You close the windows. Turn on the air, if you have it. Check the live maps. Twitter. Figure out how to make your smart TV just a television. Text whoever you need to check on or reassure. Cancel any long drives you don't have to make.

It's a fire day in California.

As I used to reassure my mother, I live on a regular street. There is no brush here. Our houses are bolted for earthquakes, our roofs are fire resistant, and the only reason I know where most of these places are is because I used to do traffic on talk radio. But you can see the smoke in the distance. And everywhere, this week, you can smell it.

The smell is awful. Scary. Bad for your health. A sign of the future. We should be scared to death, whether we live in the hills or not.

Natural disasters are part of life in California — the price for welcoming rain because it happens so rarely and taking for granted the return to perfect weather when the earth stops shaking, the mud stops sliding and the fires stop burning.

But this is different. The fire day routines have become just that. I wrote "August" on a check yesterday because it feels like it.

Tonight, a good chunk of California will face a weekend without power. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., bankrupt because of past fires and trying to avoid worse ones, is shutting off the transmission lines in high fire areas. The utilities find themselves in the rare position of being criticized both for starting fires and for taking the only steps they can in the middle of crushing dry heat to avoid them.

"It's about dog-eat-dog capitalism meeting climate change. It's about corporate greed meeting climate change," says California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The utilities should be better prepared for this. Put lines in fire country, and you need to secure them. Deal with the trees and the brush. And the legacy of deferred maintenance.

Frankly, that kind of talk is almost a relief: Those are the kinds of problems you can imagine us solving, or at least ameliorating, with better management and regulation.

The weather is another matter.

Take a deep breath in my backyard and you get a whiff of what climate change smells like. From far away. We cough and sneeze. It will pass. This time.

This is what I don't understand.

Climate change poses an existential threat to our children and grandchildren.

Addressing it is not a choice but a fundamental obligation, the covenant that every generation owes to those who come after.

So how can we still be debating this? Fake news? Our president is worried about fake news about him? What about fake news about the planet?

The debate among those who know anything at all has been over for years. The old shibboleth that addressing environmental issues will cost jobs was proven wrong years ago. So what is the matter with us?

Why aren't we scared to death, not only of the fire we can see but also of the ones that lie ahead?

The utilities have every interest in the world in doing what they can to stop fires, regardless of the mistakes of the past.

But they can't stop climate change, not so long as our nation's policy is based on nothing more than denial. I understand why President Donald Trump likes to play politics with climate change. The facts have never mattered to him. He is, on this issue as well as others, stuck in a debate that ended decades ago.

But what about the rest of us? Why aren't people mad as hell? How does he get away with it? There are a lot of Republicans in those hills. How do they let him?

And how do you look your kids and grandkids in the eyes and leave this to them? We used to rant about leaving them with fiscal deficits. Deficits can be paid, sooner or later. There is no later with climate change.

In the meantime, it's always sunny in Pompei.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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