Cascading Avalanches

by Al Timke
October 5, 2020

To the amazement of many, Trump is not all the news! Remember the West Coast, Land of Hollywood and The Silicone American Dream? It’s burning! “‘This is an unprecedented year [with 4 million acres burned] and the thing is there’s no vaccine for wildfires,’ Flanigan said. ‘We’re going to have to learn to live with wildfires and the associate smoke.'”

But the wildfires themselves and the dangerous smoke they produce will likely trigger an avalanche of other problems stretching far into the future. Has anyone assessed what comes next for California, Oregon, and Washington, and their people, other than more years of drought and wildfires. Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle write in the New York Times,

“The crisis in the nation’s most populous state is more than just an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It is also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but which few expected to see so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.… ‘You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,’ said Roy Wright, who directed resilience programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018 and grew up in Vacaville, Calif., near one of this year’s largest fires. ‘It’s apocalyptic.’… The same could be said for the entire West Coast this week, to Washington and Oregon, … ” (

What will all this mean for the U.S. and world economy. Fuller and Flavelle talk about the impact on the California insurance industry “cascading” into the state’s housing market. It is not difficult to imagine insurance setting off other cascading chains of avalanches, while housing sets off its own chains, and of course these chains are not abstractions, they are populated by our fellow citizens.

Nothing will be the same again. Will the air continue to be insufferable with fewer and fewer trees to soak up the carbon monoxide? Will the environmental problems and economic collapse cascade into an avalanche of a great migration east, the California Gold Rush and The Dustbowl in reverse?

California is often cited as being the fifth largest economy in the world if it is considered as an independent country. California’s problems are likely to set off cascading avalanches with worldwide consequences, especially since the world is already beset with serious economic and political upheaval, and a pandemic that shows no signs of abating.

Donald Trump could end up as an unfortunate historical (or hysterical) footnote, but right now he is just another avalanche, but an avalanche we can stop before it accelerates chains of fatal consequences for our democracy, and for far too many additional human lives in California, Oregon, Washington, and beyond!

If we want to keep our heads above water, we have to act now and act as one nation, then as a country with whose wealth comes a responsibility to less wealthy countries. (Please do not read in paternalism here! Inequality, at both the national and international level is a topic for another day.) A precondition for any action has to be ridding ourselves of the scourge that is Donald J. Trump and his sycophant courtiers!

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