Humans cause 90% of wildfires. Could computers prevent 100%? | Hard Reset Podcast Episode #12

Humans cause 90% of wildfires. Could computers prevent 100%? | Hard Reset Podcast Episode #12

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- A white balance card. Now you know how pale I am, objectively. - This is "Hard Reset," a series about rebuilding our world from scratch. Hello, and welcome to the "Hard Reset Podcast."

I'm Nick Tucker. I'm one of the co-creators of the show "Hard Reset," where we like to discuss how we would rebuild the world from scratch. And we go and interview the innovators and look at the technologies that would make that possible. I'm joined today by Rob Chapman-Smith. - Hi, I am the editor-in-chief of Freethink - And Toby Muresianu. - Hey, I'm the community manager at Freethink.

- So this episode of the podcast, we're gonna be talking about WIFIRE. It's a really great episode and they're really doing amazing work to help mitigate and prevent wildfires from happening. So please check that out. And then this episode, we're gonna be diving a little bit deeper in talking about some of the questions you had, talking about the things we didn't get a chance to cover as in depth as we wanted. And we're really looking forward to sharing this with you.

So please make sure you like and subscribe and watch the rest of the episode. - Why is WIFIRE a hard reset and could you explain to us what WIFIRE even is as a project in technology? - Yeah, so there's a lot to unpack- and one of the things about WIFIRE is there's so many different things that they're doing that it was really hard to sort of just explain it all in one, even a 10-minute episode, is not quite enough time 'cause they're doing a lot of really impressive things. WIFIRE is a project based out of the Supercomputing Center at UC San Diego. And it's run by Ilkay Altintas, who is a researcher there who does a lot of amazing machine-learning research.

And it started out as a tool for predicting the behavior of fires. Now in California, we have a lot of wildfires that get outta control fast. So how can you help firefighters respond to them more effectively? Can you use wind data to predict where the fire's gonna go? It gets really complicated because fire is like a hyperdynamic situation where the wind affects the fire, the fire gets bigger and it affects the wind, which, and then, in turn affects the fire.

So there are so many variables; you can't just run this on a spreadsheet and like figure it out. You have to have massive amounts of computing to try and simulate these things realistically. And that's something they can do at the UC San Diego Supercomputing Center 'cause they have this amazing supercomputing complex.

Once they started working with the simulations of fire behavior, what they started doing was realizing, 'Well, we can actually start to predict where fires might occur, so people can be more prepared.' And now what they're working on with WIFIRE is how can we predict the best way to prevent wildfires? And what that comes down to is looking at the fuel landscape, looking at how much dry fuel there is on the landscape of California by using satellite data, simulating where's the most dangerous areas, where is it the most dry and has the most potential for a outta control wildfire. And then figuring out the right conditions to go and do a controlled burn to reduce that amount of fuel. So they're working to try and restore the balance of nature in regards to fire. - And so, when they're doing this, it makes me think of almost like "Smokey the Bear," but like the high-tech version of it. "Only you can prevent forest fires."

It's like, well, okay, these folks are taking that seriously into the nth degree. But I'm curious when you say they're predicting where the most dangerous spots are and how dry it is- like what exactly are they measuring when they're doing those types of things? - So they have a pretty remarkable data set. What they've done is they've found a way to take all these disparate sources of data.

So you have satellite imagery, you have LiDAR, you have people who are going out and doing on-the-ground surveys. They found a way to use machine learning to try to link all these different databases, different types of data, different data sources, and to create a statewide database of all this information about the state of our forests and our wildlands in California. - Got it, got it. - So yeah, and if you look at their map, they have like a three-dimensional like map of every tree and every bush and every like, and you can see where in what regions, how much fuel there is on the ground and how much of it is trees and how much is below the tree canopy and all that- it's an incredible amount of data. - And so why was this a "Hard Reset" episode? - Yeah, so the reason why it's a "Hard Reset" episode is that they're taking a totally new approach to preventing fire. In California, and really in the entire American West, we've had this policy, every time there's a fire, we go and put all resources that we can to extinguish it right away, for the last a hundred years.

The problem with that is fire is natural. Before humans were here at all, fire would go through the landscape and there was no one to put it out there. - Right.

- And when humans did migrate into North America, they found a way to live with that fire. So the Native Americans that used to live in the American West, would use fire actually as a tool. And it was something that they just found a way to incorporate into their natural forestry practices. Well, European settlers really messed that up- Long list. Anyway, by putting out all the fire, there's just been a hundred years of accumulated growth of, underbrush, smaller plants that are just perfect for lighting these sorts of fires, lots of dry, just ready-to-burn fuel. It's like a bomb.

- Right. - And so all that has built up over a hundred years. So you can't just immediately snap back to natural forestry practices. You can't just do that because there's so much fuel out there that it would be a disaster. And even if it was not a total unmitigated disaster, it would be, it could be like a lot of little disasters. Like if you're a wine grower in Napa.

- Right. - You might have things to say about the person doing controlled burns upwind from you. - Right.

- And that smoke can affect your crop. So there's all sorts of very, like, complicated factors. And these were the first folks who were really trying to get the kind of data set where you could actually bring us back to a state where you could do natural forestry management, where you could do these traditional methods and not have it be so impactful. And it does require a total rethink from the ground up of how we do forestry management.

- So I wonder in terms of- you say this is a total reset for how we manage fires- I wonder what the, some of the details look like in terms of scale. Are we talking about more people? Are we talking about more foresight in terms of planning, in terms of schedule? Like what are some of the specifics that go into this? - Yeah, it's all of that. So it's like everything. It's definitely more people, because you can't do a controlled burn without like a lot of people out in the forest. We went to film in the Osceola National Forest in Florida where they do controlled burns really regularly. And they have this amazing section of the forest where they have these one-acre lots and some they burn every year.

Some they burn every two years, some they burn every four years. And some they don't burn at all. They're like controls. So this is a long-running scientific experiment, I wanna say it's like been 40 or 60 years. - Oh, wow. - Since they started doing this project.

So over the last 40 or 60 years they've been understanding how does fire interact with the ecosystem here. And it's a very different story. When you set fire to a lot that's been burned within the last year, it behaves very differently than the one that's been two or four or more years.

So we went to go and film this and it is incredibly labor-intensive operation because you don't want this to get out of control. - Right. - That's the most important thing. So if we were to do this across the entire state of California, you could imagine.

- Yeah. - That would take a long time. - Right. - And the conservative estimate is that if we were to do this in California, it would take 10 years of burning a million acres a year to get us back to a relatively natural state. - Man.

- Well, you also wonder in contrast to the costs of letting the status quo exist. I mean, you've had entire towns burn down. You've had lots of people displaced and have to be housed and sheltered and stuff like that. You've had economic shutdowns when there's fires or smoke even going over like these huge economic centers and stuff like that.

So I'd be curious to see how it balances out. - Yeah. - You know? - Yeah, I mean we're basically paying for a hundred years of this type of management, which, after a- we're paying the interests due on that right now with these really disastrous consequences. - Yeah, no, it makes me think of a book about Katrina that talked about the failures there in terms of the hundred years of early urban planning that preceded the disaster. - Right.

- And it might be important to think about wildfires and the way in which we have wildfire disaster now, as a hundred-year like process of like, "Nope, the bill is due, time to pay for it." - Yeah. And in that realm, 10 years doesn't seem like that bad of a trade-off.

- Yeah. - Right? - Yeah, but I mean, it's 10 years of intensive. - Right. - Intensive work with a lot of people. So it's not an easy thing to do.

- For Sure. - And I don't think anyone would make that argument. And then after that you'd have to continue doing it. Maybe not at the same volume, but you could still need to be out there every year managing these types of fires. - And at some point it becomes a national conversation because, well, one, California's not the only state. - Right. - Right.

- But also. - It's just the only state that matters. - Oh. - But also you just don't have that many people. We don't have a hundred thousand people in California who can just walk through the forest.

- Right. - You know, monitor brush. So you're talking about probably changing immigration policy or something like that.

- Yeah, I was about to say. If only there was a mechanism to get people in the country to do such a thing. - Yeah.

- But I mean, I think these are, what's interesting, we are seeing such a disruption in the agricultural world where we see more automation in agriculture where we're seeing, we have an upcoming episode on a strawberry-picking robot. And we have more and more of that happening, those innovations coming, what's gonna happen to that labor force? - Right. - And partially, these robots aren't replacing that as much as they're supplementing it, because it's getting harder and harder to find the folks who will do that work.

- Right. - But at a certain point, there is going to be a labor disruption. And I have to wonder if it becomes more appealing for someone to take the job where they would be working in the forest, managing fires over the long-term, than moving from town to town to do migrant farm work. So I think there is a more appealing option, with really honestly, a huge advantage in terms of advancement up into AG sciences and natural forestry management techniques that doesn't really exist for a lot of these other jobs.

- Yep, part of me has always wondered about, I think there's been a decline in civic service in general in the United States, broadly speaking. And part of me wonders like what would be the good civic projects to like try to encourage people to do and maybe give some monetary incentive for them to do it- and this seems like one that makes a ton of sense. - Yeah.

- To like apply efforts to, and I always wonder like what's the blockage to getting those types of energies coordinated for something like this? I'm curious how well-known is projects like WIFIRE amongst like the California government and things like that, people who could potentially make those priority decisions to be like, "Hey, this is important. We need people to actually help out here." - Yeah, they're working with Cal OES, which is the Office of Emergency Services in California, and they're working with them to help change our forestry management and provide tools.

So I know they're working with people at that state level. They're also working with other states as well. So they're definitely working with the right folks to make those kind of decisions. There's also just a question of political will for these very large projects.

I mean, this is a huge jobs project, right? Like if you were to employ a few million people to do this sort of work across this entire country that would be extremely expensive. You can't just make that decision as a small agency. You'd need a statewide Manhattan Project kind of mobilization to make that happen. - Yeah.

- Did the National Guard or Army sort of enter into that conversation at all? - I mean, I suppose it could. I don't really know, yeah. But I mean, I think there is just a manpower question here. I think also there is a opportunity to rethink jobs in this country, right? We're seeing more and more automation in general, not just among migrant workers and people working in agriculture, but every level of our economy is seeing more and more automation. And more and more people, I think, are gonna start wondering, 'Well, what can I do as a human that a robot can't?' - Yeah. - And this is actually one of those things that I think humans will A, do better and B, enjoy more.

It's not unfun being out there. When we were filming with these folks, it was kind of a lot of fun. - Yeah. - To be driving around in these forests and seeing how this all works. - And with fire.

- The fire. Just like when I was a kid. No.

It's a joke. I got very nervous. Arson's not funny.

- It's a little. - It's a little funny. - But yeah, no, it's a fun job and I can see more people wanting to do that and not, it's not unappealing to do these sorts of jobs. - Well, something I was thinking about was, with GPT-3 and a lot of AI is taking over sort of surprisingly jobs that are kind of software-based, or at least amplifying the power of one person to do what would've been the role of multiple people before, in terms of writing, in terms of art, in terms of code. And it's interesting because I guess it was interesting, I hadn't thought of this before, but apparently people did in the '70s and '80s, but some of the jobs that you'd expect AI to be best at, like the mechanical robotic things, are actually better suited for humans because we are evolved to manipulate things in a physical world.

And it may be not so, should not be so surprising that the jobs that involve, at the core, manipulating data, whether it's programming or transforming digital files, are naturally better for computers. So when you talk about something like walking through the woods and like picking up stuff and setting fires, yeah, that's not a great job for a robot, but it could actually be a great job for a human. Or maybe, there's some middle ground where it's like we have robotic-assisted people so that we need fewer people and they're more capable of handling more ground or something. - For sure, yeah, I mean, there's also robots out in the field doing this, monitoring, gathering data, drones flying everywhere. They're monitoring the air quality to create a better data set. They have automated camera stands so they can monitor how the fire moves through this forest section that they're working on right now.

So it's incredibly high-tech. Like it's not just guys with torches, it's a lot of people with torches and shovels and tools for that sort of labor, that physical labor. But there's also a lot of people gathering data, analyzing the data, trying to figure out how they can get better at this to create better outcomes. - It's funny just to think about it in that sense of like, the strengths of computers and the strength of people coming together.

- Yeah. - Where you have this enormous, unprecedented, data collection and manipulation operation overseen by some smaller team of people and then just like tons of people in the field providing the manpower so- - Yeah. - Yeah. - There's also I think an incentive as like most or as more work becomes sort of virtual into the spaces where the work is actually happening. - Right. - To find ways to incentivize jobs that almost quite literally make people touch grass.

- Right. - Be connected to reality a little bit more. - Yeah.

- And so I think that would be in general, as we're moving into this just like space where it's sort of hard to orient ourselves. - Yeah. - Into like a reality that's independent of our different silos. To have something like this that's grounded be like an an initiative for political will would be, I think the impacts of that are hard to understate how much positivity that would probably give for the state that was able to do it. But I also sort of wonder if one of the things or the reasons why we might not be seeing as much emphasis on something like this is that a lot of the narrative around wildfires is also wrapped up in the narrative around climate change.

And there's part of this, like the droughts in California and just the rising temperatures and all those things is leading to more wildfires and like perhaps that is an accelerant on top of the accelerant that's already on the ground. But to say, "Oh, this is the cure for this wildfire thing," versus like, "Oh, we need to get rid of fossil fuels." Maybe those are just like counteracting incentives and one is just winning over the other. - Yeah, I think that's a big part of it. Like it is, I mean climate definitely has an impact on this.

A drier climate, less rain, those definitely doesn't help. But it isn't just that, it is so many different things and it becomes very political. And we saw this with some of the coverage of the wildfire that occurred in 2020. - Right. - And in 2019 where we saw, President Trump essentially saying, "Well, we just need to rake our forests more like they do in Finland," and things like that. - Yeah.

- 'And I see again, the forest fires are starting, starting again in California. I said, "You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests." Many, many years of leaves and broken trees. And they're like, like so flammable. - He's phrasing it poorly, but he wasn't entirely wrong in that moment.

- Yeah. - And because he's phrasing it poorly and talking about it in an inarticulate way, it becomes easy to dismiss that whole argument. - Totally. - That he is sort of tainted with this very poorly characterized version of it.

But we do need to manage our forests way better. We need to look at how native populations managed our forests and learn from that. And a lot of people are, a lot of people are doing this work.

- Yeah, when he made that forest point, it reminded me of the meme of like, "Worst person I know makes a good point." And like he does that with so many things and it's like, "Dammit!" - Yeah. - And I think that's one of the problems with politicization is that it creates this mechanism by which people just wanna point fingers at different aspects of the solution that are someone else's responsibility rather than taking proactive action together.

Like we need to address climate change. We also need to do these things on the ground. We need to change how we individually live and our land-use patterns and stuff like that. - Right.

- But like, just pointing to a different, someone else's field in order to excuse doing nothing isn't real solution. - Politics is more either/or than yes/and, and that's a problem. - Yeah. - Yeah. - Yeah, and it's like, "Yeah, we have to take care of climate change. We also have to take care of this and we have to do that."

The problem is because everyone's so busy saying, "Well, this is that and this is that," we do none of those things. Which is worse. So much worse. - And everything's on fire now. - Yeah, and now everything's on fire. - It's sort of like the tragedy of the commons, but from like a status perspective.

- Right. - Where if I admit that I have so some role to play, then I'm the dumping ground. I'm volunteering for being the problem.

- Right. - But if nobody volunteers to do their part, then we all end up worse-off. - Yeah. - So I'm curious from a standpoint of these "Hard Reset" episodes, one of the things I really loved about this, and we don't talk about this much on the podcast, but the interview shots in this are gorgeous.

Some of my favorite interview shots in the entire episodes of run of the series. I'm curious though, the wall of computer monitors. - That is amazing. - Absolutely insane. - Yeah.

- But do they actually use those things? - Yeah. - For like information or is it pretty. - I mean it's a little of both.

- They have so many tabs open. - They have a lot of tabs. It's funny you say there's such great interview shots. Mike Rosetti, who is off-camera here, actually filming this right now, was the director of photography for the shoot down in San Diego with those giant monitors behind him.

- Nice. And Adam Yafai from Chicago flew down to Florida to meet me there and he filmed the interviews there and some of the footage at the controlled burns. So they should get a ton of credit for that. But yeah, I definitely also agree. These are a lot of fun to shoot, the beautiful visuals.

The UC San Diego Supercomputing Center is bananas. They have these giant screens. They do a lot of great data visualization. In these places, they have just immense amounts of computing resources dedicated to how do you do a interactive 3D model. They work with people who use LiDar data to like find ruins in the Andes and all sorts of amazing things that these giant screens really do help with. It was a bit of a running joke as we were filming in UCSD, like every time we turned a corner there was like an array of six or eight monitors on a wall.

And so I just had to make a joke about it. I think we'd make a couple of jokes about that in the episode because it was just like, I guess no one here just has a Dell monitor. It's just not good enough.

- Right. How executable and how scalable is this solution? Like what are sort of the ways in which this can become sort of real? - So it's very scalable and very doable because they do this already pretty well on the east coast of the U.S. Not to say they do it perfectly and everywhere, but there are already folks that are way ahead of us as a state.

I say us as a Californian. - I got what you're putting down. - But there are lots of states that have a much better grasp on how to do this. If you go to Florida and the Osceola National Forest, they're doing a much better job of this, because they had a disastrous fire in these regions that prompted a change in policy. So I think it's very doable. We have proof of concept in a lot of these other regions and it just takes a matter of political will to make it happen.

- I mean, are we doing it because, I mean obviously this project already exists. What scale is it being done at now versus the need? - Yeah, I think we're doing, we are doing controlled burns in California. Unfortunately, we're just not doing them at the scale that we need to do. And part of what WIFIRE is doing is trying to change the rate at which you can do them. So if you were gonna go and do a controlled burn, if you're a forest manager who is trying to burn off some of the fuel that's accumulated in your forest, you have to do a ton of work analyzing ahead of time.

You have to set a date, you have to make these predictions about what the weather will be like. You have to figure out how you're going to set all these variables. And then on the day, if the weather is not exactly what you predicted, you can't do it.

- Yeah. - Right. - So it's a roll of the dice. You do all this work and then you can't actually do the thing that you need to do. - Yeah.

- And what WIFIRE's trying to do is turn that around so it can say, "Hey listen, here's the place that needs a controlled burn. Here are the right conditions for it. When these conditions are met, do the burn." - How quickly do they have to mobilize? - Well, if you're responding to the weather, it could be a couple of days. Our weather prediction is not super accurate beyond a day or two at this point, right? So you definitely have to have kind of resources on-call ready to go. So it's not as though you could just have a three-week lead time on these things.

You really do have to be able to turn on a dime to respond to the weather more than anything, because that's what drives a lot of the conditions that make these safe or unsafe to have. - Right. - I mean, as a good example of this, when we were trying to film with the crew in Florida, we had to change the flight a couple of times and reschedule and they weren't sure we'd actually be doing the burn on that day because the weather kept changing day-to-day. So they're very reactive to the weather as you would hope. Right? You wouldn't want them to be like, "Well I don't care if it's not raining, I'm gonna do the burn anyway." - Right, right, right.

- I'm glad they're doing that, but it does make scheduling a film shoot real complicated. - Right. - And I imagine it makes scheduling the actual activity itself very complicated as well. But if that's your job, if you're on call for that and you have that scheduled kind of built into your, the way you manage your workforce, then I think that's a doable thing. And we have on-call services in this country, we have things like ambulances and police firefighters.

And there's that spectrum of urgency. But we definitely have people who are on call for things. But yeah, I think it's definitely doable. It's just a question of how do we get that political will and that, and momentum behind it as a movement.

So I guess we should move on to viewer comments and any questions that the audience had about this episode. I'm curious, Toby, what were some of the questions the audience had? What were some of the themes you saw? - There were a lot of good questions, a lot of really thoughtful ones. It kind of varies, the tenor of the comments from video to video, but people brought up a lot of examples from around the world. One question that came up a a lot is about the role of herbivores and natural wildlife and regulating the undergrowth and stuff like that. - Yeah, that's a great question. So that's a huge part of it.

The other part of it is that a lot of animals rely on fire. So absent human intervention, forests would burn all the time. - Right. - Because lightning happens, all sorts of other things that could spark a fire.

And many species have evolved for that. Many species of plant have evolved for that. Many species of animals have evolved for that. And when we were in the Osceola National Forest, we were touring a lot that had been burned, I think a month before. And it was full of birds and all sorts of other woodland critters.

So it was definitely something where the animals were thriving, even though there was a regular introduction of fire to this. Do animals eat underbrush? Yeah. Sometimes the wrong animals eat the underbrush is the problem, that the presence of lots and lots of underbrush that we continually build up over year, might introduce the wrong kind of predators or allow certain types of predators to have more cover as they hunt other animals down to a unsustainable population level. So there's all sorts of things that can be impacted there. Do large animals, is there anything else that can kind of clear that? Not at the level we're talking about. We're not talking about a lot of grass.

That is a problem. There are fast fuels like grass that need to be eaten and munched by ruminants like cows or whatever. But a lot of these are things like shrubs, bushes, small trees, and there's not really an animal that can kind of like graze our forests and bring that down.

- We actually had a couple questions around desalination basically. And the idea that generally what we should be doing is just desalinating so much water that we can use it to fight wildfires. - Yeah, I guess if you wanted to continue to build up fuel in forests, you could do that. I mean, I think that's the problem is that we, it's not like we don't have enough water to fight forest fires; it's that we don't, we don't manage the fires well, and we have built up this accumulation where now the forest, instead of having a fire that trees can recover from, because there's so much fuel built up, they burn into in it, it just, their cataclysm.

They wipe out trees that would otherwise survive a forest fire. - Yeah, that sounds right. Like ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, really. Even, I'm generally like positively disposed to desalination as a solution. I just don't think that the math makes total sense.

- Right, yeah. And it's not, again, it's not a shortage of water necessarily to fight fires that is the big problem. We have- we have water to fight fires.

The fires are just growing so fast, so quick, they create their own weather and there's no amount of water in the world that you can move that quickly to these regions to fight these things. You have to be able to reduce the fuel and work on the supply of the fuel for these fires to exist. - So another question that came up, and this has been kind of a part of the dialogue in California where I live as well, is the need to control manmade developments.

And so there's, on one hand you have the scale of the fires, which is larger. And on the other hand you have this other issue where we now have more stuff around areas that burn in the building in like the wildlife-urban interface I believe it's called. And that puts more people, puts more valuable infrastructure and homes at risk. And so how does that piece enter this puzzle? - Yeah, I mean I think of it as like a separate but parallel problem. I think you still have the problem of a fuel buildup even if there's no town built in that forest. So even if no one lives there, even if there is no human infrastructure to be damaged by this fire, it's still gonna be a hot, disastrous fire because we have a hundred years of fuel built up.

In the places where we do have homes, communities, that are built in these, this sort of interface between human built infrastructure and wildlands, they are definitely the most at risk. And I do think there has to be something done in terms of encouraging people to build in ways that are more fire resilient. We need to have more fire-resilient communities in these places because if we did it right, there would be fires all the time in these places. And you would just have to have built your community in a way where a fire wouldn't wipe it all out. As happened in both Paradise and Greenville and a few other places in Middletown, where we have seen these fires just ravage these communities.

- And it's worth noting that a lot of that is caused by, the urban sprawl that's caused by regulations that basically make it impossible to build anything, but sprawl, stout development even in our big cities, which pushes people, new construction out into these areas. And it also, if you're a firefighter, you then have that much more to protect. - Yeah. - So it makes, it spreads the- we're talking about the manpower necessary- it also has an impact on that.

- Yeah, for sure. - Yeah. Part of me just even listening to these comments, I wonder how much people grok what the actual issue is here. And maybe some of this has to do with the way we cover forest or wildfires in general, but you know, we often talk about the lived environments and the homes and the things that are destroyed and the acreage and whatnot. But so little coverage has been paid attention to the fact that this is a forest management problem.

- Right. - And that's really what it is, is that, I mean our government, as stewards of certain lands, has sort of just failed to do a basic service that they should be doing to protect the lands. - I wanna- I- to play devil's advocate against that, I would say I get the impulse of let's prevent every fire. - Yeah. - And in a way they did their job too well.

- Right. - So if that's your intention, and it's a good one to protect all these homes and communities in the forest, they're just, they didn't, I don't think anyone foresaw how this would result in this really disastrous chain of events where we have just built up this massive amount of fuel. - Right. - So in their defense, the people who are managing our forests didn't do this maliciously or outta. - Oh no, no.

- They just it because that seemed like the right thing to do. And without thinking about the second and third order consequences. - And to your point, that's also people we couldn't predict the magnitude and the scale of this. So it didn't seem like they were making a meaningful trade-off necessarily, It's like, "We got this under control." - Right. - Lo and behold we don't.

- Right. - And now we have to deal with the impacts of this. - Yeah, exactly. - And I think one of the other issues is that we've always had new problems that are gonna evolve over time in society. But one thing we've also done is we've sort of tied our own hands in some cases with like, you're talking about all of the work that needs to be done just to address some acres of lands in California when we have so much of it.

And it's like some of our, the tools that we would ordinarily use to adapt to new situations have been constrained by not imagining the scale at which we need to use them. - For sure. - And firefighting is a profession and a discipline that has been slow to change as well, where the way we manage and fight fires has, they still use a shovel and an axe and water. And these are very, and they use them for very good reasons, which is that they work and you know they're gonna work.

Like you don't have to worry about rebooting your axe. It just works. - A smart axe sounds terrible, right? - Like this stuff works, you can rely on it and in a situation where you are fighting a fire, you do not want to have to troubleshoot it. - Right. - So I'm glad that we have really well-defined and relied upon tools, but there are new tools that are coming online in terms of using drones to monitor for these things and prevent that.

And that's been a little bit slow to be adopted. Slower than I think you would see in other industries. - Right. - But more and more we are seeing that they are starting to use different tools to monitor and fight fires as well. - There's also an active debate, and I don't know enough about it to weigh in on it personally, but between whether we put too much money towards like aerial firefighting and stuff like that where we have like planes and helicopters that dump water on it. And people sometimes criticize that as just being ineffective compared to these more preventative measures or things like that.

- Yeah, I wouldn't know enough to weigh in on that, but I also would say I wouldn't wanna stop doing that when you have a fire threatening a community. Anything you can do to prevent that from happening is a worthwhile investment. I think it's a yes/and. We also have to prevent them. We also have to do the preventative work. And even if we do that, we're still gonna need to have people who can respond to fires that go outta control and are gonna have consequences we don't want.

- Totally. - We have a few comments, interestingly, from people who like claim to work with the forest service or have worked, they do not agree with each other. So what do you do when there's multiple whistleblowers? But there's one person who says that, "I worked with the Forest Service for years and it's all a waste of money. A lot of these controlled burns get away from things and it's just a bottomless pit of money, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

- Well, controlled fires do get out of control. And that has happened. It's happened recently and it has started fire.

So all the more reason to spend the time upfront analyzing the right conditions to have them within. We're not currently able to do that because WIFIRE isn't the standard for this yet. Which isn't to say it's a panacea either.

There will always be some element of risk to this. It's not a perfect solution. There isn't a perfect solution. There's just trade-offs. I think I just quoted Chandler.

- You did just quote Chandler. - Wormed his way in there, man. It's true though. But it's a very true thing.

- And he's just quoting Thomas Sowell, so. - Oh, well there you go. - And then on the other hand, someone says, "I spent three years fighting fires out west and prescribed burning and resource management burning are the best tools out there, and they date all the way back to when Native Americans ran these lands." - Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I believe both those statements. I think they can both be true from different perspectives.

- One thing I'm sort of interested about is we keep going back to how the Native Americans manage the lands. At the same time, there was a time before Native Americans and is it just a question of like, at some point a natural equilibrium is going to be reached one way or the other. Like what is the "natural state" quote unquote before Native Americans were there? - Yeah, I mean, fires would occur regularly before Native Americans were in North America. And you can find evidence of that and looking at how, even if you can't find direct evidence of it, you can find indirect evidence of it and how animals have evolved and how plants have evolved to require fire to survive.

You cannot have those animals otherwise. If you have animals that require the kind of clear open area underneath a forest canopy to survive, they couldn't have done that in a regime where there is no forest fires. Because over time that area is gonna be overgrown with small underbrush, which is what happens in some of these places. And that's why we see certain types of birds going extinct, because these places are perfect for their predators. So there is indirect evidence right there that we need to have had these over time, regularly occurring in these forests. - Yeah, well that also gets to a question of some of these, I mean these fires are bad, but they're bad in a lot of different ways; and natural disasters in general that are a little bit hard to sometimes like pin down, but like the fact that we live close to these things amplifies the danger, right? Like these occur naturally, hurricanes occur naturally, tornadoes occur to naturally all of these things are things that will occur in the wild without our involvement.

- Right. - But because we live and have built the environment in such a way, the fact that these things also still exist are really inconvenient for us. - Right. - Right, in ways that they might not be inconvenient to the same way to the wild animals that exist in there. And even though it might be inconvenient for them, they can't do anything about it, but we can.

- They can do things about it. They're actually more resourceful than we might think. - Right, fair, fair point. - So a lot of these animals have very good instincts about how to respond to a fire.

- Right. Which is typically run. - Yeah, but not always.

A lot of them will burrow and find protection around. - That's interesting. - And there's a lot of different survival strategies that have evolved in these environments. - Yeah.

- Certain chipmunks will even build supercomputers. - Oh. - But it just makes me think about, when we talk about certain types of events and we talk about it in catastrophic language, it assumes that the event itself is the catastrophe when it's our proximity to the event is the thing that's catastrophic, - I think with the exception with this, is that these are actually unnaturally powerful fires now. - Right. - We have gone past the point where the fire that occurs in these places is the same type of fire we saw a thousand or more years ago because they are burning hotter, they're burning more intense, and they're doing because there's such a buildup of fuel, these fires are scarring the landscape in a way that more ancient fires would never have done because the fuel hadn't had a hundred years to build up.

But now with a century of this unburnt fuel, these fires are explosive. They're doing things that animals are not evolved to survive, that plants are not evolved to survive. And so that is the problem. These are actual disasters, independent of the human perspective.

- Gotcha. - It's also interesting because, it shows how connected we are even to areas that we might not visit every day. - Yeah. - Where like you see the skies overhead are just dark. - Right.

- You see that in Australia too. Where the air is harmful to breathe. - Yeah, it was the most dystopian thing in the world in the middle of 2020 to wake up. - Yeah. - And it never was daytime. Yeah. And it never was daytime.

but it was, the skies were just dim red in San Francisco all day. - Yeah. - It was, I think maybe not the worst day, but it was one of the worst days of that year. And it definitely impressed upon me just how dire this is getting. - Yeah, I mean the photos from that day are crazy. It looks like the worst, dystopian sci-fi movie.

- Yeah, it was apocalyptic. - Yeah. - You mentioned you wish you could have spent more time talking about why we don't do this right now or why this isn't more widely used- and I'm curious, how you would have executed that in the episode. And part of me thinks about people like California's governor, Gavin Newsom, very media-savvy person, clearly has his eyes on the presidential - Run. - On a presidential run either 2024 or later. I'm curious would you approach to interview him to see what he thinks about something like this, even if he's aware of something like this.

- So I think that's a great question. I definitely would be open to interviewing someone like Gavin Newsom. I think it would take someone at the governor level or above, even at the national level, to be able to get the kind of resources to make this a possible solution.

I think that it's something we need to think about as just a, almost like a public works, like almost New Deal-style public works initiative. Like this is a huge undertaking to be able to do this at the scale we need to do it. And you can't really say, "Well why hasn't Governor Newsom bothered, or why didn't Jerry Brown do this? Or whomever, it's such a big deal. It needs to be everybody. We need to get more people involved in this.

There just needs to be more public awareness, which means people need to start paying attention to these stories outside of fire season when there aren't active fires happening, we need to start thinking about this ahead of time. And there needs to be just a political groundswell around fixing this. And if you can fix this in somewhere like California, that is a incredible investment you're making in terms of improving our climate situation, improving our environmental situation, improving our water situation. But it takes just a tremendous amount of will to make that kind of investment.

- I'm texting Gavin right now. - I will say, just like as a resident, people talk about it a lot, and I've certainly seen Gavin Newsom standing in front of a burned downtown saying, "This cannot happen anymore," and stuff like that. And some programs are happening, but everything's more difficult than it seems.

- Right. - And sometimes I'm not super familiar with the politics around preventing wildfires, but sometimes you have different interest groups or different communities who want different approaches, who have a different solution in mind and stuff like that. And that all kind of like, everyone wanting to solve the problem in one way or the other ends up sort of colliding and you get this sort of, can I say cluster (beep)? - Yeah, yes, cluster (bleep) is a wildly appropriate term. - Yeah, so from the issues I've been involved in, sometimes that's what you get is that there's so many cooks in the kitchen that you end up not doing one thing that's as effective as it could be.

- Yeah, I mean, this is the problem of politics is that there's too many cooks and weirdly too few coalitions. - Right. - And so we just end up being in the stasis of just not really getting anything solved. - Yeah. - While everything else burns and it looks like the meme, "This is fine."

That is the state of things. Now, I'm curious, did you have anything that you were close to doing that would be able to answer that question in the episode? - I wouldn't say that we dove too deeply into that when we started putting this episode together. I would say that we definitely wanted to talk about how people might get involved. That's a perennial topic that we look at because people, our audience, definitely is a DIY audience. They wanna try things out on their own.

It's very hard to try a controlled burn on your own. - Please do not. - Please do not. Definitely not. - It also might be why the wildfire stuff doesn't perform as well. - It could be that.

- Because it's not DIY. - Right. - Well, we did have actually one other video a few years ago about like communities that were fighting fire with fire in California on a more small scale. Like this was specifically a town that wanted to clear out brush around itself to make it more fire-resilient. So if you are in that area, it might be worth looking into seeing if there's any sort of volunteer efforts where you could be one of those boots on the ground. But, you know.

- Yeah, and you can advocate for political change and try and get more of these policies put in place; that's absolutely something you can do. And you can look at forestry as a career. I think that a lot of people coming out of college are gonna be looking at a job landscape that's very different and forestry's cool. There's a, a ton of science to it that is still being defined and understood. It's a job that engages, I think every sense that you have.

You're out in the forest, you're managing things, you're also thinking critically in an office where you're working with data and trying to find solutions to really tough problems. And it's a very cool field to get involved in. So I hope more people will think about forestry seriously.

And I think, I hope that more people will start to demand that we have a better forest management regime put in place. - That's something we see interest with on our channel. Like sometimes I've asked, in the context of remote work, "Would you rather be remote or in an office?" And a fair amount of people are like, "I don't wanna be indoors, I wanna be working out in the world." - Yeah.

- And I think there's a a lot to be said for that. - Yeah, and if you want to have a meaningful impact on the world, you couldn't ask for much better opportunity than that. - Yeah. - So my favorite part is hearing the mean comments.

- You have some masochistic instinct I think. - Oh, it's not an instinct. It's like a lifestyle choice.

- All right. - That may have been too much. - Too many irrelevant trying to be funny fillers in this video. Such a shame because the main topic itself is good. - We are trying to be relevant, that's true.

Trying to be irrelevant or trying to be irreverent? - Irrelevant. Too many irrelevants. - Oh, too many irrelevant. - Stay on topic. - Stay on topic. - They don't like the jokes.

- I know. - Some people do not like the jokes. - Yeah. - It's a minority.

I will say like, I definitely get more pro joke sentiments than you know, but you didn't ask for that. - I get it. I mean it is a serious topic, but I mean actually I think humor is all more necessary when you talk about these things 'cause it can get real dark real fast. - All right, we have this simple, nope. Wildfires have to be stopped. Exclamation points.

- All of them. - Yes. You could thin out these exclamation points if you wanted to. - I mean, I get it.

I mean, I'm not pro-wildfires, but seems like we can't just keep doing the same thing. - Yeah, you have to stop them in advance rather than down the pipe. - Right? - Yeah.

- We might be on the same side and we don't realize it. - Finally, why did this video have to bash Florida? It doesn't have anything to do with the topic at hand. I'm starting to dislike this channel. - If you drive north from Orlando, Florida, past the truck stop that has a strip club, but before you get to the discount gun warehouse, ah, Florida, you'll find the Osceola National Forest. - I mean, Florida doesn't make it hard.

- These are facts. - I literally on the way driving from Orlando to the Osceola National Forest drove past billboards for a gun warehouse and a truck stop with a strip club in it. And I thought the juxtaposition of these things is so bananas; driving literally with like Disney World in the rear view mirror, that I could not, not include that in the piece. - There's so many different jokes. - And it was definitely an "oh, Florida" moment.

I mean, Florida is beautiful and awesome in its own way. I'm not trying to say it's a bad place. It's just a wildly different place than I'm used to.

You go, "Wow." You go, "Wow." - So that didn't even.-

It's just facts. - This is a documentary. - It's real, that really happened, guys.

- He wanted to go there. - I didn't make that up. I'm not that funny. Florida makes this material for me. - Drive past the gun warehouse.

- Yeah. I mean, I feel like every time I go to Florida, something like that happens and I go, "It's like a different country." It's so different than the rest of the United States for whatever reason. - I mean, the United States is a bunch of different countries. - Right, state means country.

Yeah, I get it. But yeah, it is a whole other world sometimes. So, yeah, I dunno, sorry if you're from Florida. End of sentence. Thanks for watching this episode of the "Hard Reset Podcast." We enjoyed putting it together and hope that you enjoyed watching it.

Also, please make sure you like and subscribe and check out the original episode about WIFIRE and what they're doing to help prevent wildfires. I also have to pee really badly. So go ahead and cut this. - Save it for the fire. - Save it for the fire.

2024-02-18 15:36

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