Sep 2, 2021 - Podcasts

How decades of decisions have led to larger wildfires

Firefighters in Northern California have been working to halt the aggressive Caldor Fire, one of 13 large fires burning in the state, and one which has displaced tens of thousands of people. Climate change and decades of decisions around land management are partly to blame.

  • Plus, police accountability in Colorado.
  • And, the new 'Shang-Chi', Marvel’s first Asian American-led movie.

Guests: Axios' Andrew Freedman and John Frank.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Hope King, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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HOPE KING: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, September 2nd. I’m Hope King filling in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what we’re following today: police accountability in Colorado. Plus, my take on the new Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian American led-movie. But first, today’s One Big Thing: how decades of decisions have led to larger Western wildfires.

Firefighters in Northern California have been working to halt the aggressive Caldor wildfire, one of 13 large fires burning in the state, and one which has displaced tens of thousands of people. Axios climate and energy reporter Andrew Friedman is with us. Hi Andrew.


HOPE: Andrew, what's been the impact of this fire specifically?

ANDREW: It's had an extraordinary impacts, both on the environment, as well as on people, both in California, as well as Nevada. It's the second wildfire in history to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains from west to east. It's outsmarting firefighters' best efforts by sending out embers miles ahead of it on high winds. Nobody really thought that this would come down into Lake Tahoe the way that it did. Some of the areas that it came down were actually like steep, rocky cliffs. Some of these areas are extraordinarily hard for firefighters to combat fires in because they're steep terrain. It's hot, it's dry. You can't get heavy equipment up there easily. In terms of fully containing this, you know, we still have the worst of California's fire season is actually September, October, and lately into November.

HOPE: A lot of things are out of our control. There have been things within our control and you've been writing that climate change plus decades of land management policies have contributed to these wildfires. What are some of those policies?

ANDREW: Yeah, so we've had Smokey the Bear policy for decades, where we put fires out. We're not trying to manage lands the way Native populations did before we came along. There is a growing movement of scholars and firefighters and local residents in the West who are like looking back and engaging with Native American communities to learn some of what they were passed, from generation to generation, about wildfires about their experience. What we need to do is we need to learn more about how to better live with fire and be able to one day in the near future where we won't necessarily have these mega fires occurring so frequently, but it's gonna take awhile before we get to that place.

HOPE: Andrew Freedman is a climate and energy reporter for Axios. Thanks for joining us.

ANDREW: Thanks for having me.

HOPE: Here’s an update on a story we’ve been following this week - On Tuesday we heard from Reverend Dr. Daniel Kanter, senior minister of the first Unitarian church in Dallas. He’s also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against a Texas bill outlawing most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Well that law went into effect yesterday after the US Supreme Court did not act on requests from the ACLU and abortion rights groups to block the ban. It is now one of the most restrictive bans in the country and also allows anyone to sue a person suspected of helping a woman get an abortion -- for up to $10,000. This includes doctors and clergy like Reverend Kanter who often counsel women on the decision to get the procedure. We’ll keep following this story and give you updates.

We’ll be back in 15 seconds with the view from Colorado -- after indictments in the death of Elijah McClain.


HOPE: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Hope King. Three police officers and two paramedics now face criminal charges for their role in Elijah McClain's death in 2019. McClain was a 23-year-old Black man from Aurora, Colorado. He was walking home from a convenience store when the officers approached. His death, as a result of the violent confrontation with police, has become one of the most high profile cases of excessive force use without cause. Axios’ Denver reporter John Frank joins us now to fill us in. Hi, John.


HOPE: The charges come almost exactly two years after Maclean's death. What's happened in that time?

JOHN: Well, the initial investigation by the local district attorney cleared the officers and the paramedics of any criminal charges. This case got new life last summer, amid the protests involving Black Lives Matter after the George Floyd murder. And what we saw was that this had to come from the governor. The governor appointed the attorney general to look into the case as a special prosecutor, which is an unprecedented move here in Colorado. The attorney general then turned it over to the grand jury. It's the first time any of the responding officers and authorities have been held accountable for their actions on that day.

HOPE: You wrote that this indictment also shows how Colorado continues to lead the way on law enforcement accountability. And that's according to advocates that you've spoken with, how is that the case?

JOHN: Colorado was one of the first states in the nation to pass a police accountability bill. It bans chokeholds, it removes qualified immunity for police officers so they can be sued civilly in court. And it goes to-exactly to the Eliza McClain case by prohibiting the use of ketamine without a hospital setting. And now they may look at further changes down the road to really hold police accountable and to dial back some of their use-of-force policies.

HOPE: John Frank is Axios’ Denver reporter and he co-writes the Axios Denver newsletter. Thanks for being with us.

JOHN: My pleasure.

HOPE: Marvel’s newest cinematic hero hits the big screen tomorrow. His name is Shang-Chi. He’s Chinese American. And so am I. Many people might have a hard time pronouncing his name, which is also in the name of the movie —“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” — so it’s not lost on me that I can help here — while also sharing why this movie is so significant. “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian American lead. Disney, which owns Marvel, reportedly spent $150 million on the film — 5 times that of Warner Brothers’ “Crazy Rich Asians.” I saw the movie Monday night, during a screening for Asian Pacific Islander newsmakers in New York City. After more than a year of enduring the global effects of the pandemic, and of waking up almost every day to news that someone from the Asian community has been beaten, attacked or killed while simply walking on the street... or working at a massage parlor … sitting physically in that theater was dizzying. Everyone was masked but I still recognized eyes and gestures. And I recognized the feeling in the room too: a pulsating energy that comes from a collective sense of excitement and nervousness. Excitement for a big budget, Hollywood franchise film that finally puts an Asian character front and center. Nerves because when a film this rare gets made, there’s cautious optimism that the community it reflects will actually like it, and not just like it because it was made. Well, I can say without hesitation that I loved it. “Shang-Chi” exceeded my expectations. Without giving away too much, I’ll say that the film contains all of the ingredients Marvel lovers love and more importantly, “Shang-Chi” presented its characters in a way that made me feel for them as I do with any good show or film: it made me love them, care and worry for them, and in legendary Hong Kong actor Tony Leung’s case, swoon for them. I didn’t sob on Monday the way I did the first time that I saw Crazy Rich Asians. But I did hold back tears a few times — especially during moments where, I sat back, and I felt like I was on the ugly green couch I had as a kid, sitting with my parents on it, on a Saturday night — watching Chinese movies on VHS tapes that we rented from the only Chinese grocery store we drove hours to and from each week. And in those moments, I knew I could answer a big looming question about this film: Is it authentic? To me, it’s yes.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Hope King - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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