Dispatches from the Future
Mountain Fires to Valley Adversity
I am so excited to walk across the stage tomorrow with the rest of the Behavioral and Social Science class of 2037 graduates. It is Chico State’s 150th graduation ceremony so tomorrow will be a day to remember. I am glad the graduation ceremonies are not the same as they were when my dad graduated from Chico State, or else I’d have to make sure my family sits on the east side of the stadium to avoid the direct sunlight. Now that Chico experiences extreme heat days earlier in the year, the University changed the timing and location of graduation so that attendees would not have to endure the scorching sun.
Of all the climate change impacts we’re experiencing, none of them have impacted our community more than the fires. Life in Butte County was never the same after the Camp Fire. The 150,000 acre fire killed about 90 people, and burned the homes of more than 13,000 Butte County residents. Longtime residents talk about the days “before the fires”. Everyone thought that the Camp Fire was a freak incident, but it was just the beginning. The 2020s were the decade of fires in Butte County with three large fires exceeding 250 acres. In 2023, the 300 acre Chico Creek fire started in Upper Park and burned down the creek scorching miles of riparian habitat in Lower Park, and destroying multiple homes nearby. Most of the homes in Forest Ranch and Cohasset were burned in the 2026 8,000 acre Pine Fire which started west of Cohasset near Pine Creek and burned all the way to Forest Ranch taking over a thousand structures.
Chico’s population has grown substantially since the fires. Many of the people who formerly lived in the mountainous region surrounding Chico have migrated into the city so they can sleep without fear. Chico State has worked with the city to increase the affordable housing stock around campus so that students, faculty and staff are able to live within the city limits and out of the fire zone. Students are trained during orientation on what to do when a wildfire strikes in the surrounding region. Improved air filters have been installed in every building to maintain a safe indoor air quality during the “smoke season”. Masks of all styles and colors that filter particulates from smoke are distributed to everyone in the campus community so that we are prepared for the smoke.
Due to the adaptations made by the University, the campus community is more resilient and prepared for the impacts of climate change. After we all came to terms with the fact that climate change is happening and preparations need to be made to ensure a decent future for ourselves—everything changed. There was a heightened sense of a duty to act. A duty to change the way we operate so that we are not contributing to the disruption of our global climate system. I am grateful that the Chico State leaders of an earlier time had the foresight to adapt to what is coming so that I was able to obtain an amazing education and sit in my graduation ceremony tomorrow without fear of getting heat stroke in my black gown.
-- Jared Geiser