Southern Californians know: climate change is real, it is deadly and it is here

An earthly paradise is ravaged by inferno and flood, the earth itself rising to proclaim a horrifying and deadly new normal

A child plays in surf reddened by the reflection of heavy smoke in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara.

 A child plays in surf reddened by the reflection of heavy smoke in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara. Photograph: David McNew/Getty Images

When people ask me where I live and I say, “Santa Barbara,” I wait for the inevitable reply, “Paradise,” and the quizzical look that says, how does one live there, rather than vacation. It’s as if I had replied, Disneyland.

People who visit from colder climates have been complaining lately. Last year, when it finally rained after six years of drought, and we were practically on our knees with gratitude, a woman from New England remarked, “I didn’t come here for the rain.” I almost said, “Well, then, why don’t you go back home?” Another pestered a friend: when was her club in Montecito going to open? My friend replied, “I think it’s under eight feet of mud.” She wanted to add, “And they’re still looking for the bodies.”

It’s always been a struggle here to have a normal life, to hold on to reality.

In December, we got a mega-dose of reality when the biggest fire in California’s history burned more than 270,000 acres. Seven cities were evacuated.

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