The Santa Rosa Glass Fire burned over 1,517 buildings and was active for 23 days. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. (Elle Horst)
The Santa Rosa Glass Fire burned over 1,517 buildings and was active for 23 days. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Elle Horst


November 11, 2020

As we delve deeper into a state of climate disaster, the best way to see the ramifications is simple - just look around. Our Earth is struggling, and it’s evident in everything from the dry forests to the spread of disease.

Although COVID-19 isn’t a direct result of climate change, many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics.

As the planet continues to heat up, animals of all different shapes and sizes head to the poles to escape the heat. This results in animals coming into contact with other animals that they normally wouldn't. The collision of different species creates an opportunity for pathogens to infect new hosts.

Additionally, deforestation remains the leading cause of habitat loss worldwide. Loss of habitat forces animals to migrate and come into contact with other animals or people, sharing germs.


bay area birds at risk

Natural disasters are ruinous for society. They can cause up to billions of dollars in damage, leaving millions of people in dire situations, and cause numerous deaths. They are hard enough to navigate alone, but now there’s a new element added to the devastation. 

The spread of COVID-19 has changed society at an unprecedented level, resulting in new safety measures and procedures that have affected millions. Masks now cover previously visible faces. Glass walls shield workers from customers, and temperature checks are common entry requirements.  

These changes affect everyday life in numerous ways, but perhaps where it hurts the most is during times of environmental disasters. At the most basic level, the health of workers can be put at risk as environmental hazards, and COVID-19 procedures clash.

In the past couple of months, fires have raged over Northern California, causing evacuations, destruction, and poor air quality.    

While businesses do the best they can to adhere to all the required regulations, there is no perfect solution.  On days when the air quality was uncomfortable, businesses were able to combat the quality through ventilation systems like fans and air conditioning. 

When working a shift at Yumi Yogurt in San Mateo, Cooper Perez, a Yumi Yogurt employee, was able to complete her shift without any difficulties with the air.

“While working during the fire, my employers kept a fan on for ventilation purposes," Perez said. "Though the door had to be open due to COVID-19 regulations, the air didn’t bother me, and I felt fine throughout my whole shift.”

Kylie Holzman, an employee at Pete’s Coffee in Burlingame, had a similar experience as Perez. Working indoors with ventilation, she was able to work with minimal discomfort.

“I am lucky that I work indoors, so the air quality wasn’t a big deal. To protect ourselves and customers, [Pete’s Coffee] kept the front door and all windows shut and had the fan running," Holzman said. "It wasn’t a perfect scenario, as customers would let in the bad air as they entered, but we did our best to make it safe for everyone.”

Though businesses were able to combat the air quality at more moderate levels, some employees began to see effects on their health as it grew more severe.  

“Working when the air quality was bad was very different from my normal shifts,” said Brooke Oshie, another employee at Yumi Yogurt. “I definitely noticed the smell and the overall condition of the sky. By the end of my shift, my head hurt a little, and my chest felt a little tight.”

Oshie worked in San Mateo when the air quality was at its worst. With an Air Quality Index (AQI) well into 300s, she saw definite declines in her health by the end of her shift despite the efforts to ventilate.  COVID-19 regulations kept the doors constantly open as customers entered the storefront, causing unhealthy particles to sit inside the store.  

Clashes with COVID-19 and the fires are seen at a basic level in the workplace, where safety concerns begin to conflict with each.  However, these problems are nothing compared to those faced at the sites of the burns. 

Air Pollution

Going hand-in-hand with global warming is the most commonly known form of environmental change, air pollution. Greenhouse gases trap heat from the Sun to help regulate the temperature of the planet. The Earth is all about balance; low concentrations of greenhouse gases can bring about ice ages, whereas high concentrations heat the Earth.

Emissions from agriculture, transportation, landfill, and buildings are all disrupting that balance. Following the Industrial Revolution, the production of greenhouse gasses rose drastically. Since 1880, the Earth has warmed a little over 2 degrees Fahrenheit overall, according to NASA.

The Bay Area is no exception. Since the 1950’s the average temperature has risen 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit, and in 2018 San Francisco ranked 49th out of the 723 worst air polluted cities in the U.S., according to IQ air. These statistics are quite frightening on paper, but those fears became a reality to the Bay Checkerspot Butterfly.

As the name implies, these butterflies display a beautiful white and orange checkered pattern on their wings. They only reside around the Bay Area, specifically Edgewood Preserve, Kirby Canyon, Coyote Ridge, and San Bruno Mountain State Park. Of the sites listed, the butterflies of Edgewood Wildlife Preserve, located next to Highway 280, were hit the hardest by air pollution.

Initially, the preserve was home to a healthy population until 2003, when the butterflies disappeared. It was soon discovered that nitrogen from car emissions helped invasive grasses take over the hillside and overrun the native plants; the butterfly larva’s food, as well as the butterflies themselves, went extinct. Since 2007, scientists and volunteers have continued to reintroduce these butterflies to Edgewood. They mow down the invasive grasses and release caterpillars from the neighboring communities into the reserve. The Bay Checkerspots of Edgewood has been making their slow recovery.

Bay Checkerspot Butterfly
The Bay Checkerspot Butterfly, native to the Bay Area, are victims of air pollution.

The story of the Bay Checkerspot in Edgewood leaves both a sinister and hopeful note for air pollution in the Bay Area. California is fighting to resolve that problem, potentially saving species in a similar situation as the butterflies. By 2045 California has a goal of going carbon-free. Furthermore, on Sept. 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an ambitious executive order:

“In the next 15 years, we will eliminate in the state of California the sales of internal combustion engines; we will move forward to green and decarbonize our vehicle fleet here in the state of California. As a consequence, substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as oxide nitrogen meaning NOx emissions here in the state of California. In so doing, it will improve air quality, as well as improve the economic climate here in the state of California,” Newsom said.


Land Protection

Natural disasters have detrimental effects on the environment. The California wildfires are no exception, having destroyed forests, structures, and more since they initially began in August. 


One impact of the wildfires that is often overlooked is the consequences they have on the soil.


Without the presence of a wildfire, forested land contains four different layers. At the very top there is litter, which consists of dry leaves and pine needles. Directly below is the organic-rich soil, from which plants draw nutrients in order to keep growing. 


Beneath the organic-rich soil lies a water repellant layer and a layer of wettable soil, which act together to protect the soil and hold water for the trees to use. 


During a wildfire, the flames actively burn the vegetation and litter layer, consuming the rich organic soil in the process. The bottom layer of wettable soil decreases significantly as well. 


After the wildfire has gone, the ash remaining from the fire mixes with the soil and stays on the surface of the land, replacing the vegetation, litter, and organic-rich soil.


The wettable soil is largely depleted, leaving behind half as much of the layer as there used to be before the wildfire. 


Due to the devastating effects a wildfire can have on forest land, it is important to clean up excess litter and use fire-resistant materials on your property. Doing so can eliminate some of the damage the wildfires can cause to the soil structure and help the land recover.

How is land protected from fires?

About the Contributors
Photo of Cambell Kirk
Cambell Kirk, Staff Writer

Cambell Kirk is a senior at Carlmont High School. It is her third year with Scot Scoop and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to share locals news and other's untold stories with the world.

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Elle Horst, Scot Scoop Editor-in-Chief
Elle Horst is a senior at Carlmont and the 2021-2022 Editor-in-Chief of Scot Scoop.  She is thrilled to be attending Brown University in the fall. When she isn't writing or editing, you can find her flipping around, singing in Carlmont's Chamber Choir, teaching adaptive gymnastics classes to kids with disabilities, binging true-crime docuseries, and hanging out with friends. Visit her website here.

Twitter: @elleehorst
Photo of Raina Lahiri
Raina Lahiri, Staff Writer
Raina Lahiri is a junior and Highlander editor at Carlmont High School. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies and spending time with friends and family.

Twitter: @RainaLahiri
Photo of Ayal Meyers
Ayal Meyers, Staff Writer & Editor
Ayal Meyers is a Senior at Carlmont High School who aspires to develop as a profile and political writer. In addition to Scotscoop, Ayal writes for All That's Lit to Print and Prep2prep. Moreover, Meyers is interning at an orthodontics clinic in Belmont while playing water polo, and running track. To see more of his work, visit his portfolio.

Twitter: @ayalmeyers
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Hanna Kryhina, Staff Writer
Gem Kryhina is a senior in journalism. On Scot Scoop, they write features as part of their senior project. Meanwhile, as a staff writer for the Highlander, they write on different topics. Gem is also co-president of Thespian Society, Carlmont's drama club.

Twitter: @gkryhina
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Chelsea Chang, Podcast Producer
Chels is a senior at Carlmont High School. As a Managing Editor for Highlander, staff writer for Scot Scoop, and a podcast producer for ScotCenter, she's very passionate about journalism and hopes to go into communications. In her free time, she likes to watch Pokémon and listen to music. To check out her portfolio, click here.

Twitter: @ketachels
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Kai Yoshida, Staff Writer
Kai Yoshida is currently a senior at Carlmont, and it is his third year of journalism. Yoshida is an avid soccer player and has been part of Carlmont's soccer team since freshman year. He also loves the outdoors and is enthusiastic about preserving it.
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Isabelle Nunes, Highlander Editor-in-Chief
Isabelle Nunes is a senior at Carlmont High School and the Editor-in-Chief of the Highlander. Outside of school, she interns with the San Mateo Daily journal and is an editorial manager for Redefy. With her passion of design, leadership, addressing social issues through local perspectives, she is excited to pursue a career in marketing and journalism in the near future! To view her full portfolio, click here.

Twitter: @iznunes
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Jessica Conley, Staff Writer
Jessica Conley is a senior at Carlmont High School and enjoys creating cartoons and writing for Scot Scoop. She loves playing water polo and skiing. In addition to sports, she is actively involved in the community, participating in Belmont's Youth Advisory Committee and as Senior Patrol Leader of BSA Troop 301. To check out her portfolio, click here.

Twitter: @jessicaconley_
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Maya Kornyeyeva, Cartoon Managing Editor
Maya Kornyeyeva is a senior at Carlmont High School and she enjoys social media marketing and digital design. She is a co-founder of an ocean ecology club at school, through which she helps advocate for environmental issues. Kornyeyeva also participates in volunteering activities with Key Club, and likes to write about topics such as pop culture, climate, and science.
Twitter: @kor_maya

View her portfolio at:


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