The fires of hell roared through the City of Angels, dispatched by the lords of darkness. Blasted by 80-mile-an-hour winds that turned palm trees into giant torches, the blazes that ravaged Los Angeles and Southern California beginning December 4 were the worst veteran local firefighters could recall. As the conflagration entered a second week, it had already destroyed an estimated 1,000 structures, burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land, and left smoke-choked residents scrambling to buy face masks to keep breathing.
“This is kind of the new normal,” California Governor Jerry Brown told reporters on December 9. Severe drought driven by global warming had left vegetation tinder-dry; more drought and therefore more fires are projected in the years ahead. “We’re experiencing what it’s going to look like on a very regular basis,” Brown added.
The Los Angeles fires were hardly the first preview this year of the new normal in an era of climate consequences. In August, Hurricane Harvey set a record in Houston for the most rain to fall in the shortest amount of time. Barely a week later, Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean set a separate record for the longest lasting powerful hurricane ever recorded. In October, Northern California’s wine country endured its own wildfires, which left behind 43 fatalities and thousands homeless. And because the physical inertia of the climate system ensures that global temperatures will keep rising for at least 30 more years, this is only the beginning. Welcome to the rest of our lives.
In one of those ironies so glaringly obvious that fate seems to be commanding that humans pay attention, damn it, one of the properties scorched by the Los Angeles fires belongs to Rupert Murdoch. As the founder and acting CEO of Fox News, a lavish donor to Republican politicians and a close confidant of climate denier in chief Donald Trump, Murdoch arguably has done more to spread public confusion and political gridlock about global warming than anyone else alive. So when the local NBC News station reported that billowing gray smoke was rising from Murdoch’s $28.8 million mansion and vineyards in the Bel-Air hills, social media exploded with hosannas of gleeful mockery.
One of the merriest jabs resurrected a tweet of Murdoch’s from Feburary 27, 2015—an aerial photo of polar ice the mogul captioned, “Just flying over N Atlantic 300 miles of ice. Global warming!” Plainly relishing the irony, Anthony Oliveira (@meakoopa) tweeted at Murdoch, “your house is on fire.” Countless like-minded tweets joined the fun, many inevitably invoking that magnificent German word Schadenfreude—happiness at another’s misfortune. Even Nation contributor Bill McKibben, as mild-mannered a Christian as walks this earth, couldn’t help himself. “I know that it’s very wrong of me to think what I’m thinking,” he tweeted.