Larry Elder, the conservative talk radio host and leading Republican candidate vying to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the state’s recall election last week, has some utterly garbage views on wildfires, according to an analysis by Media Matters shared exclusively with Earther. If his run is successful, those views could be enshrined policy, spelling disaster for a state already engulfed in climate change-fueled flames.
Last year was California’s most active wildfire season ever. Newsom referred to the summer’s events as a “climate damn emergency,” which it was. This year is already on pace to break that record, with wildfires driven by scorching temperatures and a crushing drought that are both hallmarks of the climate crisis.
But Elder repeatedly denied the role of climate change in the state’s fires. Instead, he echoed then-President Donald Trump and said the problem was a lack of forest management, and specifically, a lack of financial incentives for clearing fallen trees.
“So the environmental rules and regulations make it uneconomic to remove these fallen trees, to remove all this stuff as Donald Trump says, on the floor,” Elder said on his talk show last September. “There isn’t enough economic incentives for people to remove these things, and there’s all sorts of environmental laws that prevent the removal of these fallen trees.”
The same day, Elder went on Fox Business News’ show Varney and Company and peddled the same message: “You can’t do a whole lot about the weather, but you can do something about the fuel that these fires feed upon that makes these fires so intense and so serious.” A week later, he went on the show again, repeated that forest management is the main issue in wildfires sparking and adding that “Donald Trump does not believe in climate change alarmism.” We get it, dude—you want Trump to know you love him.
You may recall Trump once claimed Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto told him about “raking” the forest, something the Niisisto denied. Trump also tweeted that California needed better “Forrest [sic] Management” in 2019 while threatening to cut off aid. Elder’s lines on his talk show and Fox Business News are just smoother, slightly less typo-laden proclamations of the same nonsense Trump has said. The forest management talking point is essentially plucked from timber industry propaganda and was used by the White House to ease logging restrictions.
Last year wasn’t the first time Elder pushed Trump’s preferred narrative, either. He’s also repeatedly shared articles written by noted Koch Brothers-backed climate denier Chuck DeVore arguing that Democrats, not the climate crisis, are to blame for California’s wildfires. And on his talk show, Elder made similar remarks shortly after the 2018 Camp Fire in Northern California’s Butte County, the deadliest and most destructive fire in state history, mocking then-Gov. Jerry Brown for suggesting climate change exacerbated the blaze.
“Jerry Brown back in August essentially admitted everything Trump said: That the forests have been mismanaged, they’ve become way too thick, there’s a disincentive to remove dead trees, all of which provides combustion for these fires,” he said on his talk show that November.
It is the case that abundant dead trees on the forest floor can ignite and catch flame during wildfires. But as fire authorities have noted repeatedly, many of California’s worst fires, had little or nothing to do with that. During the Camp Fire, dried dead foliage did light up. But when things get hot and dry enough, even forest-free areas burn. What’s making California so much hotter and drier? It’s not forest management, it’s climate change.
“As a right-wing media figure, Larry Elder pushed out half truths about the causes of California’s apocalyptic wildfire seasons to score points with conservative audiences,” Allison Fisher, Media Matters’ climate and energy program director, wrote in an email. “Comments he made across right-wing media illustrate a clear, potentially purposeful disregard for the realities of climate change and the factors driving the increasingly dire threat that wildfires pose to California.”
Look, I’m no great fan of current California Gov. Gavin Newsom. As I’ve written right here on this very website, he talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to the climate crisis, on the one hand making flashy commitments like his promise to end new gas-powered car sales by 2035 and on the other hand approving thousands upon thousands of new oil and gas permits. This isn’t shocking: The dude’s entire political ascent has been financially backed by a Getty Oil heir.
But recalling him for Elder is, frankly, terrifying. At least California can count on Newsom to dispatch resources when climate change-fueled fires come alight. Just Tuesday night, he declared a state of emergency in Lake County, where fires are spreading, to help provide public services for officials and impacted residents. How would Elder act on these immediate crises, let alone fixing the long-term one of reducing fossil fuel use and protecting those living in harm’s way from fires and the ecosystems that risk going up in smoke? I shudder to think of it.
In an interview with ABC News last month, Newsom said of Elder, “he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to the issue of climate and climate change.” Look, when he’s right, he’s right.