The Times: Essential news from the L.A. Times

Masters of Disasters origin stories!

Episode Summary

In a live taping, three of our Masters of Disasters talk about how they got into covering catastrophes, why they continue to do it — and how they try to convey hope.

Episode Notes

In a live taping, three of our Masters of Disasters talk about how they got into covering catastrophes, why they continue to do it — and how they try to convey hope. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times earthquake reporter Rong-Gong Lin, L.A. Times wildfire reporter Alex Wigglesworth, and L.A. Times coastal reporter Rosanna Xia

More reading:

Read Rong-Gong LIn II’s stories here

Read Alex Wigglesworth’s stories here

Read Rosanna Xia’s stories here

Episode Transcription

Gustavo Arellano: Hey what’s up, it’s Gustavo Arellano. And today we’re bringing you a live taping with our Masters of Disasters at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this past weekend. Our Masters and I talked about their origin stories: how they got into covering disasters, the ones that changed their perspective about their beats, and how readers and listeners can nevertheless find hope as disasters become more and more common and deadlier. Enjoy!

All heroes have origin stories. Superman was found in a Kansas cornfield, Wonder Woman was formed out of clay, Clayton Kershaw threw a curveball during a spring training game during his rookie year that made Vin Scully proclaim “Holy Mackerel.” Here at the L.A. Times, we have a lot of such stories for our many, many journalism heroes, but there is a rare class of individual among us, those who each week dive bravely into the future of this scary, scary planet.

Not all heroes wear capes, and not all heroes can call themselves Masters. 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to “The Times, Essential News From the L.A. Times.” It's Saturday, April 22, Earth Day, during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Today, the origin stories of three L.A. Times reporters who cover an angry Mother Earth. It's times like these that we turn to my colleagues of catastrophe, our prophets of peril, the ohtanis of uh-oh. 

I'm talking about Masters of Disasters. Musica maestro!. 

Sitting in the earthquake chair, as always, is Ron Lin. Ron, what school is more seismically prepared? UCLA or USC?

Ron Lin: I don't know. That's a good question.

Gustavo: Oh, that's typical of a UC Berkeley graduate to say. Our Cassandra of the coast is Rosanna Xia. Knock-knock,

Rosanna Xia: Who's there? 

Gustavo: Aska.

Rosanna: Aska who?

Gustavo: Ask a reporter!

Rosanna: That's good.

Gustavo: You see? That's what this panel is supposedly about. And back in the wildfire chair is Alex Wigglesworth. Alex, how on earth did you tell the rain gods to make it rain so much over the past three months?

Alex Wigglesworth: I did a dance

Gustavo: You did a dance? What kind of dance?

Alex: Rain dance.

Gustavo: Duh. Ask a dumb question, get a very smart response. Masters, thank you so much. So I wanna start with Ron: What's your origin story? How did you get to start covering earthquakes, of all the beats you possibly could have?

Ron: Yeah, that's an interesting question. So basically, I'll get into this a little bit later, but on my 7th birthday was the Loma Prieta earthquake. It actually happened at 5:04 p.m., which is right about the time that we're holding this. And it was an event in my life that really resonated with me.

So fast-forward to when I've been at the Los Angeles Times — when there would be earthquakes, I would write about them. And there was this giant earthquake that happened in New Zealand in 2011, and there were a number of buildings that collapsed and a lot of people died.

Gustavo: The Christchurch one, right?

Ron: The Christchurch one, right. And so one of the things that kind of came to mind was, could this happen here? There were these big concrete buildings that collapsed, and one of the things that came up on, you know, one of those Google searches that you can do, is that there was a type of building there called a non-ductile concrete building that collapsed there.

And we also had these buildings here in Los Angeles. And so one of the things that me and Rosanna, we did was, we looked –

Rosanna: We did grill UCLA, USC, and UC Berkeley on this as well.

Ron: Yes. Looked to see where are these buildings in California, well, specifically in Los Angeles. And we found out that there were a bunch of these scientists that actually had a list of these buildings, but they didn't wanna give it out. They were really worried about getting sued.And we thought, gosh, that seems like not a good reason to not give that information out. So…

Gustavo: Did you do like Louise Belcher and your, like, eyebrow starts twitching when you heard that? Like, grrr, I gotta get after them.

Ron: Yeah. It really was like that. And so one of the things that we did since they wouldn't give us the list is that we're like, oh well, we'll just try to make our own list. It wouldn't be as good, but, you know, we'll do our best. 

But it was good enough to kind of show the scale of the problem. And we did a story on it. We said the city officials have known about this problem for decades, but haven't done anything about it. And that caused some embarrassment with the city.

And long story short, the city, a couple of years later, decided that they would implement a law requiring these types of buildings as well as another class of buildings to be retrofitted. And that's kind of one of the key things that got me going on this.

Gustavo: And 12 years later, how do you like covering earthquakes?

Ron: I think it's one of the most important and fulfilling beats that I've done.

It's — I know for a lot of people, thinking about it brings a sense of existential dread, but for me, I am actually kind of optimistic about it. One of the things that I’ve found out in all this reporting is that people think, “oh my goodness, this means I'm gonna die, and I should be scared. And so I don't want to think about it.”

But, you know, if we can send people to the moon, surely we can make our buildings safer. And one of the things that I found about it was just this idea that you can actually make buildings a lot safer. There's a lot of things that you can do that are in your control to help ride out these quakes.

Gustavo: Especially when you have a vengeful Master like yourself. Alex, California used to have wildfires every once in a while. Now it's a year-long thing. How did you get into covering wildfires?

Alex: Yeah, so I'm actually from Philly, so wildfires aren't so much a thing there. We have gun violence, the occasional hurricane. That's pretty much it. But I moved to L.A. in 2016 and I live near downtown, you could see the San Gabriel Mountains from my house, and I remember the first time I saw a smoke plume from a wildfire there. I thought that the city was under attack, like nuclear attack.

Gustavo: Oh God.

Alex: I was losing my mind. Cause before that, when I thought of wildfires, I thought of like, Smokey the Bear, fires burning deep in a forest somewhere away from people. And that's when I realized that even when fires are burning in areas that we think of as wilderness, oftentimes and increasingly, it's really close to communities.

So it's something that's, you know, top of mind for a lot of people. And that's why I feel privileged to be able to cover it.

Gustavo: When you actually go cover wildfires, does it scare you? Because you know, earthquakes, Ron is just kind of like a firefighter waiting for something to happen. You could talk about preparation. But for you, there is no plan, like, “oh, a wildfire. We're gonna start one in a couple of days,” or “We're forecasting...” It just happens.

Alex: I mean, it can be a little scary. But I mean, I'm always conscious about putting my safety first. I go to base camp, I check in with the firefighters. I mean, I think that there's definitely ways to tell the story without putting yourself in the middle of a raging wildfire. Cause then you're not only risking yourself, right? You're also risking responders who would be coming to rescue you. So there are ways to do it just to be safe, checking in a lot, be aware of your surroundings. 

And we do training every year at the L.A. Times, for not just me, but other reporters who wanna cover wildfires. A year ago we had the El Segundo Fire Department come out and they taught us actually how to use the fire shelters where you zip yourself into a tinfoil bag.

So I felt good. I felt prepared to do it.

Gustavo: Now that all the sports teams in Philadelphia are good, what's the biggest disaster over there?

Alex: Again, gun violence, and the occasional hurricane.

Gustavo: The occasional hurricane? What?

Alex: Yeah. Every once in a while. I mean, it's not like Florida, but we get flooding and high winds. It’s happened. Like Sandy, that was a…

Gustavo: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Alex: … A lot of flooding for everybody.

Gustavo: Speaking of scary ocean things, Rosanna covers the coast in all sorts of different ways. You used to be a wonder twin with Ron, covering the earthquakes, so how did you start on the coast?

Rosanna: Yeah, I covered earthquakes for a number of years. I've covered wildfires. I covered the last drought emergency in 2015, 2016. And I've always wanted to be on the environment team. And it's interesting going from earthquakes to climate change because both issues, they both inhabit this space of uncertainty, but there is also so much within our control to prepare and plan and also mitigate. So it is very interesting to kind of switch. And the time scales too on which we process the risks of earthquakes and climate change was also – has been fascinating for me. So I specialize in stories about the coast and ocean with a particular lens of California and you know, just to contextualize this and bringing in the rest of the environment team and the rest of our Masters of Disasters, you know, we all take on an aspect of the environment that is super unique to California.

You know, with Alex on wildfires, Ron on earthquakes, Ian James on water, Tony Briscoe on air quality, We also have Sammy Roth covering the energy transition and Louis Sahagún covering the intersection of our natural and built environments. So think of, you know, the Los Angeles River and how so much of it is concrete, but the ecosystems and human habitats that coexist with all of the landscapes that we have so blindly paved over. We also have Hayley Smith and Dorany on breaking news, which there is no shortage of on the climate change beat. And Suzanne Ross specializing in investigations, and I say this because it's really hard to cover all disasters, and I'm really proud of the way we collectively approach the California landscape as a team.

And for me specifically on the coast, the California coast is massive. It's more than 1,200 miles long. So imagine going from Boston all the way to Georgia. You know, not to mention I'm in charge of the entire Pacific Ocean and everything that's happening underwater. And so, you know, many of my stories focus on this line in the sand that we have continuously tried to force between the ocean and what we want to call land, even though this edge between land and sea is constantly moving and inherently a place of tension,.

And to go back to the question of our origin story, like my personal relationship to the coast, I will admit I don't have like a love at first sight story about when I first saw the ocean. You know, I'm super moved by the many scientists and Californians who do have these stories about the first time they put their feet in the water, the first time they felt their toes dig into the sand and now this connection with the sea has inspired their lifelong commitment to protecting the ocean and our shore.

And I grew up in Massachusetts. Going to the beach was a learned experience for my family. My parents spent much of my childhood trying to figure out how this country works. And I think we're all still trying to figure that out. It's very confusing.

Gustavo: It’s called democracy.

Rosanna: And so, figuring out how to get to the beach in itself is a privilege, and something that I am very attuned to when I am now covering the coast of California.

And I do take great joy and responsibility in covering our coast today. And every time I am out there by the sea, I am just reminded of the power and the majesty of the ocean and just the fact that we have tried so hard to live so close to this massive body of water that just holds such immense power and there is great beauty and consequence to that.

Gustavo: All of you have done amazing stories on all of your beats, but Rosanna, I'll get back to you. Is there one story or one disaster in particular that changed your mind about how you wanted to cover this issue and why? And just to give a litany of some of Rosanna's stories, she was a Pulitzer Prize finalist along with some of our other colleagues cause they did a video game-like “choose your own adventure” on how rising water is gonna subsume the California coast.

The one that disturbs me all the time is all the big old oil barrels of DDT right off the coast of Catalina. So across the sea is a bunch of nasty, nasty stuff. 

So name one?

Rosanna: Yeah, I was thinking about this a lot ahead of this recording because I did go, I spent years responding to distinct, headline-grabbing disasters, wildfires, mud– oh my God. I almost said mudslides.

Gustavo: Yeah, mudslides. Say it.

Rosanna: Debris flows. I responded to landslides and debris flows and earthquakes and for a really long time, my life was responding to a, oh my God, this happened, can you go out there, talk to whoever's there, talk to first responders. But I would say that most of the disasters I cover now are way more insidious. They affect us every single day, but in low enough doses that they very rarely grab the kinds of headlines that I'm used to with other disasters that I've covered.

So, but there are, as you know, the scary signs of these slower-moving disasters, just if you take the time to look: The king tides are getting bigger and bigger each year. Water shows up in very weird places as the tide is moving up from underground. The PCH keeps collapsing into the ocean and we take landslides along Big Sur for granted. You know, the road fell into the ocean again and people can't get from point A to point B for another couple months. Oh well this is like our new normal. 

And you know, there are so many more heat waves in the ocean that we don't pay attention to because it's harder to see what's happening in the ocean.

And yeah, like with DDT, sea lions are suffering from a crazy aggressive cancer that's somehow connected to all the DDT and other chemicals we've historically dumped into the ocean. And these are all more subtle forms of disaster, but disaster all the same.

Gustavo: Disasters. Disaster. Uh, Ron: Earthquake that formed you as a reporter or as a person?

Ron: So it was, uh, let's see, it was my 7th birthday. It was —

Rosanna: Ron being 7…

Ron: It was scary. I was —

Gustavo: Where were you when it happened?

Ron: I remember I was at home. I was —

Rosanna: It was 5:04 p.m.

Ron: Alameda. I was on the phone with my cousin who was wishing me a happy birthday and then everything started shaking and it was – it was very violent, and I remember my mom saying “earthquake” in Chinese and then, it was over. And then I don't know if something about being a 7-year-old you're just, I just was very impressed with it. I was just like —

Rosanna: That's very Ron.

Gustavo: Such a Ron response.

Ron: And then, you know, I turn on the TV and I saw the double-decker freeway collapse. And I remember just being very impressed with the amount of damage that happened to it. And two years later there would be the Oakland Hills fire that happened right around my birthday again.

Gustavo: Oh, and when's your birthday?

Ron: The actual date? Oct. 17.

Gustavo: OK, so we need to send you on a hot air balloon or somewhere away from the Earth. That's why. Anyways, go on.

Ron: So, I was always very interested in trying to unpeel the onion of why these things happened. 

And one of the things that happened in the course of my reporting later was this idea that at the time of the earthquake, there was a lot of talk about, oh, it was the soils. It was the soils underneath the freeway that caused it to collapse. But in actuality, if you actually look at all the records, Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, knew that it was vulnerable. In fact, they should have known because as you all remember in the 1971 Sylmar quake, freeways collapsed. And –

Gustavo: Northridge Hospital. That was a lot of fatalities.

Ron: Yeah, San Fernando, the VA hospital and also the brand-new Olive View Medical Center, that also collapsed.

So all of these are concrete things, and – 

Gustavo: Pun intended?

Ron: Always.

Rosanna: There's a lot of earthquake puns. “Groundbreaking.” “Whose fault is it?” You know, Ron and I had so much fun writing these stories,

Ron: It always struck me that we can know that these things are a problem, but will ourselves into ignorance because it seems like, oh my gosh, it seems so difficult to really fix.

But if you really think about it, if California has done all these things such as build this incredible University of California system in the course of a generation, or build one of the world's most impressive water conveyance systems in the world that makes Los Angeles what it is today, surely we can figure out ways to resolve these issues.

And so for me, it's been always very interesting to — they talk about, you know, how there are certain things that no one really wants to talk about. I kind of like to talk about those kind of untouchable things and say, Hey, it's a problem and we can do something about it.

Gustavo: Just helpful. Alex, what wildfire, I mean, you saw that initial plume and you thought, oh my gosh, this is the end of the world. When did you think like, oh wow, this is, this is something?

Alex: Yeah, so the 2021 wildfire season or fire year, was the first I covered as an environment reporter. I think we all kind of watched in horror as the Dixie fire became the first in California history to burn from one side of the Sierra Nevada to the other. And then a couple days later, the Caldor fire did it too.

And I went up to cover the Caldor fire in Northern California. I think the first thing that struck me was just how massive the fire was. Like it took an hour or two to drive from one flank to the other. And then also how massive the response to the fire was. It was very war-like. There's a  base camp with barracks and cafeterias, and thousands of firefighters.

But still, when I would drive around to different parts of the fire, there would be pockets of flames and trees burning where there were no people fighting it, because it was so big that there weren't enough people to be on all parts of the fire at once. 

And I drove to the town of Grizzly Flats, which had completely burned down a couple days before. It was still smoldering. And in the center of town there was a church that had been destroyed. And the only way that you could tell that it was a church was cause there was like rows of metal chair frames that were still lined up. And I saw a squirrel that had a burned tail and it was kind of clinging to the base of a tree, looking dazed.

And it actually brought me to tears, because it hit me. You can rebuild a town — not to minimize the devastation of losing a town, it's horrible — but there are some things that, once they're gone, people can't fix them. And that same sense of loss kind of hit me last year.

I went to visit the aftermath of the Dixie fire, also in Northern California, and a group of scientists and conservationists took me to a burn scar on the side of a mountain outside the town of Greenville, which was also destroyed that year. And so it was like a moonscape, what they call it. The trees were black. The soil was black. There were no signs of life. And so the Dixie fire had burned through that area. But 14 years before another wildfire called the Moonlight fire had also burned through that area. And that fire burned so hot, it killed all the plants. And there was some reforestation efforts.

Things were starting to grow back. Then the Dixie fire burned through and killed everything that had been growing. And so what the scientists told me was that this burn scar was so big, there was no chance of a conifer forest ever regrowing there. And that this is something that's increasingly happening across the Sierra, where there are these repeat fires that are burning so large of an area that we're losing chunks of these forests to wildfires because of climate change and because of certain land use decisions of how the forests have or haven't been maintained. 

That really opened my eyes to the fact that when you're covering wildfires, you have the immediate disaster: something's on fire. But like Rosanna mentioned, you also have the more slowly unfolding disaster of, how did we get here? What decisions brought us to this point? And what are the long term effects? And so I think it's really important to try and note both of those things, like the immediate disaster and the context, when I'm writing.

And that's what I try and do.

Gustavo: Rosanna.

Rosanna: Yeah, I was gonna say, as you were speaking, Alex, what strikes me in the space that we cover is how our baseline for normal continues to shift. And when I was covering wildfires, I remember someone told me, who had covered wildfires for 20 years before me, said that this is the last year where September — I was taught when I did my first training that September, October was fire season in California. And that was the last year ever that fire season didn't start until September, and then it started in August, and then it started in July and then there was suddenly a fire in January. That freaked everyone out. But our baseline at this point, by 2021, just listening to Alex cover that season that you corrected to “fire year” — like even that terminology, we now just call it “wildfires,” we don't have a fire season anymore, is so striking to me. But when our baseline for normal shifts like this, we kind of forget how not OK this is, and how much of a catastrophe we are already living in and continue to live in. And we almost correct it in our own minds. And we don't realize just how much things have changed from 12 years ago when I covered the last fire season that started in September.

Gustavo: Cheery stuff. We'll be back after this break. 

Gustavo: Masters, so what's a typical disaster day for you like?

Alex: So for me it varies a lot depending on the time of year. In the winter I usually get a little bit of a break, where I get to sort of dig into some of those slower-moving, longer-term things. So something that I've been looking at a lot recently is, how do government agencies and even the private industry manage the billions of dollars that go into fighting and preparing for and mitigating wildfires?

And then during the fire year, it's like, throw everything you're working on out the window and just like, I don't know, it's kind of like one of those machines that launches tennis balls in your face and you're just trying to catch them all. 

So, again, I try and talk to scientists. I try and talk to Indigenous voices for all, even breaking news, stories cause those are just two wells of knowledge that are so helpful to informing wildfire reporting. And then it's just chronicling what's happened, the loss of lives, loss of habitat, loss of buildings.

Gustavo: Extra sunscreen? Yeah? OK. Ron, especially you with earthquakes technically happening every single day, how do you prepare for an earthquake day?

Ron: Yeah. So, you don't. Well, there's a couple things you can do.

Gustavo: Yes you do. If you have an earthquake kit. 

Ron: That's true. That's true. 

Gustavo: And if you actually put your bookcases — bolt them to the wall.

Ron: That’s right, that's right. So there are a couple things. One is – when there's no earthquakes, I write about various things, so for example, we just wrote a story about something that I didn't really understand that well before: just homes that are at risk of collapsing, generally, you think of wood frame homes as being OK. But there are a lot of homes with living space on top of a garage that's at risk of collapse. So I'll do different types of stories about what are the risks involved in existing buildings and what can we do to resolve them.

And then when the actual earthquake happens — the last big earthquake that Southern California felt was the Ridgecrest earthquake. And I remember —

Gustavo: That was July 4 weekend, 2019.

Ron: And I think Rosanna was, was actually —

Rosanna: I was. I was working until very late, and our night editor, it was a new night editor and he had no idea what to do and I was just there, because my life ends up in the newsroom at 10 p.m. and —

Ron: And I was in South Africa, of all places.

Gustavo: On a cruise.

Ron Lin: I —

Rosanna: We have a joke actually in the newsroom that whenever Ron goes on vacation outside of California, an earthquake happens in California and it actually, the number of times this has happened is actually a trend. And so —

Ron: I know things. Um, no.

Gustavo: I think you're like, a dark Master, Thanos Master or something.

Rosanna: I have this like spidey sense where when Ron's on vacation, especially in South Africa, like I'm going to be ready in case an earthquake happens and the night editor needs help because he has no idea how to comb the USGS log.

Ron: So luckily, I happened to be in the hotel room, and I think I got the news alert, the L.A. Times news alert: Oh, there was an earthquake. Um, I better see if I can help.

And I did, and we did the story and everything and it was great. I went to sleep. When I woke up, another earthquake had happened when I was sleeping. It was a bigger quake and I remember seeing the emails, and I don't know if you see what happens when you get a lot of emails, but it was the emails that happened like an hour after the quake happened. So I was like, what is going on? And I'm like, oh no, another one happened. 

And so, that was a lot of madness, a lot of chaos. A lot of the stories that we do before an earthquake happens is helpful to kind of explain what's going on. And that particular earthquake, there was a lot of things to kind of learn about how there can be a smaller earthquake that can be a precursor to a bigger earthquake.

And we can also see how there are certain things that — a lot of the things that we found out was, where the earthquake happens really matters. If the earthquake isn't directly underneath a large populated city, with a lot of old buildings, the effect can not necessarily be that bad.

So there's a lot of different types of stories that can be done when an earthquake happens.

Gustavo: So, Rosanna, you're on the coast, you're covering a thousand miles’ worth. Are you just like in a convertible, going up and down the PCH nonstop?

Rosanna: No, cause that is not carbon friendly.

Gustavo: Oh, touche.

Rosanna: I actually, it's funny, I feel like I get asked this question the most from journalism students: Hey, what's your life like? And do I want this life? And I don't know how to answer this question because every day is different, as Alex and Ron can speak to. So the only consistent thing about my day-to-day is that I somehow only have time to drink half a cup of black coffee before I lose control of the day.

So that's the only consistent thing that I can say about my day-to-day, but you know, the way I answer it now is that the California coast is more than 1,200 miles long. It’s more than 60 cities and counties that hug the coast of California. It's multiple, and so I'm keeping track constantly of all these city council meetings and agendas and county agendas and just kind of looking at the land use battles and land use issues and environmental cases that are coming before these local and regional governments. And then there's about 12 state and federal agencies that I am constantly monitoring as well. The California Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, NOAA. I have a bunch of fisheries, groups that I also monitor. And then, on top of that, there are a number of fantastic marine science institutes, research institutes in the state of California.

So I'm constantly talking to scientists within all these different fields on their latest research. So in terms of what my day-to-day is like, I'm at any point conversing with someone from those spaces within academia, within science, politics…

Gustavo: And community. 

Rosanna: And community. And you know, the other question I ask myself when I'm drinking my half cup of coffee: is today a boots day or a Birkenstocks day. And so, yeah, I do get to go out on the beach a lot and out to sea, which is really wonderful. And, yeah, it's a really hard question to ask, but I think that's the fun part about being a reporter: You never know what your day's gonna end up looking like and where you'll end up by the end of the day.

Gustavo: You could plan, and then those plans just go down like half a cup of coffee.

Rosanna: You can plan. And if Ron decides to go on vacation, an earthquake can happen.

Gustavo: An earthquake does happen! All of you just do so much incredible work, so much awesome stuff, but all of it is also stuff that scares so many people and rightfully so, and especially with wildfires and the coast. It's an existential dread. It's like you don't know what's gonna happen, and a lot of people think “there's nothing I could do about it except be afraid.”

So what advice would you give to Californians in the sense of being hopeful, even as these disasters increase? Where is the hope in that? What is the hope people can get? Ron?

Ron: It's, for me, it's the optimism that I can do things that can make things better. One of the things when I hear some from structural engineers about what are the things that you can do to make your home safer, and some of the items are just not that scarily difficult.

One of them is as simple as making sure your water heater is properly strapped. It's a very cheap thing to do, and you can reduce your risk — an unstrapped water heater is the number reason why a house can catch on fire after an earthquake. Yeah. But it's such, the most simplest thing.

You can — it can also extend to the broader things. One of the things that I think Angelenos can feel very — one of the things that was actually a good thing that City Hall actually did was require a lot of apartment buildings — these are the top-heavy apartment buildings with the carports on the ground floor that are held up by these toothpicks, right? — and the City Council required them to be retrofitted, in part inspired by our reporting. And now a majority of these apartment buildings are retrofitted and that's gonna save a lot of lives. 

And to me, having that kind of hope that you can do things to deal with the threat of earthquakes, that gives me a lot of confidence that things are gonna be OK. So, it's kind of that sense of inspiration that we can do things about earthquakes, to prevent a catastrophe from really being a catastrophe.

Rosanna: Right — buildings kill people, not earthquakes, right?

Ron: Yeah.

Gustavo: Like guns. Alex, what brings you hope?

Alex: Well, I guess one thing to be hopeful about is that you have to be aware of a problem before it can be fixed. And I think that fires in California have gotten to the point where they're impossible to ignore. So I'm hopeful that the next step is people taking steps to address that.

And it's a tough one because it's not necessarily something that one person can take an action to really address, like you can harden your home, but if your community isn't hardened, then it's still gonna burn down in a fire. And even sometimes if your community is hardened,  if the weather conditions are right, it's very windy, it's dry, your home might burn down anyway.

But I think that's why it's important to hold elected officials and government agencies accountable for really sharing in the solution to this problem. Cause it's definitely not something that one or two people can do themselves. 

I think obviously also, being aware of your fossil fuel consumption and trying to get at it from that aspect is something that could be helpful. And if wildfires are the thing that makes people take those steps and be aware that this is sort of the canary in the coal mine for climate change, that's, I guess, kind of hopeful.

Gustavo: If that's the canary in the coal mine, then rising ocean levels are the, oh, I don't know, Maria Callas. Uh, that joke's not gonna work. But Rosanna, the water goes up, the glacial caps are melting. The water is not gonna go down anytime soon. How on Earth can you find hope in what you do?

Rosanna: I'm just gonna build off what Alex just said, and even just focusing on today, I just finished an earlier panel at the Festival of Books on climate change, and it was a packed room. It sold out, and I have been really stunned and heartened to see just how much this conversation in the last few years has become one of, “Oh, I don't wanna think about it,” to “Let's talk about it. Let's do something about it.” And it reminded me of something that climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe said a couple years ago: One of the most important things you can do to fight climate change is to start talking about it. And so the fact that so many more people are now talking about it gives me so much hope.

And you know, a couple years ago I felt like I was just publishing stories into a void, and now there is a conversation that is happening. There are questions. It's getting complicated, still messy, and people are freaked out and anxious and sad. But there is hope amid all of this darkness.

Gustavo: In other words, people should be reading the L.A. Times more.

Rosanna: Yes,

Gustavo: Perfect. We'll be back after this break. 

Gustavo: And now comes our traditional ending to Masters of Disasters, where we ask our Masters what's bringing them joy during these terrible times. Ron, let's start with you. What's bringing you joy?

Ron: Croissants.

Gustavo: Ooh. What kind of croissants?

Ron: Both the almond kind and the chocolate kind.

Gustavo: The almond kind is not a good croissant! You have to go with a chocolate one or just a good, buttery, flaky one. But it's your joy, not my joy. Alex, what's bringing you joy?

Alex: I don't know if you saw my colleagues around the festival wearing these L.A. Times Guild T-shirts, like the one that I have on, but we are fighting for a new contract, and to me it's really inspiring that we're all working together to really protect the institution that we all love by making it a place for talented journalists to thrive. And I know that you guys love it too, so thank you for being here, also bringing me joy. Thank you.

Gustavo: Yes, union power. And Rosanna, what's bringing you joy?

Rosanna: OK, so the tradition on the tradition of the joy question is that I always answer this question with a joke, so I come bearing jokes. OK. Gustavo, why did the mermaid wear seashells?

Gustavo: To not cover something.

Rosanna: Because she grew out of her “B” shells.

Gustavo: Oh, zing.

Rosanna: So I think we need to cut that one, but that one gave me a lot of joy.

Gustavo: That's PG-13. That's a —

Rosanna: That's like PG-19. 

Gustavo: No, that's PG-13. That was a good one. One more.

Rosanna: OK, so here's the one for the actual recording. I've got two actually, if you want extra joy. First one. Gustavo, what do you call a fish with no eyes? Fshhh!

Gustavo: Zing. I didn't get that one.

Rosanna: Do I need to explain it? You spell fish F-I-S-H. And if you remove the “I,” it becomes fshhh.

Gustavo: Ooh, that was a good one. Yeah. Yeah. OK. I'm being honest too. I didn't get it. That's a great one

Rosanna: Third joke. Gustavo, why was the whale super sad?

Gustavo: Because it was blue.

Rosanna: Yes. My punchline is because he was a blue whale.

Gustavo: I got it close. Oh my God. And that's it for our Masters of Disasters, Alex Wigglesworth, Rosanna Xia, Ron Lin, our Masters. And Ashlea Brown, your jefa, Mario Diaz on  engineering, gracias to all. 

Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of “The Times: Essential News From the L.A. Times.” 

Ashlea Brown and David Toledo were the jefes on this episode. It was edited by Heba Elorbany, and Mario Diaz mixed and mastered it.  

Our show is produced by Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistants are Roberto Reyes and Nicolas Perez. Our fellow is Helen Li. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. 

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back Friday with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.