Amid decades of feckless leadership from Washington on climate change, the leadership of the nation’s largest state has been invaluable. Unfortunately, while California may be ahead of curve in engaging with climate science, its politicians can be just as prone as others to pretending there are no painful trade-offs.

Case in point is state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who issued a Jan. 4 report highlighting that property insurers in California are pulling back from offering coverage in areas at high risk of wildfire. This is a predictable response to the kinds of conflagrations that caused more than $10 billion in insurance claims in 2017. It also underscores the vulnerability of human settlement to changing climate patterns, particularly for the 3.6 million California homes that lie in the “wildland-urban interface.”

For Jones, the wildfires should provide an opportunity to lead the charge to loosen the state’s Proposition 103 rules, perhaps by allowing insurance companies to consider reinsurance costs in their annual rate filings. Basic economics dictates that if insurance demand in high-risk areas outpaces supply, that gets fixed only if prices are allowed to rise.

But Jones is instead lining up with lawmakers in telling Californians that they can have their cabin in the woods, and insure it, too. He is backing legislation that would make it harder for insurers to cancel policies following a disaster. Perhaps most troubling, it would even let regulators reject the scientific models insurers use to project losses.

The state could help address wildfire risk by doing more to provide grants and loans to help residents manage vegetation and install fire-resistant roofs. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection also clearly needs more support from Sacramento to beef up clearance inspections.

But we still must grapple with the fact that climate change will make some places less desirable to live. This is reflected in rising insurance rates and declining property values. We could do this the easy way, allowing such changes to progress gradually, so developers looking to build low-density homes on steep slopes in Santa Ana wind corridors set their sights elsewhere. Or we could do it the hard way, helping people to ignore the signs until, after billions more dollars are spent and more lives are lost, we end up having to order them to leave the places the market was encouraging them to leave.

Jones accepts the science of climate change. But when it comes to accepting its inevitable consequences, he remains in denial.

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