Part I: The Fire

A commentary about the environment, disaster, the causes and possible solutions in three parts.

When the World is Burning Down, Can We Make the Best of What’s Around?

Not that we haven’t seen it coming, our apocalyptic future of fire and flood has become an annual nightmarish reality. As drought has worsened across the west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, seasonal wildfires have ravaged forests and communities in every state within this region accordingly. A glance at the National Interagency Fire Center reports shows a grim trend of increasing acreage of states burned to present. Three of the last four years have reported an average of more than 8 million acres per year burned. This year’s fires in California included the largest in the state’s history and claimed the lives of multiple civilians and firefighters as well as destroying millions of dollars in property.

The United States isn’t alone in sharing this infernal blight as Canada declared the first state of emergency in 14 years with 180 individual fires burning within its territories earlier this summer. Fires have also burned at apocalyptic proportions in Spain, Chile, Greece, Australia and Asia. No doubt about it, increasing drought, rising average temperatures and invasive infestations of species like the pine beetle have left forests vulnerable and ripe for fire to take hold. The conflagrations have displaced thousands globally, severely affected the quality of the air in wide swaths across entire continents and even closed Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks for weeks at a time and impacted the summer tourist season. New studies have declared that our national parks and monuments may be the most vulnerable geographical areas of the country to cope with climate change. Exhausted fire crews have responded to every state in the western U.S. for longer duration than before as fires have burned hotter and longer due to ideal burning conditions exacerbated by drought, heat and low humidity.

It’s the new norm in America: each year the west is afflicted by fire while the southeast is inundated with larger and more destructive storms. These occurrences have one inextricable fact in common: warming global temperatures due to CO2 emissions. Perhaps the most disturbing result of this new reality is the lack of true leadership from appointed officials to address these scientifically backed factors. There is evidence that the destructive effects of wildfires and storms victimize the most vulnerable demographics of society, and, too often factors that influence greenhouse emissions can be directly linked to corporate and economic entities that hide behind regulations that remain archaically tied to the mentality of no-consequence capitalism. The constant denial and erosion of climate science seems to have reached a fevered pitch with the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Coupled with the unprecedented lax approach the same administration has taken concerning air quality regulations, the issue of whether climate change exists continues to be increasingly politicized.

As year after year of record fire continues to be the norm, it has become clear that it’s not just those who live in the path of the fires and work to stop them on the front lines that have something to lose. The pall from the wildfire smoke, which travel by trade winds far from the actual sites of the fire, represents a serious threat to those who are vulnerable to respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies. At-risk groups also include the very young as well as the elderly. As fires burned in Utah county this past summer, many communities and school districts were forced to issue air quality warnings and cancel outdoor recess to avoid health complications. Following the fire season, concerns persisted when heavy rains arrived as they could have caused landslides in areas where burn scars could no longer retain the combination of water and loose soil. Even for those who live miles from forests, the result of longer fire seasons can represent a threat to having a quality lifestyle.

Reality is that what happens on Earth is a shared experience. There’s no hiding from it and denial will only worsen one’s ability to cope with how they must adjust to a much warmer world. In order to facilitate a better future for generations, citizens need to push for government/industry accountability and truly progressive approaches to controlling carbon and fossil emissions.

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