Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wildfires heat up partisan politics and the global warming debate

(This replaces a prior version first published on 8/8/18)
A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News August 14-15, 2018
Here I am sitting in my living room above Fraser, Colorado with my view of Byer’s Peak some 10 miles away across the Fraser River Valley disappearing  in a smoky haze and watching television reports of the devastating record breaking Carr /Mendocino Complex fire in northern California.  Colorado wildfires' smoke plumes blowing my way are fueled by beetle killed  trees the like of which I have never seen in my fifty years of full and part time living in the valley. Does it have anything to do with global warming or climate change?  Yes. There is a relationship, but politics color our opinions and actions and it depends upon whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or a Green. Partisan views get in the way of believing scientific evidence and shaping effective and rational policies. The Trump administration is the leader in denying the science.  A March 2018 Gallup poll found that Democrats take global warming seriously, Republicans are skeptical with 69% of Republicans say global warming is exaggerated.

With a warming globe, whether wildfires are caused by lightening  as two near my home were, or were started by human activity, the problem is the increase in fuel . If you ever tried to get a campfire or a fireplace logs catching fire, you know dry fuel ignites easier, burns hotter, spreads faster.  Global warming temperatures cause early snow melt and ground and foliage to dry out in California .   In Colorado, beetle killed gray ghosts of lodgepole pines occupy much of the mountain landscape and fuel many wildfires.  Per   the US Department of Agriculture,  warming winters have not killed off the beetles  as they once did and dense growth makes it easy for insects to infect the next tree. World meteorologists  agree that rates of wildfires burning forests have not been seen for at least the last 10,000 years. 

In recent years, producers of coal, oil, and gas (fossil fuels) have poured massive amounts of money into GOP candidates and elections. To promote an anti-climate change mantra. the Trump administration not only pulled out of the Paris Climate accord, it has purged any White House reference to global warming/climate change.  August 5, Donald Trump ignorantly tried to claim California wildfires were caused by a environmental policy engineered  water shortage, but reservoirs were full. In addition, the Trump administration has filled policy making bodies with fossil fuel executives who either deny global warming is occurring or contend that fossil fuels are not the cause.  His pro fossil fuel appointees have been taking taking steps  to weaken rules regarding coal powered plant  and future automobile emissions standards.

 Some believe global warming  is  just a natural cycle. No.  It is the speed and extremes that are unnatural. It is a data proven fact that the globe has rapidly  heated up by two degrees since the industrial revolution began 150 years ago and predictions are the earth will heat up two degrees more by the end of this century.  Per NASA, 97% of scientists agree it is"" extremely likely" the warming is caused by emissions by humans. Gases act like a greenhouse roof  and keep heat from released to space ,so the earth warms. Per the Environmental Protection Agency,  the gases released by burning fossil fuels are the "largest source "of these greenhouse  gases (carbon dioxide). There are those who call this "fake science", but  Kate Marvel, writing for the magazine Scientific American’s blog   summed up the scientific community rebuttal to the science deniers ” ....overturning that understanding would take a radical paradigm shift that would call into question much of what we know about physics and chemistry."

This is only a summary of the issues,  but for those who want to know what  the main sources that influenced me  are

“Noah Deffenbaugh researches the connection between climate and extreme weather as a professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University. He said the longer fire season in California is related to climate change because global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions has increased the average temperature by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We're getting warmer and warmer conditions around the globe but certainly here in California and in the western United States we're getting earlier melting of snowpack," Diffenbaugh told ABC News' Brad Mielke on the "Start Here" podcast. "That means that when those warm conditions happen in the summer and fall all the vegetation is even more dried out and that means that when lightning strikes when a spark from a from a car or a campfire hits the ground that the vegetation is more dried out there's more fuel available."

Observers believe the Green vote in 2016 helped the GOP win by contributing to Democratic party losses in at least three key rust belt states and the recent indictments of Russian’s manipulation of US social media showed they supported the Greens to divert votes from Democrats.  In the August 5 Ohio District 12 Congressional special election, Greens garnered 1% of the vote, enough to harm the Democratic candidates’ margin in a razor thin result. The Greens’ own intentions are inadvertently helping “the other side’.  

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