The Tempests of Change

It has been difficult to watch the reporting of natural disasters this summer without feeling a sense of dread that dramatic climate change is not a resigned future for some unknown progeny, it has begun.

The forest fires burning across the West reflect the damage already visited upon the forests by years of drought and the pine bark beetle. While the total number of acres burned this year is less than in some previous years such as 2012, the acres burned are greater than the ten-year average.

Forests across the west have burned every summer. But for many in places like Puget Sound they were always happening elsewhere – eastern Washington or Idaho or Montana. But this year, a different wind pattern brought smoke and ash from fires in British Columbia, Oregon, and eastern Washington. And that smoke and ash came to an area experiencing 90 F weather.

When I came to this area in the early eighties, summer temperatures were in the mid seventies; a day in the eighties was an exception and remarked upon. Now, in the last twenty years, eighties and nineties have become common.

Western Washington went from the wettest winter on record (2016/2017) to a summer of drought and setting a record for days without rain. The wet winter fed the rapid growth of brush that became dry tinder as the summer progressed. A number of homes near Grand Mound were destroyed in late summer from a fire that spread from near Interstate 5. Similar fires closer to Seattle were stopped before homes were destroyed.

As we move into the first of the autumn storms, it can be hoped the worst of the fire threat here has passed. But sooner or later, a tossed cigarette, fireworks, careless burning, or other causes will ignite a fire that spreads out of control into forested hillsides and into housing communities. With a prolonged drought and the right winds a fire similar to the Oakland firestorm of 1991 may only be a matter of time.

Hurricane Harvey dumped up to four feet of rain on the Houston area. It was difficult to watch without feeling a sense of empathy for the population who watched the literal drowning of their homes and communities.

Efforts to recover have begun but the fetid waters will bring disease, further threatening a population suffering from mental and emotional exhaustion. This recovery is going to take months to years for many. And the television crews have already moved on to other storms (see below) and news stories.

No one – understandably – during the deluge commented on the irony of a hurricane made worse by climate change dumping on the Emerald City of the petroleum industry. But much like the fabled wizard of Oz who admonished Dorothy and her crew not to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, Scott Pruitt, the director of the “environmental protection”agency, is another phony who doesn’t believe climate change should be mentioned, as it’s insensitive to those who lives are being wrecked by climate change.

While the administration doesn’t want to talk about climate change, its supporters in the petroleum industry already knew it was real. Exxon for one knew about the effects of climate change as early as 1977, having funded a good deal of its own scientific research – research it then concealed.

And for the last forty years, the rest of the petroleum industry and its supporters and stooges have claimed the science isn’t settled or that it’s just a figment of imagination. Worse, they’ve spent millions of dollars working to prevent any public discussion of it.

Unfortunately for them, nature doesn’t rely on donations from the Koch family. And it provided a second hurricane in Irma.

I had a personal interest in Irma. I had lived in Tampa many, many years ago and was concerned about the friends I had had who I assume still live there. And more than that, I have a brother who lives in Miami.

Fortunately, both Miami and Tampa were relatively spared. In my brother’s case, he and his family spent the storm in a shelter, and came home to find no damage to their house and the power still on (his trees and fence didn’t fare as well).

The Florida Keys were hammered as was parts of southwest Florida – not to mention the many islands in the Caribbean as well as the coast of Cuba. Again, it’s difficult to watch television and see the devastation and havoc created for the residents of those areas.

And now there is another hurricane – Maria, now strengthening and on a path that will take it over many of the Caribbean islands savaged by Irma.

It may be insensitive to Scott Pruitt, but there needs to be not only mention, but discussion and action on climate change now.

We may be out of time, and will certainly be if dramatic action is not taken immediately.

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