Opinion from John Young: Quoth the climate deniers: ‘What fires?’
June 19, 2013
And so it begins again, and on cue.
Like an incendiary device on a timer, summer has turned patches of Rocky Mountain paradise into scenes of fiery hell.
The people of Colorado are beginning to wonder if for the foreseeable future they are locked into four seasons: fall, winter, spring and wildfire.
A year to the day after the state's worst cumulative fire season began — a season that stretched almost into December — the fires began again.
A year after the most destructive fire in state history, consuming 346 homes in the foothills west of Colorado Springs, a successor on the northeast outskirts of town dwarfed it. The Black Forest fire destroyed more than 500 homes. Two people died.
Much like a year ago when they burned in the Rockies from Idaho to New Mexico, wildfires have burst out in multiples.
I know this isn't what some readers want to hear, particularly if Fox News is their choice for information, but these events answer a question that by now should be beyond debate: Hell, yes, the climate is changing.
We are cautioned, and well should be, about assigning temporal events to big-picture concerns like climate change. Temperatures spike. Cold snaps snap. But what's happening in the Colorado high country isn't transitory. It's long-term and caused by fundamental changes.
The canary in this coal mine is a dead ponderosa pine — or hillsides of them killed by the mountain pine beetle.
The insect thrives because of warmer temperatures. Without a few successive days of 40 degrees below zero each winter, the beetles live to eat and breed. They then convert lush forest to brittle kindling.
In no way can one blame all these fires on said pestilence. Drought is the No. 1 villain, as Texas experienced in 2011 when 1 million acres and 2,862 homes were destroyed by fire.
Texas, of course, is one of those places where global warming and global desiccation do not exist, at least in the minds of policy makers.
It's always interesting to hear from people who clip along without these concerns, like a reader from Vero Beach, Fla., who wrote the local paper to report that "true scientific minds are saying that the earth will be cooling for the next 10 years."
Thinking I might have missed a big story, surely "breaking" on Fox News, I bounced this off someone who pays closer attention to these matters than I do.
Andrew Dessler of the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences is co-author of The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change.
"As time goes on, climate skepticism becomes further and further divorced from reality," he told me. "If you look at the temperature record, 2005 and 2010 were tied for the two warmest years of instrumental record. I really don't understand how someone can claim that Earth has either stopped warming or is actually cooling."
Reality? Here's some:
The Associated Press calls rising sea levels "a predicament facing the entire Caribbean." Hundreds of villages are threatened.
Even the CEO of Exxon Mobile, Rex Tillerson, last June acknowledged that climate change is real. His suggestion as to what mankind should do? He said we should get used to it.
Also in the Reality Department, scientists recently confirmed carbon dioxide levels of 400 parts per million in the Arctic, levels harking back to the overheated Pliocene era when sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher.
Troubling to you?
Let's just say this: Come hell or high water, some Americans are going to ignore either matter.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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