Colorado wildfires are becoming more intense (column)
The Buffalo Mountain Fire, which began in June, forced the evacuation of more than 1,300 homes and pre-evacuation for many others. The fire came within two blocks of our family’s cabin in Silverthorne, Colorado, jeopardizing a gathering place that had been in our family for 36 years.
Should climate change continue to worsen, my story won’t be unique. Climate change has made extreme weather events like wildfires more frequent and more intense, threatening Coloradans’ homes and livelihoods in the process. We only need to look to the wildfires currently ravaging California to see the consequences.
Higher temperatures, drier conditions, and increased fuel availability (in the form of dead forest) — all made worse by climate change — are increasing wildfire risk across the United States and here in Colorado. Already, we’re seeing that wildfire seasons are lasting 75 days longer than they did in the 1970s. If this trend continues, communities across the state will pay a steep price.
Extreme weather doesn’t just threaten lives — it hurts local economies. As the third hottest year on record in the U.S., the cost of 2017’s billion-dollar extreme weather events reached $306.2 billion, shattering the previous record by nearly one hundred billion dollars. Extreme weather has caused $675 billion in economic damages over the last seven years, which comes to just over $2,000 per American. If hurricane and wildfire seasons continue in a similar pattern, costs related to extreme weather could rise to $6 trillion in 20 years.
The impacts of climate change hit home for millions of Americans every year. The Trump administration and Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler should be able to see the dramatic consequences of inaction. However, instead of moving forward with solutions, the Trump administration is rolling back critical safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and clean car standards that protect Americans from the disastrous effects of climate change by fighting carbon pollution.
With the transportation sector now the country’s largest source of carbon pollution that contributes to climate change, the clean car standards are the most effective policy we have on the books to fight climate change. This is no time to be rolling back standards that are working and helping to combat air pollution. Yet, by pushing for dirtier, less efficient vehicles that would pump more carbon pollution into our air, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and President Trump are pushing a pro-polluter agenda that could lead to more intense and destructive extreme weather events like the one that nearly destroyed our family’s cabin and led to the evacuation of over a thousand homes.
The reality is that we already have the solutions we need to protect our communities from climate change. However, if we do nothing to address it, we will face more catastrophes, including droughts, heat waves, and supercharged wildfires that will cost billions of dollars, upend communities, and threaten lives.
My family is grateful that our cabin is still standing, and we’re committed to spreading the facts: that climate change, and wildfires made worse by it, aren’t some far-off threat – they’re happening now. It’s time for the Trump administration to take climate change seriously. It shouldn’t take Coloradans losing their homes to make that clear.
Ellen Shamus-Brandt, Ph.D., lives in Littleton, Colorado. She has been a member of the National Science Teachers’ Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the American Scientific Affiliation.
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