Chehalem Mountain Fire
View south to Chehalem Mountain fire on September 9th, 2020. (That's the "small" smoke plume in the middle ground). All the rest of the smoke is coming from the Riverside and Santiam fires, which have burned 350,00 acres in less than forty-eight hours. Photo: Sheila Sund, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

A thick smoke cov­ers West Coast cities, but even thick­er is the smoke­screen being erect­ed by deniers to con­ceal or cast doubt on cli­mate dam­age as the under­ly­ing cause of fires that are the “new nor­mal” of life in the West.

Chehalem Mountain Fire
View south to Chehalem Moun­tain fire on Sep­tem­ber 9th, 2020. (That’s the “small” smoke plume in the mid­dle ground). All the rest of the smoke is com­ing from the River­side and San­ti­am fires, which have burned 350,00 acres in less than forty-eight hours. Pho­to: Sheila Sund, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.

Top to bot­tom, the polit­i­cal right is fix­at­ed on “dead trees” and “poor for­est man­age­ment” as the cause of it all. When Cal­i­for­nia offi­cials tried to enlight­en him on Mon­day, Don­ald Trump intoned: “It’ll start get­ting cool­er: You just watch.”

“I don’t think sci­ence knows, actually.”

The right wing’s mound of sound, Rush Lim­baugh, rushed in with the obser­va­tion: “Cal­i­for­nia and Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon politi­cians who have not allowed all these dead trees to be cleared out of there. These forests are noth­ing but kindling.”

“It isn’t about cli­mate change: It’s about poor for­est man­age­ment,” claims radio talk jock Jason Rantz, who is try­ing to pin blame on Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee.

Fox’s Tuck­er Carl­son blamed the pub­lic fig­ures who have warned of the warm­ing of the Earth, declar­ing: “In the hands of Demo­c­ra­t­ic politi­cians, cli­mate change is like sys­tem­at­ic racism in the skies. You can’t see it, but rest assured, it’s every­where and it’s dead­ly. And like sys­tem­at­ic racism, it is your fault.”

The rapid impo­si­tion of a pro­pa­gan­da line, by right wing media in Amer­i­ca, rivals “coor­di­na­tion” of news dur­ing the Sovi­et era, or pro­pa­gan­da min­istry instruc­tions from Berlin in the 1930s. It is, how­ev­er, a self-imposition.

The pun­dits know what to say, and what they bet­ter say.

So drilled and con­di­tioned is the Trump “base” that any devi­a­tion from the par­ty line will pro­duce a viewer/listener backlash.

Don­ald Trump has, after all, dis­missed glob­al warm­ing as “a hoax”. Scape­goats have been iden­ti­fied. The still-liv­able parts of Amer­i­ca have asked for it.

Firefighting operations at Aurora
An Army Nation­al Guard UH-60M Black Hawk heli­copter waits on the tar­mac in heavy smoke at the Auro­ra State Air­port, near Auro­ra, Ore­gon on Sep­tem­ber 9th, 2020. Flight crews from the Ore­gon Army Nation­al Guard’s Gulf Com­pa­ny, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 189th Avi­a­tion Reg­i­ment based out of Salem, Ore. were called in to sup­port state and local offi­cials as unprece­dent­ed fire con­di­tions forced evac­u­a­tions across the state. Guard heli­copters have dropped more than 22,000 gal­lons of water on Ore­gon’s wild­land fires since mid-August. (Nation­al Guard pho­to by Major Leslie Reed, Ore­gon Mil­i­tary Depart­ment Pub­lic Affairs).

The right wing doesn’t even know what is burning.

As Gov­er­nor Inslee wrote to Trump on Monday:

“Your com­ments betray igno­rance of the very sources and loca­tions of these wild­fires They don’t just hap­pen in the forests: the fire that burned eighty per­cent of the build­ings in Malden, Wash­ing­ton, was a grass and brush fire. These fires could not be pre­vent­ed by thin­ning tim­ber because there is no tim­ber to thin.”

The “dead trees” ref­er­enced by Lim­baugh are like­ly to have been killed as one con­se­quence of cli­mate damage.

Warmer win­ters have allowed the pine bark bee­tle to repro­duce not once, but twice. The bee­tles have killed trees in British Colum­bia from the Pacif­ic to the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide. Big wild­fires broke out two years ago in areas of heavy bee­tle kill in north­west B.C. Fire claimed part of the vil­lage of Tele­graph Creek.

Fly over Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park some­time, or high-ele­va­tion forests else­where in the West. White bark pine trees are rapid­ly dying, a kill to which the bee­tle con­tributes. Descend­ing from Wash­ing­ton Pass on the North Cas­cades High­way, you will spot oth­er forests weak­ened by insects.

Todd Myers of the Wash­ing­ton Pol­i­cy Cen­ter is a big advo­cate of “for­est man­age­ment.” He wrote last week that “blam­ing cli­mate change is pol­i­tics, not science.”

“The sci­ence is quite clear that tim­ber har­vests – includ­ing com­mer­cial tim­ber har­vests – are nec­es­sary to reduce the num­ber of fire-prone, unhealthy forests.”

In fact, tim­ber “har­vests” are respon­si­ble for lots of these fire-prone, unhealthy forests. A bud­dy and I drove back roads of the Okanogan-Wenatchee Nation­al For­est a few years back.

What we saw: Big, fire resis­tant Pon­derosa pines had been “har­vest­ed.” Grow­ing up in their place, thick, fire prone stands of lodge­pole pine.”

Trump has gone off on a rant about how for­est under­brush hasn’t been cleared and raked, con­struct­ing a trumped-up con­ver­sa­tion with the pres­i­dent of Finland.

If so, he should be doing the raking.

On Mon­day, Cal­i­for­nia Gov­er­nor Gavin New­som point­ed out to the occu­pant of the White House that just three per­cent of the Gold­en State’s forests are man­aged by the state. The vast major­i­ty of Cal­i­for­nia forests are under fed­er­al management.

U.S. For­est Ser­vice budges have con­sis­tent­ly been drained to fight the ris­ing num­ber of fires, from the Con­ti­nen­tal Divide in Mon­tana to the moun­tains behind San Diego. The agency has been left with inad­e­quate resources to man­age its domain. (Our own Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, has fought to shield for­est man­age­ment budgets.)

We get back, how­ev­er to basic con­se­quences of cli­mate damage.

The cri­sis caused by our addic­tion to fos­sil fuels has extend­ed the fire sea­son through­out the West. Cal­i­for­nia hard­ly gets any breather anymore.

Sci­en­tists in Mon­tana have tracked ear­li­er melt­ing of the snowpack.

Pro­longed, ear­ly heat, a few years back, caused drought con­di­tions in very-wet Forks and a fire to break out in the rain­for­est of the Queets River.

In his let­ter to Trump, Inslee quotes Ste­fan Doerr, chief edi­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Wild­land Fires: “If we have high­er tem­per­a­tures, we have a greater prob­a­bil­i­ty of fire start­ing, fire spread­ing and fire intensifying.”

When fires hit his province’s north­ern reach­es, British Colum­bia Pre­mier John Hor­gan described fire sum­mers as “the new normal.”

These may become the good old days.

Almeda Fire preparation
Ore­gon State Police stag­ing in Phoenix for the Alme­da Fire on Sep­tem­ber 8th, 2020. (Pho­to: Ore­gon Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The nation­al Cli­mate Assess­ment con­clud­ed “the annu­al area burned in the west­ern Unit­ed States could increase two to six times from the present” if trends con­tin­ue, due to human caused warm­ing of the Earth.


The largest-ever fires in Cal­i­for­nia, big­ger than the fire that destroyed Par­adise and the con­fla­gra­tion that invad­ed the Napa Val­ley wine country.

Or, to quote Inslee: “It took five days for 2020 to become our state’s sec­ond worst fire sea­son on record with more than 600,000 acres burned, eclipsed only by the 1.1 mil­lion acres burned in 2015.”

The pun­dits of the right occu­py cocoons of wealth and priv­i­lege, far away from the nat­ur­al cat­a­stro­phes about which they opine.

“You can’t see it,” says Tuck­er Carlson.


Carl­son ought to vis­it Clacka­mas Coun­ty in Ore­gon, where a rapid­ly mov­ing fire invad­ed an exur­ban area near Portland.

He ought to vis­it Olympic Nation­al Park, where the big, vig­or­ous Ander­son Glac­i­er has dis­ap­peared in the past twen­ty-five years.

Or study U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey pho­tos of rapid melt­ing of the South Cas­cade Glac­i­er, which the Unit­ed States Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey has stud­ied since 1950.

Carl­son should take a plane flight from Van­cou­ver up to Ter­race, and see vast stands of dying, orange-col­ored forests, or gray dead forests – the con­se­quence of bee­tle kill.

He could sit down with folks at Tay­lor Shell­fish and learn about ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, and the threat it pos­es to a $300 mil­lion Wash­ing­ton industry.

Or, he could fly out here, gaze out at Mount Rainier, and then descend into a blan­ket of smoke. And breathe our air. It is worse than Beijing’s.

The mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign is mali­cious. The smoke­screen must not obscure a human-caused threat to our lives. Cli­mate must be on vot­ers’ minds this fall.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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