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.
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.
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.
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.