Colorado wild­fires and the cli­mate-change cliff

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Dave Van Manen Dave Van Manen is a con­trib­u­tor to Writ­ers on the Range, the opin­ion ser­vice of High Coun­try News. He is a na­ture ed­u­ca­tor for the Moun­tain Park En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter in Beu­lah.

Iam liv­ing in the “in-be­tween.” Last Oc­to­ber, a ma­jor wind­driven wild­fire raced through a part of my small south­ern Colorado com­mu­nity. The town’s sev­eral hun­dred house­holds were evac­u­ated. Eight fam­i­lies lost their homes.

Just days af­ter that fire was con­tained, an­other wind­storm knocked over an elec­tri­cal trans­former, ig­nit­ing a sec­ond ma­jor wild­fire. The 19,000-acre burn threat­ened but ul­ti­mately spared my town of Beu­lah, 25 miles south­west of Pue­blo.

Th­ese two fires were a re­peat of a fire a decade ago. Called the Ma­son Gulch Fire, it was mak­ing a bee­line for the town when al­most all of us — 900 res­i­dents — were evac­u­ated. A shift in the winds saved the day, and the town. We got to re­turn to our un­touched homes, but we were warned. This past Oc­to­ber, the pat­tern, and the warn­ing, re­peated it­self. For those who lost their homes, it was more than a warn­ing.

The months lead­ing up to Oc­to­ber’s fires were dry, af­ter a string of mostly drier-than-av­er­age years. The months that fol­lowed have been as dry as any win­ter I’ve seen in the 40-plus years I’ve lived in this foothills town in what are called, iron­i­cally, the Wet Moun­tains. It’s been not only drier but warmer as well.

It used to be that we could count on at least a cou­ple of cold spells each win­ter, when cars wouldn’t start, wa­ter pipes froze and the wood­stove cranked hard day and night. Get­ting much below zero is now a rar­ity. Not that long ago, sum­mers never saw temps get above 90 de­grees. The ther­mome­ter now flirts with 100 de­grees Fahren­heit here ev­ery sum­mer.

I live in a lit­tle cabin on a cou­ple of acres of Gam­bel oak and pon­derosa pine that have dodged the wild­fire bul­let sev­eral times. Now it feels like I am liv­ing in the in-be­tween — be­tween fires that al­most swept through my prop­erty and the next fire that just might reach it. Say­ing if it will hap­pen no longer seems as ac­cu­rate as say­ing when it will hap­pen.

This isn’t the only in-be­tween I’m liv­ing in. The threat of wild­fire seems a clear man­i­fes­ta­tion of global cli­mate change. Bill McKibben’s prophetic 1989 book, “The End of Na­ture,” which I read shortly af­ter it was first pub­lished, was one of the first to sound the alarm about global warm­ing to the gen­eral public. Writ­ers hoped that if they tried to make us aware of the cat­a­strophic out­comes of stay­ing on the fos­sil-fuel path, we would de­cide to be ra­tio­nal — to change our ways and keep green­house gas lev­els from in­creas­ing to dan­ger­ous lev­els.

And now, here I am, as we all are, still be­ing made aware of the dan­gers of global warm­ing, but do­ing lit­tle to stop the dan­ger­ous ac­cu­mu­la­tion of at­mo­spheric green­house gases. It’s like be­ing on a train and find­ing out that it’s a run­away lo­co­mo­tive — out of con­trol and head­ing for a cliff. We know a cliff is some­where up ahead and get­ting closer, but we can’t seem to get the en­gi­neer to stop the train. It seems crazy. We know that the train needs to slow down and change course, but the en­gine seems to be pick­ing up speed with the just-elected, cli­mate-change-deny­ing pres­i­dent and a cli­mate-change-deny­ing ma­jor­ity Congress now at the con­trols.

My sense of liv­ing in the in-be­tween, an am­bigu­ous state, has me won­der­ing where that rac­ing train is on its tracks: Am I closer to the start, with lots of miles ahead, about half­way, or am I near­ing the end? The re­cent wild­fires, and the re­cent elec­tion re­sults, have me feel­ing I am much closer to a cliff.

Cli­mate sci­en­tists agree that the max­i­mum safe level of car­bon diox­ide in the at­mos­phere is 350 parts per mil­lion, a level that will limit global warm­ing to a de­gree that won’t desta­bi­lize the cli­mate. The year our coun­try was born, car­bon diox­ide lev­els were about 280 parts per mil­lion. They were 314 ppm in 1958, the year my wife was born. To­day, they are 406 ppm. Un­for­tu­nately, the num­bers sup­port my sense that I am — we all are — well be­yond the half­way point of the cli­mat­e­change ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Maybe this in-be­tween state is not be­tween learn­ing about global warm­ing and chang­ing our ways to stop it. Maybe we are be­tween learn­ing of it and ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enc­ing cat­a­strophic cli­mate change. I hate to think that the train can­not change course be­fore it reaches the cliff. What do you think? Mac Tully, CEO and Pub­lisher; Justin Mock, Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent of Fi­nance and Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer; Bill Reynolds, Se­nior VP, Cir­cu­la­tion and Pro­duc­tion; Judi Pat­ter­son, Vice Pres­i­dent, Hu­man Re­sources; Bob Kin­ney, Vice Pres­i­dent, In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.