Unpublished Op-Ed on the Slide Fire and Climate Change

During the worst stages of the Slide Fire, I had written the Arizona Republic on the connections between global climate change and the predicted increase of severity of wildfires in the western United States. The slide Fire and climate change, is there a connection? They are apparently not going to publish it, so instead, I am presenting it here in its entirety.


The Slide Fire and Climate Change, is there a Connection?

Here we are, at the beginning of what looks to be yet another extremely bad fire season. Fingers point all around, from past forest mismanagement to careless campers to insufficient funding for firefighting. Consider at the same time that 2001-2010 was the warmest decade on record, and according to the city of Phoenix, the current drought is the worst in the past 110 years, and it baffles me that a major factor is constantly brushed away as insignificant or completely ignored.

These are all predicted effects of global climate change, and the climate is changing as an effect of our modern society. Despite what the GOP would have people believe, the data is difficult to dispute with any credibility. Consider the global carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere. A historical trend shows the levels of CO2 skyrocketing in the mid-twentieth century to current high levels never seen over the past ten thousand years. The historical data is no guess, either. It was measured using samples captured from air bubbles trapped in ice cores.

Science is not a partisan issue. Global climate change is not a liberal banner; it’s just physics. Nature is an enormously complicated system, but humans have now become a large enough factor to turn some of the knobs that cause her to respond. Nature responds slowly because she is a very large system. Because the system responds so slowly, the effects of what we did even ten years ago won’t be felt for decades. But nature is indeed responding.

Climate science predicts a 200%-400% increase in the total area ravaged by wildfires for every Celsius degree (roughly 2 Fahrenheit degrees) the global climate warms. Scientists are attempting to present data to policy makers that will limit warming by 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by the year 2050, a target that appears to be fantasy due to complete inaction by those policy-makers. On the low end, that leads to a predicted 200% increase in wildfire area a mere 36 years from now (as we are already nearly a degree warmer than pre-industrial levels).

Climate behavior today is validating predictions of the past. In some cases, like that of polar ice melt, it’s happening even faster than predicted. The increase in wildfire severity, major storm activity, and prolonged droughts within our own lifetimes was influenced by less than one Celsius degree of warming, but it’s only the beginning. This is a problem unlike anything humanity has ever faced. It’s an easy problem to deny because the changes are gradual and acting to mitigate the problem costs people money, lots of money. There are many people who profit by keeping things the same.

I don’t know if inaction from our politicians is caused by a complete lack of science understanding, egocentric short-sightedness pushed by the Marshall Institute’s anti-regulation stance, apathy, or a belief that winning an argument will convince physics to change its behavior. Whatever the reason, by their inaction, our elected officials have made for us the decision to adapt to climate change in only a reactive way. That is an incredibly expensive and deadly way to solve a problem.

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