No matter where we are, the climate crisis is not far from home.
For some time it has largely been the world’s most vulnerable, in the global south, bearing the brunt of suffering and climate-induced devastation. Those who have the power to change things have so far all but ignored “the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth,” as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical a little over a year ago.
But just this past month in the United States — one of the world’s wealthiest nations — we have seen historic droughts, unprecedented floods in Louisiana, and wildfires in California, killing many and displacing tens of thousands.
Thomas Tidwell, the chief of the United States Forest Service, told Congress hotter, dried conditions produced by climate change are causing America's longer wildfire season and increasing the amount of land burned. Since 2000, the forest service has almost doubled its spending on fighting fires from $540 million to $1 billion last year. The Guardian reports:
"Hotter, drier, a longer fire season, and lot more homes that we have to deal with," Tidwell told the Guardian following his appearance. "We are going to continue to have large wildfires."
Read more here.
A rare winter fire in Colorado's Rocky Mountains is fueling fears the 2013 wildfire season will be longer and more intense. Unusually high temperatures and wide spread droughts have contributed to the increase in wildfires. USA Today reports:
"The wildfire season's length and intensity is driven largely by how much snow and rain falls each winter and spring. Heavy, wet snows tend to delay the season by keeping the ground, grasses and trees wet. Even the weight of snow plays a factor in some fires: Tall grasses that haven't been squashed down like normal carry fires faster and hotter.
Put another way: It hasn't snowed or rained much and forecasters say it doesn't look likely to get any better."
“It was like a scene out of a movie.”
I’ve heard that phrase a few too many times in the past month.
On June 26, after the third consecutive 100-plus-degree day, residents of northwest Colorado Springs fled their neighborhoods with a few belongings shoved in their cars as a wildfire came barreling down the mountainside. The billows of smoke and inferno flames, calculated to be three stories high, could be seen from anywhere in the city. It was like a scene out of a movie.
In the early morning hours on July 4, I received the text that I had been dreading: “Cliffy is with Jesus.” After a six-year battle with cancer, my biggest cheerleader, friend, and mentor, Cliff Anderson, died in hospice. Two months prior, Cliff was sharing his wisdom and offering his typical words of encouragement at a retreat for GreenHouse Ministry, an intentional community that we started together in Colorado Springs. But shortly after that weekend the diagnosis became clear. This incurable type of cancer was going to win, sooner rather than later. Watching his decline felt like watching a tragic movie.
At the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie, Dark Night Rises, on July 20 in a suburb of Denver, a gunman opened fire on a packed theater, killing 12 and injuring more than 50 people Witnesses to the shooting said it was like something out of a movie. The scene was an eerie echo of another mass shooting in a different Denver suburb 13 years ago at Columbine High School. Could this really be happening again?
Bill Nye the Science Guy may not be a real scientist, but he tells CNN's news anchor that he knows how to read a chart, and when you look at the data on climate change, journalistic objectivity shouldn't try to obscure the facts. Watch Nye respond to climate change skeptics and discuss the conditions that led to the Colorado wildfires. [via CNN]
The Colorado wildfires are raging this week. I’m in Denver, and the grey haze over the mountains in the distance gives me a sick feeling. Countless trees on hundreds of thousands of acres have gone up in smoke. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. Even human lives have now been forever lost to the flames. It’s tragic, and it’s not over yet.
But here’s what I believe. One day, when these fires have been extinguished, this land will be restored. People will do whatever it takes to reforest these hills and rebuild their homes. In a few years, mountainsides that are charred and blackened today will be green again. We have the will and the resources to restore our environment when it has been destroyed.
Two weeks ago I was in Haiti. Unlike the deforestation that has happened in Colorado in a matter of days, Haiti’s 98-percent deforestation has happened over centuries. The destruction to Haiti’s natural environment is almost complete. Birds are rare. Small animals are almost gone. Fish that once teemed in the waters around the island are barely there.
It gets worse.
I spend most of my days studying the natural environment. From that perspective, the answer is clear: God has given us the freedom and the ability to make choices. These choices have consequences. And one of the consequences of building in fire-prone areas (and suppressing natural fire patterns in those same areas) is that when a fire comes, there is a lot to burn.
In most cases, these fires are the result of a perfect storm: lots of vegetation, low humidity, dry, hot and windy conditions, and a spark, usually from a human source. In a place where fire is common, like the western U.S., these conditions all come together naturally every few decades or so.
But fires are intimately related to temperature, humidity, and rainfall. So it makes sense to ask—is climate change making these fires worse? Do our energy choices, which include burning coal and gas and oil and increasing levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, affect the risk of wildfire?