Wildfires Affected by Hyperpolarization
The West Coast is on fire. It happens every year in California (although usually a little later, like October or November), but this time it includes Oregon and Washington. More than 10% of Oregonians have been evacuated. Colorado has major destructive fires, and Utah has had more than 1275 fires so far this year. It’s been a bad fire year, to put it mildly. With disasters comes the blame game. In this case one side is blaming climate change and the other is blaming bad foresting policies. What if, however, the answer is both? What if we need both better policies for our forests and to address climate change?
In this hyperpolarized environment it is difficult to (pardon the pun) see the forest for the trees on nearly any issue. If our opponent says one thing then we have to say the exact polar opposite, regardless of the facts. That keeps us from finding solutions. In the case of wildfires, that hyperpoliticization is affecting real lives and causing damage beyond the raw numbers. Here are some facts, however: We are experiencing climate change. There is some dispute about how much is cyclical and how much is man-made, but both actually play a role. We can’t do anything about the cyclical element, but we can work the man-made portion. The forests need better management. Controlled burns, removing trees destroyed by the bark beetle, and general thinning of the forests are all needed.
If both of these are true, then how do we reconcile the talking points from opposing sides and help fix the problem going forward? First, we need to eliminate the most extreme positions at the start. The Green New Deal isn’t going to happen. It is a non-starter. Even many Democrats in Congress acknowledge that it would wreck the economy. So, take that out of the equation from the beginning. Second, conservatives need to acknowledge the science behind climate change and be willing to address it instead of calling it a hoax. Third, recognize that the forests need proactive, hands-on management. Fourth, be willing to admit that this management still won’t be a panacea that completely gets rid of devastating fires in the future. Only as both sides accept these realities and are willing to acknowledge the validity of the other side’s viewpoint can the two work together for the good of the nation.
Both long and short-term solutions need to be looked at when formulating policy on a national level for federal land. Forestry management policy is short-term. Climate change solutions are long-term. The actual nuts and bolts of legislation can be hammered out by legislators, who have listened to experts and then studied the subject in depth. These policies should not be handled by bureaucratic agencies with no accountability to the public. Decisions of this magnitude need to be addressed by those who answer to the people, leaving only the actual implementation of the new legislation to the various federal agencies. Only then will both sides of the political aisle – and the whole country – be able to claim victory.
One other thought on the fires. It’s dismaying to watch the conspiracy theories swirling around regarding the initial causes of the fires. Firefighters and police officers shouldn’t need to spend their time in moments of crisis debunking rumors. Yes, some people have been arrested for arson (as happens every single year). Yes, some of those people have ties to far-left groups (they are on the West Coast, after all). No, Antifa and BLM are not sending out a call to burn down the states. Armed militias are not needed to prevent further fires by political enemies.
These conspiracies, and the need to appease various political bases, are keeping politicians from working to solve the problem in a meaningful way. A real leader would ascertain the truth and then be willing to risk upsetting their base in order to get real and factual information out to the public. A real leader would risk re-election in order to effect long-lasting change. A real leader would be willing to work with political opponents and find compromises for the good of the nation. We need real leaders to step up – right now – and find the solutions that can lessen the severity and impact of wildfires. Vote for leaders who are willing to do so.