By SCOTT ELNES
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
After a record summer of wildfires, where Oregon burned more acreage in one week than it does in an average summer, it’d be natural to wonder if climate change had anything to do with it.
The answer is yes.
But those who argue that bad forest management practices were to blame, well they are right too.
Matthew Hurteau, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of New Mexico, who recently wrote a piece in the Washington Post about this very subject, agrees.
“East of the cascades, clumps of trees and openings and stuff like that helps alter the way that fire interacts with the forest and so management has allowed that to become more homogeneous,” he said.
The drought that Central Oregon has been experiencing hasn’t helped, either.
“The prolonged dry spells prolonged drought in increasing temperature have made the fuels in the forest more flammable,” he said. “And so if we manage those surface fuels with prescribed fire, we reduce the ability of fire to spread through the forest and then the other thing that prescribed fire is useful for is burning up smaller trees that can act as a fuel ladder for fire to move from the forest floor into the forest canopy.”
Our climate was fluctuating long before we started burning fossil fuels and quite frankly some of the data has been conveniently interpreted by those on both extremes.
You don’t have to study thousands of hours of climatology to understand the problem.
We all know the damage a cigarette can do to the lungs, but a pack a day for one hundred years can be downright deadly, and that’s the way we’ve treated our natural resources throughout history.
Believe it or not, in 1894, horse manure in major cities was the most immediate threat to public safety and health. So when the gas-burning car came along, it was a godsend.
It literally helped save the environment.
And for years, the small number of cars and a small amount of emissions going into the atmosphere had little effect.
In 1976, we had around 342 million cars and trucks, but now we have over 1 billion cars and trucks on the road and our entire culture has become based around carbon-based products like fishing poles, skis and even toilet seats.
So humankind’s manure problem went from the streets into the skies.
And yes, they were partially to blame for what we saw this past summer.
Larry O’Neill, the state climatologist for Oregon, explains.
“There’s a high likelihood that climate change played a role in setting the stage for the fires and specifically this year,” he said. “We’ve had records low humidity’s, sometimes they call it the ‘vapor pressure deficits’, so it was extremely dry and we were in a fairly severe and extreme droughts and so that combination of the droughts, the dryness, really was the key story with that and both the drought, and the dryness, both were the likely fingerprint of climate change.
For the vast majority of climate scientists, this is established science.
But that doesn’t mean the sky is falling.
Every day we take steps toward cleaner sources of fuels, and global awareness of the issue is at an all-time high and let’s face it, the solutions to our atmospheric manure problem are out there and there is a lot of money to be made in creating them.
And we all know that in America, where there is profit, there is progress.
So the question isn’t if we survive our carbon addiction, it’s how we survive it.
And these days you don’t have to look far to see that that question is more than just a big pile of, well, you know what.