Saturday, May 24, 2014

There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight

The song posted at the link below came to mind the other day due to an event that has been occurring in our area this week:

the 1958 version of an OLD song

The first clue that I had that something was amiss came at a little after noon on Wednesday, when Sharon stopped by the high school where I was working in order to bring me home. As it turns out, a small campfire had grown out of control near Slide Rock State Park north of Sedona on the afternoon of the 20th, and by noon the next day, fire department officials had declared a “pre-evacuation order” for the subdivision that we live in. After attending an informational meeting at the local fire station, we rushed home and packed up our important papers, some pictures, some clothing, our cat, and my trusty computer, and by 4:00, we were heading east to spend the night at a friend’s house in Doney Park.

Due to the rugged terrain near Sedona, (see picture below) putting firemen on the ground to fight the fire was difficult, which led to a rapid escalation in the size of the fire. At the break of dawn on the 21st, the fire had consumed 450 acres. By the time the sun set later on in the day, the fire had spread to 4500 acres, and by the morning of the 24th, it had consumed 10,000 acres. Fire officials estimate that by the time the fire is finally extinguished, 25,000 acres will have been burned.

To date, 20 separate fire departments from around the state have rushed to the area in order to fight the fire. If you looked hard enough, you could probably find the guy pictured below among the 900 firemen on the ground.

Due to the fact that the fire suppression techniques on the north end of the blaze had largely eliminated the possibility that the fire would reach our house, we moved back home again on the afternoon of the 22nd.

As is true with most fires, the mess that we now have in Sedona was caused by humans. Last week’s fires in San Diego were caused by an arsonist, who has since been arrested. By the time the 10 separate blazes had been extinguished, 10,000 acres had been burned, causing more than $20,000,000 in damage and at least one death.

Arizona and California, incidentally, are 2 of the 7 states in America that are literally running out of water.

Even without direct involvement in the fires, though, the human race is INDIRECTLY responsible for the increasing severity of the fires that occur every year in our country. Not everyone is a believer in global warming (more on that later) but the 40 years of data from the link below strongly suggest that it’s the reason that fires have been getting more dangerous every year.

fun fire facts

For nearly all of the last 30 years, the NUMBER of fires has been remarkably consistent, ranging from 50,000 to roughly 80,000 in most years. What HAS changed is the average size of the fires, in terms of acres burned.

In 1973, the average fire consumed 16 areas.

In 1983, the average fire size was 72 acres.

In 1993, the average fire had dropped to 30 acres, but increased to an average of 51 acres the following year.

In 2003, average fire size had increased to 62 acres, but by 2012 (the most recent year available) the average fire size was 137 acres.

Whether you believe in global warming or not is (obviously) dependent on the news sources that you rely on for your information. Most people would regard NASA to be a credible source of information about climate change due to the fact that the organizations has “eyes in the sky” at all times. According to NASA, the main cause of the current global warming trend is the human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”, and their opinion is shared by the United Nations, whose Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (comprised of 1300 independent experts from countries around the world) has concluded that there’s more than a 90% probability that human activities over the last 250 years have warmed the planet.

Unfortunately, the leading cable channel in America is FOX “news”, whose viewers are subjected to a constant stream of climate change denial, and a recent headline helps to explain why. On April 9, FOX published an article with the headline “UN finding on climate change is just a bunch of hot air, new report claims”. Even though the article pointed out that the report had been published by the conservative (and unreliable) Heartland Institute, and actually referenced the UN report in the article, a large percentage of the audience is likely to simply stop at the headline, and read no further.

Believe it or not, there ARE news sources that are even goofier than FOX. The ultra conservative Personal Liberty Digest believes that "the theory of man made global warming is based on spurious science, phony statistics, and outright lies".

Sadly, the remedy for improving our climate is a political one, and it’s going to be very difficult to achieve, largely due to the fact that the 113th Congress is officially the worst Congress in the last 40 years.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has spent more time holding hearings (15) on the existence of extraterrestrial life than on the repercussions of climate change (2 hearings). The chairman of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, has a long track record of climate change denial, and several committee members have similar attitudes. Committee member James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin has called climate change “a massive international scientific fraud” and committee member Paul Broun of Georgia, a young Earth creationist, believes that the world was created in six days as we know them.

Other House committees that are responsible for addressing U.S energy and environmental issues have been equally negligent. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has held only one hearing on climate change, and the House Natural Resources Committee has yet to take up the issue in the 113th Congress.

On top of all that, on Thursday of this week, 227 Republicans (and 4 Democrats) in the House of Representatives voted for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent the Pentagon from spending money to carry out the policy recommendations from the National Climate Assessment report that was released by the Obama administration earlier this month, or from several United Nations reports on climate change and sustainability. Although the amendment is unlikely to survive, it’s a clear indication of the mindset of an awful lot of people in Congress.

In case you’re wondering, the United States Department of Defense is one of the largest single consumers of energy in the entire world, and it’s responsible for 93% of all U.S. Government fuel consumption. The new solar panels that were installed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base earlier this year are a step in the right direction (they’ll save an estimated $500,000 a year in energy costs) , but the Defense Department still has a long ways to go. Fortunately, the military is smarter than the members of Congress. According to retired Air Force General Donald Hoffman, "it is not possible to discuss the future of national and international security without addressing climate change". As further proof of the intelligence of our Armed Services, our Navy has actually figured out a way to turn seawater into fuel.

I’m normally not one to tell people how to vote, but it’s pretty clear (to me, at least) that we need to elect as many Democrats as possible in both 2014 and 2016 in order to protect our country’s interests.

The President had tried, without success, to move a climate change bill through Congress in his first term, and such legislation would now stand no chance of getting past the resistance of Republican lawmakers who question the science of climate change. As a result, Mr. Obama is taking a controversial step - he is using his executive authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to issue an E.P.A. regulation taking aim at coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution. Ironically, the "cap and trade" program that would pay for the costs of the new pollution controls were put into place at the state level at least 5 years ago by two Republican governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarznegger of California.

Despite predictions that the new regulations will kill the coal industry, the coal plant in Homer City, Pennsylvania, is proof that pollutants can be reduced substantially without causing the loss of jobs or the closure of coal plants. Currently one of the dirtiest coal plants in the country, within a few years the plant will have reduced sulfur dioxide pollution to a level 80% below its current production, with no loss of jobs or increases in electrical bills.

The United States currently gets 37% of its electricity from coal, the leading source of electrical generation. In contrast, China gets 69% of its electricity from coal, which leads to air quality like that in the picture below.

Not all Republicans are bad (unless you’re talking about the Tea Party), but there simply aren’t enough of them that are concerned about climate change. Of the 107 Republicans currently running for Senate, only one of them (Jim Rubens of New Hampshire) has declared that global warming exists, and that it is caused by human activity. The vast majority of the other 106 either ignored the issue entirely, or listed the reasons that they oppose environmental regulations more broadly.

The fight to stop the wildfire just south of our house is likely to continue for another 2 to 3 weeks, but the fight to save our planet is gong to be a never ending story, and it’s up to all of us to make sure that it has a happy ending.

Be sure to vote in November.

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