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California Burning September 3, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics, Science.
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California forest fires are once again raging out of control.

There is compelling evidence that global warming is contributing to an increase in fire incidents and their severity. Via earthtimes.org

Dr. Cullen reported that in Washington State, “Average spring temperatures have risen nearly three degrees since 1950. Natural variability makes some years cooler or hotter. But records show an overall warming trend.”

Climate Central reported that since the late 1980s, dramatically more land burned in Washington and the American West than in the two decades prior – and that these trends are closely associated with warming temperatures, earlier snowmelt, and drier forests. In addition, a University of Washington forest ecologist pointed to epic outbreaks of the mountain pine beetle – now pervasive in northwestern forests deep into Canada – as another consequence of warming temperatures. The voracious beetles have turned great swaths of Northwest trees into deadwood, with subsequent fires scarring the landscape for generations.

Massive, destructive forest fires have become the new normal. And the problem is likely to get worse, via The Wonk Room:

For residents of the western United States — including California, which is fighting at least eight fires right now — a 1-degree rise in average spring and summer temperatures could mean a staggering increase in the extent and cost of fires, according to a recent study. In their report, researchers at Headwaters Economics, an independent nonprofit research group in Bozeman, MT, predict that climate change and the accelerating movement of western residents to areas near or in undeveloped forests will likely prove to be a devastating combination. The area burned by seasonal fires in Montana will increase by more than 300 percent and more than double the cost of protecting homes threatened by fire

What are we doing about it? Climate change legislation is working its way through Congress and will likely be tackled once health care reform is resolved. But I am hearing lots of pessimism about its chances.

Polls show some support for climate change legislation but the support is fragile. A cap-and-trade system as proposed in the bill will increase energy prices for some people. As the poll shows, support for cap-and-trade vanishes with only modest increases.  At $10 per month nearly 60% favor cap-and-trade.  At $25 per month, 60% oppose it. As Kevin Drum writes:

Now, do you think the same people who were responsible for all those townhall shoutfests this month will have any trouble convincing people that $25 is the right number?  Or $100?  I didn’t think so.

Are we ready for that?  I’m not sure.  But we’d better be, because the second part of the opposition’s message will be the little picture.  In healthcare that turned out to be death panels and abortion funding and illegal immigrants.  For the climate bill it will be — who knows?  But it’s a long bill and there’s plenty to choose from.  Maybe it will be scare talk about Wall Street getting rich by trading emission permits.  Maybe it will be scare talk about China taking over the world because they get to keep polluting as much as they want.  Maybe it will be culture war talk about how Midwesterners are paying a bigger price to clean up the atmosphere than all those chi chi Californians.

I don’t know.  But there will be plenty of it, and it’s going to flow through the same Fox/Drudge/talk radio channels as the healthcare stuff did.  Are we ready for the street brawl to come on this?

If you think the health care debate is ugly, the debate over climate change will be positively repulsive.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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