Had an heartrending FB conversation this morning with a young friend in Portland Oregon who is mourning the destruction of her beloved Eagle Creek forest by a wild fire set by a group of careless stupid kids. Wild fires, she tells me, are not unexpected at this time of year (the end of the dry season), but this arson is presently burning 20,000 acres and is still out of control!
At the same time, on the other coast of this large country, a category 5 hurricane, Irma, is heading to the Eastern seaboard. The population of Florida is evacuating and has been told that they have until Friday to finish their emergency preparations. Hurricane Irma follows closely after Hurricane Harvey, which caused billions of dollars of damage and created a vast ongoing ecological disaster. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/02/houston-hurricane-harvey-pollution-petrochemical-plants
What I find unsettling about our reactions to these catastrophes is that they are seen as anomalies within expected seasonal occurrences. The extreme weather is being disguised, in a manner of speaking, by appearing where we expect it to appear. As it has been twelve years since a hurricane struck in the Gulf of Mexico, the thinking is that Hurricane Harvey may just be a fluke (and Hurricane Irma? and the hurricane after that?).
Strict no burn rules are in place in Oregon for wilderness that are prone to wild fires. The thinking is that the fire that is consuming Eagle Creek should not have happened; it was simply the result of unsupervised teens throwing firecrackers into the woods…a wood that was as dry as kindling! But what about the lands burning in British Colombia, Portugal, Greenland?!
What is not being understood in both these scenarios is the fundamental role that climate change is playing in both places. Yes, this is hurricane season in the southern Atlantic; but no, the water in that ocean has never been as warm as it is now and never so warm to such a depth which means that the hurricanes forming are going to be of a size and a ferocity never seen before! There may not be a larger number of storms, but they will drop much more water and last much longer.
Equally, in those parts of the world seeing the dry season, the heat is higher and, incrementally, it will be lasting longer and longer which will dry out not only the trees but the soil as well. http://www.ucsusa.org/…/global-warming-and-wildfire.html
So what I am suggesting is that this is just the tip of the iceberg (a metaphor that may be obsolete in the not too distant future!), and it is important that we do two things: the first is to control our feelings of shock. Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth, available from the library, is a good way to get used to the idea that our environment all over the planet is beginning, and will continue, to get harsher. Just how unsupportive and dangerous it will become will depend on whether we can get out act together to stop using fossil fuels and wasting the earth’s resources.
But as there is no guarantee that we will succeed at this, the second important thing for us to do- and this is the main focus of my blog- is to start to put in place the life style changes that will make us safe in both the short-term and long term. The US Federal government should be a help in this endeavour, but our government is, in fact, an impediment, cutting funding to such vital services as FEMA and the EPA! The state governments are very uneven: some, such as Texas being openly hostile to their people’s needs, and others, like California, being a good resource.
So, regardless, we will want to do what we can as householders to weather the extreme conditions that are beginning to be felt. I am suggesting that we become more proactive. If we know that hurricane season is approaching, emergency supplies should be put in early rather that scrambling to gather them at the last moment. Or, if you are a freelancer or your employer allows it, plan on living somewhere else for hurricane season!
Fire season will be more problematic as it is predicted to finally extend for most of the year. However California has a good emergency program in place for earthquakes: houses are built to be earthquake proof; earthquake drills are an accepted part of life, and evacuation plans are in place. Now substitute wildfires for earthquakes and you get a clear idea of how this would look.
Next post is on what to do to protect yourself from floods; the one after that on what to do in case of fire.
Please comment, especially if you have important information that I have missed. Thanks!