Toussaint column: Fire in our back yards and our children’s future
I’m doing a slow burn. The Lake Christine Fire — which [as of this writing] has again flared up and prompted evacuation notices — strikes me as an apt metaphor for the reason why.
Our democracy, our shared future and our small planet are all aflame, but it seems that nothing immediate can be done to contain the blaze.
Like the firefighters who have convened to save our homes, we’re constrained: The flames are burning in territory too inaccessible for us to reach. The conditions were set by climactic forces long in play and largely beyond our control. They were sparked by dangerous attitudes. They will burn far too long.
All we can do is to carve out distant firebreaks, wait and tamp down the outbreaks.
Appalled as I was by hearing the president toady up to Vladimir Putin and deny (again) that Russia tampered with the 2016 election — a crime now substantiated by 13 criminal indictments and four U.S. security agencies — those treasonous acts pale in comparison with ignoring the climatic conflagration breaking out near and far.
On June 28, Denver tied its all-time high at 105 degrees. On July 2, Montreal recorded its highest temperature ever. On July 5, the planet’s hottest continent reached the highest temperature ever recorded on earth, as the thermometer in Ouragla, Algeria soared to 124.3 degrees.
Global warming is here. It’s visible from my driveway in Carbondale.
I can see smoke from the Lake Christine Fire, which has now burned 12,000 acres, as it continues to consume Basalt Mountain. The pines and pinions there are tinder-dry due to drought. That drought, classified as “moderate” in our neck of the woods and “extreme” in Southern Colorado, came about because our snowpack was the poorest in 30 years.
This year’s skiing was often rocky, our season having shrunk by more than a month since I was a kid. Our views are currently hazy due to wildfires. Our rivers have shrunk, affecting boating and fishing. But we’re the lucky ones.
This month, international diplomats met in New York and Geneva to discuss what to do with a worldwide surge in refugees. There’s no official agreement yet on how to define a “climate refugee.” But since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by weather disasters every year. Those numbers are growing annually, and rapidly.
In our valley, the fire forced 1,793 people to evacuate. Three families lost their homes. Dozens of Basalt businesses had to close temporarily. The Temporary cancelled several concerts, and dozens of flights to the Aspen Airport were scratched.
Those losses and inconveniences are related to global warming.
So are these: 2,300 Puerto Rican families have remained homeless since Hurricane Maria. Two million U.S. homes will be lost to a very-possible six-foot ocean rise by 2020. And climate change will likely displace 143 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America over the next 30 years.
That last number comes from a report entitled “Groundswell — Preparing for Climate Migration,” published by the World Bank early this year. In its introduction, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva writes, “Increasingly, we are seeing climate change become an engine of migration, forcing individuals, families and even whole communities to seek more viable and less vulnerable places to live.”
The earth is doing a slow burn. But our president is responding as Nero was fabled to have done while Rome burned: The U.S. pulled out of the United Nations-led Global Compact on Migration in December, just as our nation pulled out the Paris agreement on climate change in 2017.
The two issues are interdependent. We have seen that in microcosms since our local fire began (ironically enough) on Independence Day.
Although treasonous statements and refugee children in cages have fanned the current political flames white hot, I fear the worst damage wrought by this administration will come from fiddling away while the earth smolders.
By failing to act, we’re allowing parts of the globe to become uninhabitable. We’re sentencing millions to famine, disease and dislocation. And we’re saddling our “own” children (those of wealthy nations), with a debt of $585 trillion. That’s how much it will cost to mop up the extra CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere and return earth to livability, according to an international team of experts, headed by James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute.
It’s the hottest summer on record, and the feds should be responding to the climate crisis in the same way that local governments have responded to the Lake Christine Fire.
But they aren’t.
I, for one, can’t imagine how to explain this to the children.
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly.
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