Who Cares What You Believe?

So far this year, wildfires have burned over 8 million acres of forest and wildlands in the far west, at a cost of millions of dollars in firefighting costs, economic losses and buildings and homes destroyed. Some people have died. Thousands of people had to be evacuated from their homes, many of whom now have no homes to return to. And the fire season is not yet over. When the last of the fires burns out, many more acres will have been destroyed.

No one knows just when the fires will end this year, but when they do, that will not be the end of the devastation. While in many places herbaceous plants will grow back within a few years, forests will not regrow for decades, if they ever do. If drought conditions continue, they never will, and the familiar landscape of the west will be permanently transformed. If and when the winter rains come (with some meteorologists predicting an El Nino season of heavy rains), major flooding, erosion and landslides are likely, further reshaping the landscape. If there are no or minimal rains, the drought will not be broken, and more municipalities will find themselves rationing water, or even running out of water altogether.

Meanwhile, California’s central valley, the so-called breadbasket of America, is drying up and sinking (as more underground water is pumped out to try to compensate for the lack of rain). Thousands of acres are no longer being planted, which means that less food is being harvested. If the drought continues, more land will be “retired,” food prices will spiral upward, and Americans will find their budgets strained.

The point of this summary is this: It doesn’t matter if people do or do not believe in climate change; it doesn’t matter if they blame natural cycles or human activity (burning fossil fuels) for climate change. These are matters of “opinion,” while the facts are that the west is drying out and burning up. The facts are that the costs are huge and not limited to today or next week, but will spread into the coming years and decades. Believe what you want. Fire and drought don’t care what you believe.

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