Our Own Hell On Earth
By Tom Turnipseed
26 October, 2007
Five years ago my wife and I discontinued using our lawn irrigation
sprinkler system, now we only water our small vegetable garden. Facing
evidence of climate change, we are trying to do our part to save water.
With water supplies rapidly
shrinking, Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia declared a state of emergency
for 85 counties and asked President Bush to declare it a major disaster
area on October 20, 2007. A drought of historic proportions is affecting
Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, as well as parts of North and South
Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. Meanwhile, drought is feeding a fiery
fiasco in California.
In the past five days, parts
of southern California have become out-of-control, raging infernos as
another hot dry summer turns dehydrated forests into combustible tinder-boxes.
On October 21, 2007, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reported
that “recently there has been an enormous change in Western fires.
In truth, we've never seen anything like them in recorded history. It
appears we're living in a new age of mega-fires -- forest infernos ten
times bigger than the fires we're used to seeing.” According to
the number of acres burned, 7 of the 10 busiest forest fire seasons
in the United States have occurred since 1999 based on records going
back 47 fire seasons to 1960.
Pelley said last year’s
was the worst in recorded history, and this year is already a close
second, with two months to go. More than eight million acres have already
burned this year. After 30 years of fighting fires, Tom Boatner is now
the chief of fire operations for the federal government. He says, “A
fire of this size and this intensity in this country would have been
extremely rare 15, 20 years ago, but they're commonplace these days,
Ten years ago, if you had a 100,000 acre fire, you were talking about
a huge fire. And if we had one or two of those a year, that was probably
unusual. Now we talk about 200,000 acre fires like it's just another
day at the office. It's been a huge change."
Pelley also talked with Tom
Swetnam, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. Swetnam has
the largest collection of tree rings in the world, that go back 9,000
years, with each one of those rings capturing one year of climate history.
Swetnam says recent decades
have been the hottest in 1,000 years, with a dramatic increase in fires
high in the mountains, where fires were rare in the past. "As the
spring is arriving earlier because of warming conditions, the snow on
these high mountain areas is melting and running off. So the logs and
the branches and the tree needles all can dry out more quickly and have
a longer time period to be dry. And so there's a longer time period
and opportunity for fires to start. The fire season in the last 15 years
or so has increased more than two months over the whole Western U.S.,”
Swetnam contends that climate change -- global warming -- has increased
temperatures in the West about one degree and that has caused four times
more fires. Swetnam and his colleagues published those findings in the
journal "Science," and the world’s leading researchers
on climate change have endorsed their conclusions.
Pelley mentioned to Boatner
that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in climate change.
Boatner replied, "You won't find them on the fire line in the American
West anymore. Cause we've had climate change beat into us over the last
ten or fifteen years. We know what we’re seeing, and we're dealing
with a period of climate, in terms of temperature and humidity and drought
that's different than anything people have seen in our lifetimes."
On October 24, 2007, Ellie
Venom with the Conservation Voters of South Carolina wrote a guest column
titled “Lacking Vision on Energy” in The State paper in
Columbia, South Carolina She is highly critical of Santee Cooper, South
Carolina’s publicly owned utility, for their proposed construction
of a 1,320 megawatt pulverized coal plant in a rural area along the
great Pee Dee River. Rather than their pumping tens of thousands of
tons of toxic pollutants into the air and water every year, Ms. Veno
contends they can invest in efficiency and conservation to meet the
demand for electricity. She says, “Our state’s lack of vision
on energy, whether at the federal, state or local level, is a grim reminder
that South Carolina is still wandering lost in the energy dark ages.”
When the US Senate tried
unsuccessfully to amend the most recent energy bill to require utilities
to produce 15 % of their energy from renewable resources like wind,
solar and biomass, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint
voted against it. Ms. Veno says South Carolina politicians have become
dependent on campaign contributions from utilities and the coal industry.
Such compromised politicians
across our country are ignoring the facts: that CO2 producing fossil
fuels such as coal are the primary cause of climate warming; that global
warming is occurring at a much faster rate than scientists predicted;
that one consequence of global warming is drought; that the US is the
primary contributor to the crisis. To save this planet we must each
do our part and we must demand that our leaders lead. As we watch the
fires in the west, can’t we see that we are destroying our beautiful
country by our own hand and creating a fiery hell on earth?
is an attorney, writer and peace activist in Columbia, South Carolina
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