There isn’t much we can do about the heat so long as we keep electing fools who don’t believe human activity contributes significantly to climate change. But even fools can understand that wildfires often cause death and destruction, and that if we decide death and destruction are more important than partisan posturing, we can do something about the increasing number and intensity of wildfires.
After all, this is the nation that built the Panama Canal and sent men to the moon and back. The nation that invented television, air conditioning, digital communication, the internet, harvesting machines, freeways and countless other breakthrough innovations. The idea that we can’t come up with better ways to deal with wildfires seems incredibly primitive. Surely, if we can pinpoint targets for drone bombers from thousands of miles away, we can identify wildfires in early stages before they become too large to strangle. Surely, if we can build fleets of drones to kill human beings, we can built similar fleets of unmanned aircraft to drop tons of water on destructive wildfires. Surely, if we can create clouds of gasses that increase atmospheric heat, we can also create chemical retardants or fire-dousing chemicals that spread out to smother flames.
And it’s time to admit that one challenge facing peacetime military leaders is to keep soldiers, sailors and marines busy when they aren’t needed for wartime action. Generals who can organize thousands of troops to destroy life and property can find legal and logistic ways to train and use patriotic military volunteers in the war against wildfires.
Some believe that wildfires are nature’s way of accomplishing something or other. Those folks are almost as misguided as climate-change deniers. Wildfires kill, destroy property, contribute to global warming (short-term and long-term), use up precious oxygen and destroy oxygen-producing plant life. There are better ways to help nature accomplish her delicate balancing act. Besides, some of the fires are caused by human activity; nature has nothing to do with those fires. And fuel is abundant for today’s fires partly because of climate change — warming caused in large part by man-made atmospheric imbalance. It is hypocritical to believe in climate change caused by human activity, while at the same time believing wildfires are entirely nature’s doing.
The question is not whether we can stop wildfires. The question is when, where and how do we use the intelligence nature provided us to place limits on nature’s destructive excesses. We do it all the time. Why not with wildfires? Surely, it is not necessary to destroy property and kill human beings if science can tell us how to accomplish nature’s purposes without such negative side effects. One cannot believe in the science of climate change but not believe in the science of fire management or the science of forest management.
The problem will only get worse as temperatures increase.
Nature does not decide rationally when and where lightning will start a forest fire. But wise human beings can — and should — decide rationally when and where forest fires will be controlled or limited. Over many millennia, nature has evolved means to achieve her maintenance goals. She will not be offended if humans use their nature-supplied intelligence to help her achieve those same goals without unnecessary destruction.
Human beings have goals, too. And there is no reason our goals and nature’s goals cannot work together to accomplish the goals of both. We should not stop all wildfires, but neither should we allow every fire to run its course. We have the nature-endowed wisdom to find an appropriate balance.
Don Gale believes thoughtful human beings should be just that – thoughtful.