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What the Devil won't tell you

Burning for action: Climate crisis revealed in skies over Tucson & eyes of columnist

This is officially bullshit. Don’t tread on me, because I’m pissed.

I just walked to Fry’s – it’s like a half block – and do you know what didn’t happen to me? I wasn’t mugged or shot by marauding Black people or trampled by Antifa hordes.

Do you know what did happen to me?

The smoke from any number of Western wildfires burned my eyes -- including a good chunk wafting in from California.  This would be far more understandable if … I don’t know … I lived in California. I live in Arizona. It’s 500 miles away. And yet here I am with a mask on from a pandemic MAGAs have called a hoax and eyes burning from wildfire caused by climate change that Donald Trump has called a hoax. How much more freedom are the MAGAs going to give me?

I've lived out West for three decades now and have gotten used to smoke from prescribed burns, nearby fires and even the occasional plumes wafting in from elsewhere. It's one thing to be hit by fires like Spud Rock burning now out in the remote reaches of the Rincons. Tucson is now under attack by a changing climate from all directions and my eyes are burning.

I wanted to rename this column: What the Devil Shouldn't Have to Tell You. But it's time to get in gear — like fifth.

And yes, I did say the fires were caused by climate change even though I don’t have a ton of evidence of direct causation. Climate isn’t weather. Weather isn’t climate. I get that. But at some point, after years of dismissing the possibility that our screwed up atmospheric conditions are linked to our climate, we have to start assuming that something is up.

Let's talk risk and odds. The risk is that climate change is here and it's disastrous. The odds of having once in a generation freakish weather year after year are getting mathematically remote.

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This has been going on for a while. There but for four days in December 2016, the North Pole and Tucson would have shared the same temperature. It was 32 degrees in Tucson on Dec. 26 and 32 degrees at a buoy near the North Pole on Dec. 30. Is Tucson known for Arctic conditions? Are there saguaros at 90 degrees north latitude?

This summer July was the hottest month on record in Tucson history, until August came along.

And lest you think this is new, last year Tucson was third-fastest warming city in the country and Phoenix ranked No. 4.

Something is up. Even when we have an otherwise nice day, we are blanketed in smoke from a planet burning in another time zone (technically it is, because we are on Mountain Standard Time).

And we just keep pumping CO2 in to the air.

I remember how my Dad visited once and I told him about how I had to add water to my Saturn once a week because there was a pin-prick hole in the seal of my water pump. He just said, in Dad-like fashion, “That’s one of those problems that doesn’t get better on its own.” We rode around in his rental the next day while I forked over $300 to have the problem fixed.

Climate change isn’t going to get better on its own.

But for Republicans, it's easy: Pretend it’s Antifa doing it. BLM is setting the fires. Those temperatures are all just a conspiracy by Big Thermometer.

No consensus coming

There's kind of been this great national procrastination preventing climate change action. The country has been waiting for the Republican Party to buy into it as a problem. Some day, the sky would part, the angels would sing and they would become convinced.

Nope. Not going to happen.

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Over at Fox News they are blaming the fires on poor forest management and logging practices that changed fire-resistant old-growth forests into tinderboxes.

OK, fine. I won my first journalism award for an in-depth piece on this very topic. Fox isn't wrong about what's causing the tinderbox. But what's fanning the flames? In other words, why hasn't Flagstaff burned to the ground? Its fire danger right now is listed as "high." It's in the middle of the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world. The tree canopy goes straight into the middle of town.

Yet California is burning. Could it be because Flagstaff is less affected by climate change? It's not as hot and not as dry because it stands at 7,000 feet.

Could it be the combination of fuel and climate that are accelerating the fires?

One thing that coronavirus has taught us is that it’s useless for us to wait for a universal epiphany to shout down in rapture that climate change is real, dangerous and increasingly catastrophic.

COVID-19 has killed upwards of 200,000 Americans and the deniers still treat it like background noise. The people who dismiss that a woman has a right to decide for herself what to do with her body, are losing their minds over the prospect that to save lives they should be forced to put a mask on their face. Women must have babies in their uteruses. But no matter who gets killed, masks are an attack on liberty.

Maybe someday, if clouds of methane bubble up from the seabeds and light the sky on fire when lightning hits, the climate change deniers'll agree to its existence. its pointless at this point to assume they would respond with anything other than "get used to it."

Coronavirus has kind of changed my mind on this and it should be an eye-opener. A year ago, I never would have believed that the right would argue for inaction in the face of a pandemic. That 200,000 lives were an acceptable loss for a high stock market.

Prescriptive government action itself is their enemy. So we live and die with the results of their enforced apathy.

Belt and heel

The best advice comes from a Trump supporter interviewed on the  Samantha Bee show during the 2016 Republican convention: “Donald Trump is going to be daddy. And whether you like it or not, you are going to have to listen to daddy. If you don’t, you’ll get the belt.” Pretty much sums up Trump’s presidency.

I find your terms acceptable.

Mayor Regina Romero is mommy. You are going to have to listen to mom. If you don’t behave you’ll get her pump, if not la chancla. God knows we can’t wait for Trump to shift his ass. Who knows when or if Washington will get the huevos to do the job.

God Bless federalism, and government powers spread among national, state and local ruling bodies. We don’t have to wait.

Ask your Romero what she’s going to do about it tomorrow and the next day. Paul Cunningham can be found right here. Let’s not forget about Paul Durham, Richard Fimbres, Steve Kozachik, Nikki Lee and Lane Santa Cruz.

Pima County supervisors have less power because they don’t have a charter government. They are a subdivision of the state. Here they are anyway.

The degree to which state law needs to be changed, get them to change it.

Your state legislators from Pima County are mostly Democrats and don’t have a ton of sway yet. Flip two state House seats and three Senate seats and they run the joint. There’s no reason Republicans should be in denial but they are. Here are their contacts (look for Districts 2, 3, 4, 9 and 11 for general purposes in Southern Arizona).

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Actions to take

I already wrote about things that could be done locally but if you need a refresher, we can move to create energy efficiency programs, require low-carbon construction, retrofit of existing buildings. Make it illegal to park with your car engine running. Expand the TUGO bike-share program. We can still have single-family homes, but do we need five acres of parking for every food store on every corner?

Here’s another idea. Replace cotton with industrial hemp in Arizona. Hemp can make clothes. BMW is currently replacing its plastics with industrial hemp. Does Arizona not want to be a part of the plastics industry? Are we suddenly allergic to making money?

According a study by the government of Australia, industrial hemp is the best absorber of carbon among any other agricultural crop.

Yes, the dirty, stinky hippies were right about something but let me take the wind out of their bong hit for a second. So too are the people behind nuclear power.

Meltdowns are bad. Fukashima was a disaster. But it wasn’t global and won’t last for tens of thousands of years.

Climate and malice

The problem of course can be illustrated by two numbers, nine and 11. Remember 9/11? It was a production. It was a willful show of terrorism smashing into buildings at 500 miles per hour.

That’s the thing about 9/11 and other events like it. It’s not enough that it’s got fire. It needs malice behind it. For some reason natural processes don’t keep our attention for long because no one is doing it on purpose. Kind of makes you long for the days when people thought the Black Death was God’s punishment, doesn’t it?

Climate change is willful. It’s the oil and coal industry inflicting it upon us with a bank shot into the sky. They insist on pumping carbon up and heat stays down. They could call themselves energy companies and switch to solar, wind and make investments in things like arc-fusion reactors. That would damage their stock price today.

We would lose jobs in oil. Well, welcome to the jungle roughnecks. I write this as a journalist. Disruption happens. Ask all the factory workers in the Midwest about how tech and corporate redeployment of capital can cost jobs. Your income isn’t more important than the cataclysmic disruption that could result from climate change.

Also, let’s not kid ourselves. If the national media were based in Los Angeles and San Francisco (or Arizona for that matter), they would not stop yelping about the California wildfires.

Disrupt and don't shut up

Donald John Trump actually provides a great lesson in how to get people to take climate change seriously. Don’t shut up about it. Scare the crap out of people. He hasn’t shut up about “law and order” and suddenly the American people think it’s a major problem. No one cares about deficits until Republicans lose power, because it’s all they’ll talk about then.

Democrats ask first (I worked in this field) what people care about. Then they talk about that. Republicans tell people what to care about and people eventually listen.

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And those of us who believe in this stuff have a great ally now. We have fire.

If African Americans protest and so much as a trash can is set on fire, that fire will be splashed across the front page of every remaining newspaper in the country. One trash can was set on fire during protests of Trump’s inauguration and it was surrounded by photographers.

If COVID victims burst into flames upon death, we wouldn’t be growing bored with it, as a recent set of polls suggest.

We should be able to walk down the street without choking on smoke from California fires. To do that, we're apparently going to have to act locally. We don’t have to wait to secure that kind of freedom.

Blake Morlock is a journalist who has spent 20 years covering government in Arizona and also worked in Democratic political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.

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have your say   

1 comment on this story

Sep 14, 2020, 8:56 am
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How much is climate change contributing?

The vast majority of scientific experts say the warming climate has greatly worsened the fire threat. Tropical storms Fausto and Genevieve moved farther north in the Pacific than they otherwise would have because of the warmer waters, setting up the rare lightning outbreak in August, Mr. Covington said.

Ridges of high pressure that block moisture in the desert Southwest have grown stronger due to climate change, too, he added. That contributed to temperature spikes including when the mercury shot up to 130 degrees in Death Valley on Aug. 16, one of the highest readings ever measured on Earth.

As a result, the vegetation is uniformly much drier than it has been in more than a century, allowing fires to plow through everything from the Joshua tree forests of Southern California’s Mojave Desert to the redwoods near San Francisco, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“There is a sustained background warming all the time, causing that extra evaporation from the soil that is making water not available to plants,” Mr. Swain said. “It is shocking, but not completely unexpected.”

Wall Street Journal: Why Wildfires Are So Bad This Year in California, Oregon and Washington

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California smoke wafts across Tucson, shading the sky and turning the sun orange when it isn't obscured.


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