Rain or fire? Be careful what you wish for

The news is understandably preoccupied with the horrid but spectacular fires in California. Just last year California was bemoaning their horrible drought. The grass is always greener on the other side, especially if it rains. Then it rained, and rained and rained. Everybody was delighted and the reservoirs are now full. Streams ran wet and welcomed fingerling trout promising an end to the disaster of having been dry for years. The problem is that the grass is greener on the other side, only if it rains.

Then came the hot and dry summer of this year. All that healthy tall green wild grass and brush turned into kindling. One spark and strong Santa Ana winds turned that desired once green grass dry, brown, and lifeless; ripe for an inferno. And so it was to be. Now there are city blocks and blocks of ashes where there were houses during the drought. And with regret and sadness, there are incinerated and burned bodies of humans, who like hurricane victims, figured it could not happen to them.

Change is a natural cycle that has happened in the past. Yellowstone National Park used to have a forest of sequoia trees of which not a one has survived. They were all tossed like toothpicks in some event not unlike the Mt. St. Helen volcanic eruption. The petrified forest in New Mexico is comprised of trees that flourished eons ago, but were destroyed in some cataclysmic event, buried by the ages under considerable pressure, re-exposed by natural erosion and, being harder than the earth they rest on today, are a testimonial to some very dynamic large-scale climate change. The entire Yucatan Peninsula is an ancient coral reef now 6 or 10 feet above today’s sea level for reasons that have not yet been explained.

These are but a few examples. There is plenty of evidence of climate change long before humans had the capacity to have made any difference. Climate change is not a question but a fact. The question is why. When one looks at the geologic record, past climate changes events evolved over eons. When we look at the current climate change, we can see that the change has occurred in our lifetimes. So I ask, what could possibly be the reason for such an accelerated change? I see in the mirror that it is us.

Our president has blamed the federal forest, state and local services for having poorly managed our forests, thus explaining these terrible fires. I beg to differ. It is the current administration that has cut back funding in research and curtailed regulations resulting in the vastness of these fires: Fires which are certainly aggravated by the sudden climate changes to which we have collectively contributed.

The reader will recall the drama over the loss of the ozone layer, particularly over the South Pole. We spent monies, studied it and determined adroitly that it was the innocent release by humans of refrigerant gases that caused the problem. We imposed new regulations to curb our unintentional creation of the problem. It has worked. And we still have effective refrigeration in almost every house in the developing world today. When was the last time the reader has even heard about the ozone layer problem? It has largely and luckily abated, not by arrogant ambivalence, but by diligent effort based on science and treated with the necessary urgency. That is what needs to be done about climate change.

Our world leaders need urgently to recognize that, while climate change does happen naturally, we have clearly accelerated it, even if we did not cause it solely by human activity. Like the ozone layer problem now largely cured, we can at least do some of the same with corrective management efforts to global warming. I must insist that people understand that greenhouse gasses are the blanket. It is the generation of the heat itself, by the use of nuclear and fossil fuels, which is the fundamental problem. We need to suffice by the use of solar power alone in all its forms - panels, hydro, and wind - to maintain a heat balance on Earth. We are betting our future on learning this lesson and acting upon it NOW. Your children are essentially playing with lead-painted toys. It is we who hold the paint brush. It is we who buy the paint.


Philip Truax built Sharon Computer and Mohawk Internet. His four sons all attended Housatonic Valley Regional High School. He is a third-generation resident of Sharon.