Commentary: The approaching fire

Imagine a forest fire headed your way and you are in a position of responsibility, with the ability to not only alert your neighbors but to help put out the fire. Would you do everything you could to avert catastrophe, or would you listen to the voices of the people who want the fire to spread?

Let’s say I profit from the fire. If I paid you to stay quiet, would you be silent or would you attempt to stop the fire? Would you side with those who stand to benefit from the misfortune of many, or side with the majority affected by the fire?

Now imagine that fire is worldwide, and affects everyone and everything in your world. This fire is climate change. Scientists worldwide have catalogued the alarming rise of temperatures since the widespread use of fossil fuels. While no one can speak in absolutes about the effect climate change has on the world, we can look at the evidence and draw conclusions. Global temperature changes are trackable, ocean acidity can be measured, droughts and rainfall can be observed, effects on forests, oceans, crops and humans are not imagined but real.

We have seen multiple examples of violent weather. What were once termed one in a hundred or one in a thousand year events, are now becoming commonplace. Storms have become more violent and contain more precipitation and more energy, droughts begin earlier and last longer, heat waves are more severe and affect more regions than ever before, the oceans rise, the heat increases. Still the deniers refuse to accept observable facts about ocean rise, polar ice melting, more and worse floods, earlier wildfire seasons, the spread of invasive species.

We saw the disaster close to home when West Virginia was struck by huge amounts of rainfall. The week before a similar event happened in Texas. California and Arizona recently experienced wildfires occurring well before the usual fire season. Record-breaking heat also afflicts the western U.S. This is happening around the world. While it is difficult to pin individual events on climate change due to the complex nature of global weather, the fact that we are experiencing serial record-breaking weather events cannot be ignored.

There is evidence that environmental corrections can be made. The world came together 30 years ago to sign the Montreal Accord, which pledged the signees to outlaw chlorofluorocarbons as a propellant for spray cans after investigation showed the damage they were causing to the ozone layer. Today, that hole is healing and again protecting the Earth from ultraviolet rays from the sun. Air quality has been improved in many areas by regulations designed to reduce the effects of pollution.

So if we have the means to correct environmental damage, why are we not making an effort to change? Concern about climate change has fallen in the U.S. in recent years, possibly as a result of other issues attracting attention, but also because of a concerted effort to deny the problem. Corporations and energy companies with a stake in fossil fuels deny there is a problem. Are those we elect who pledge to have our best interests in mind instead working for the corporations? Can it be a result of corporations’ desire to cover up the effects of their products and the politicians’ need to fund the ever-increasing cost of campaigning to stay in office?

President George W. Bush warned of our addiction to oil. Both candidates in the 2008 election spoke of the dangers of climate change. The Pentagon acknowledges and takes climate change into account in future planning. But a network of fossil fuel companies discretely contributed to a massive campaign to misinform the public and change opinions about this reality. It is well documented that energy companies, involving both private and public entities, contributed to efforts to change public opinion.

Who is stopping action on this crisis? The Republican Party is known for harvesting votes by spreading fear about communism, terrorism, plagues, voting laws and social change. Why do they deny a clear danger? Instead of crises, Republicans see conspiracy theories and they distort and deny reality. Republicans are the largest recipients of money from the deniers, they profit from denying the danger, they block any action on solutions, and their party denies the reality of climate change as an article of faith.

Consider the future and think about who has your interests in mind when you vote this year.

Steve Foreman is a Front Royal resident.

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