Driving through Boonville, California, in Mendocino County this weekend, the smoke was overwhelming. There are 131 fires burning in my home county, the result of a freak lightening storm last weekend. The LA Times called it an
"unusual weather pattern" that "sent dry lightning flashing to the ground—again and again and again. More than 8,000 lightning strikes touched earth, according to the National Weather Service."
The result is something like (as of this morning) 800 fires across Northern California, which by Monday had burned 44,000 acres.
So, while McCain and the Republicans want Americans to focus on the dangers of terrorist attacks, Americans (and earthlings everywhere) are suffering unparalleled loss from the changing weather patterns. I don't mean any disrespect to the losses this country suffered on 9/11, but, frankly, IMHO the dangers from Global Warming, exceed the dangers of terrorism and it's about time we take the weather seriously.
Just before the storm hit, my cats took note. I had the front door open and was working at my computer. From my desk, I can see through the study door, across the living room, and out the front door. Pele, my big (16+ pound) Maine Coon, sat up on her haunches like a rabbit and stared over the top of the computer and out the door. She stayed like that, perched on her strong hind legs so long, that I got up to see what she was looking at.
I walked out the front door onto my covered veranda just as the hail started to hit. It was strange, big chunks of ice falling in June from a clear blue sky. To the west I could see the storm moving in—a big, intimidating militia of dark clouds armed with lightening bolts, marching relentlessly toward the parched shores of Northern California. Really, it did feel like an attack.
They’re still finding new fires today—now over eight hundred. Mendocino County seems to have taken a direct hit. We’ve migrated to the top of the list, disaster has been declared. Like the floods in the Midwest, the fires are a growing problem, a circumstance that begins and then, as it develops, grows worse and worse. I live right on the coast. I'm not personally in danger. But, Sunday, when I drove across Highway 128 and south into Sonoma County, they were still downplaying the news, telling us they were prioritizing the fires, attending to those that threatened humans and their property. It was hard to breathe passing through the small town of Boonville, which is in the heart of Anderson Valley wine country, tucked between the coastal range to the east and Redwoods to the west, where the highway winds back toward the coast. It’s one of the most beautiful roads in the state, perhaps in the country. As I drove home Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help but worry. Imagining for a moment the devastation of the redwoods burned to the ground. What a tragedy that would be.
I couldn’t help but worry because Sunday evening—coming home—the smoke was much worse than it had been in the morning. When I got home, I learned my concern was unfortunately justified: Montgomery Woods is burning‚ some of the oldest Redwoods around.
It's been a slow wind-up, not enough resources available, not enough firefighters. Firefighters are just beginning to arrive from all over the country. How do you amass enough resources to fight 840 (latest number as I write) fires at one time? Well, for one thing, you have the resources in place when and where you need them: As per usual, the Bush Administration has not kept its word about providing Fire personnel to California. Just a couple weeks ago Diane Feinstein complained loudly about the fact that the Feds were behind schedule. The problem is money, they can't seem to find the money to pay the firefighters a living wage. Of course, the feds weren't impressed with Feinstein's complaint. Her concern wasn't exactly "misplaced," they said on June 2, 2008, only irrelevant. They were doing a heck of a job:
"I wouldn't say it's misplaced," Rounsaville said. "But I will say that we're adequately prepared and staffed for the fire season. We have a lot of capability outside California to assist there if need be."
Yes. People are coming from outside California, beginning to arrive today, Tuesday, the fires have been burning, mostly without any attempt to control them in the drought starved wilderness of Northern California for three days while we waited for the government to get its act together. So far, the story is barely news. And meanwhile we're hearing that California was just "unlucky" to have such a storm. Like Iowa and the Midwest were unlucky to have an unprecedented wave of tornadoes and rain storms and 500 year flooding.
When are we going to take the threats from natural disaster seriously? Why isn't Charlie Black saying that if the US suffers a natural disaster (or two or three or four) before the Novemeber elections, that it will serve Senator McCain's election chances? Why isn't the corporate media tallying the toll from the natural disasters we've amassed since 9/11—the loss of life, resources and dollars—and laying it out beside the disaster of 9/11 for comparison? Why if we care about terrorist attacks in Britain, aren't we paying attention to their natural disasters as well as our own? Why aren't we talking about the environmental refugees here in our own country? ("We had a million environmental refugees as a result of Katrina."—David Helgarv.) How many more since the flooding in the Midwest? And the loss of agricultural land, the loss of forests and wild life, of the canopy that helps produce the oxygen we all need to breathe? Believe me, when you're faced with smoke and the peculiar claustrophobia that accompanies low oxygen and high pollutants in the air you're trying to breathe, you notice these things.
So when are we going to turn our resources to the real challenge? Even last Friday the Feds were acting like they had the fire-response situation in California under control. They said they'd start hiring more personel this coming week, "ahead of schedule". Obviously, they weren't expecting this bit of "bad luck." Nor were they expecting Katrina, or the floods now terrorizing the Midwest, either.
When are we going to acknowledge that natural disasters are as big a threat as terrorism, indeed, if frequency is the measure, a bigger threat? We're seeing the impact of oil wars, but what will it look like when the wars are over water? It's not that far in the future, you know. Part of the reason California is burning is because of the terrible drought here. And already there's a struggle going on over water, and who is going to get what little there is. It's part of the reason the salmon aren't spawning and there isn't a season this year.
So, what I want to know is what is the next president planning to do to get the NATIONAL Guard out of Iraq so it can return to its intended duty of being on hand for national emergencies? What's the next president going to do to make sure funds are allocated to our fire fighters and emergency personnel? Who is going to make sure that FEMA actually works? That local economies are strong enough to support local personnel and local resources for dealing with disaster? When is the media going to look at this like it's real?
Because it sure looks to me like we've lost a lot more in the last seven years to natural disaster than we have to terrorist attacks. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't keep our eye on terrorism; I'm just saying there's an elephant in the White House living room and it's about time we admit it, address it, and get EVEN MORE SERIOUS about getting it out of our national living room. If we want to survive, as a country, a species, a planet, that is.
I say this while listening to an update on my local radio station (KOZT, excellent music, excellent news, excellent emergency response info). Depressing news: new evacuations, new evacuation centers opening. They're saying that an "unknown number" of fires are still being added to the count, that they're still being reported today, Tuesday around 11 am, local time, 3+ days after the storm. Global Warming is not a secondary issue. It's a top tier National Security Issue. Global Warming is threatening the entire planet; it's threatening the water supply, our food supply, the very oxygen we breathe, It's threatening our ability to survive to fight the terrorists that John McCain and the Republicans are trying to make the BIG issue. It's threatening our ability to drill offshore. (They're lying, by the way, about the environmental damage to the Gulf after Katrina—it was 2/3rds as big as the Valdez in Alaska.
And again, McCain, the other day, said there was no spillage from the—he parsed it very carefully—from the 160 offshore rigs that were either damaged or destroyed. I saw them up on beaches. I also talked to the Coast Guard. There was actually 8.2 million gallons of spillage. The rigs themselves were closed down and evacuated before the storm, but all the pipes and tank farms and the infrastructure you get around that created two-thirds of an Exxon Valdez.
I say, there's a reason my cat sits up on her haunches and stares out the door at what I can not see; she's an animal filled with natural instinct, and she feels when danger is coming...
Wednesday Morning Update: Thanks for the rescue!! I'm going back across 128 today and will report back with what I learn sometime this evening.