Jay Ambrose: Common sense can beat climate change

Tribune Content Agency

The wildfires in the West have burned up millions of acres, taken dozens of lives, destroyed thousands of homes, cost enormous amounts of money to combat and, yes, they are connected to climate change. For years, it has been getting hotter out West with cruel droughts becoming crueler, and some of this is surely linked to CO2 in the atmosphere reflecting earthly heat back to the Earth.

But a much, much bigger cause of the horrific blazes, mainly in California, Oregon and Washington, is failed forest management, and there’s a lesson here, namely that climate change itself is just maybe less to be feared than government addressing it in ways that increase its damage.

There have always been scads of forest fires in the Western neck of the woods and a major reason for increased intensity, enduring terror and a ferocity that endangers thousands of brave firefighters has been lousy policies. What is most needed is preventing forests from becoming so big and crowded with trees and underbrush that what you have is a gigantic tinderbox eager to wreak havoc. The answer is to burn parts of it.

Nature used to take care of this. Lightning, for instance, would strike. A fire would start and it would go out at some point, maybe because of rain, leaving bare spots for forest renewal and stretches of other forest lands. The destruction per annum would reportedly be between 5 million and 12 million acres.

Ancient Native Americans caught on and themselves started fires, and even though it took quite a long time, federal agencies turned to so-called prescribed burns that were carefully controlled and then extinguished. Along with state agencies, they would also take it easy on putting out natural fires. Logging and other commercial activities were allowed to the horror of environmentalists not getting it that far more trees and animals would be saved than lost.

Ah, but then came more and more houses in the forests and regulations and lawsuits and fewer small fires so that the only thing that could go wrong was everything. One educated guess is that to prevent the worst at this point, the prescribed burns would have to cover something like 20 million acres instead of the actual number today of about 13,000.

The necessity of more small, controlled fires is a sermon emanating from all kinds of instructive experts achieving some reforms, just as there are experts who say it is a major mistake to believe something else.

That would be the idea that the deterrence of overdone climate change will be best achieved by trying to replace CO2-laden fossil fuels with intermittent, unreliable, renewable energy, namely solar panels and windmills. They won’t save us, in part because the sun does not always shine, the wind does not always blow, batteries alone won’t come to the rescue and neither will large cutbacks in energy usage unless we also cut back on modernity.

If we want to deal with the worst possibilities and maintain our industrial way of life, we need to go nuclear, which, to be sure, is expensive and scares some people out of their socks. And yet it emits no CO2 and can truly compete with fossil fuels in running the world. Its costs are being been reduced, and we could probably pay for it with a growing economy, certainly not a Green New Deal economy.

But, people will ask you, didn’t Chernobyl teach us something? Yes. Don’t trust incompetent, corrupt, Communist governments. Well what about the tsunami taking out a Japanese nuclear power plant? Only one person died of radiation. The dangers have been overstated and are being addressed.

We may need a carbon tax to help in the shift to nuclear power, but with economic smarts we can meet other climate change perils, such as confronting rising seas with dikes. We also need strenuous efforts by other nations, which was not a widespread consequence of the Paris Agreement that President Trump abandoned.



Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at speaktojay@aol.com.


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