Donald Trump brought yet another battle in the American culture wars to California, which makes sense. I believe most of our culture battles have been fought on that sometimes less than sacred ground.
This time, it wasn’t medical science, or a dependence on miracles, up for debate. It wasn’t guns. Or racial injustice. Or athletes and the American flag. Or immigrants as rapists. Or children in cages. Or dead soldiers as losers and suckers. Or what Trump knew about COVID and when he knew it. Or of Trump advisers — one of whom just predicted a left-wing armed insurrection — emasculating the CDC. Or even — and this has been the most unexpected entry — the role of the United States Post Office in, well, delivering the mail.
No, this time, it was climate science, and while Trump had, of course, withdrawn us from the Paris accords — because he could — and while he had put an end to a long series of regulations protecting the environment— because he could — this was Trump face to face with a climate-related disaster, taking a stance that no president other than Trump would have the nerve/ignorance to take on today in the face of so many non-Biblical burning bushes. It’s almost as if Trump were trying to push away any moderate voters.
It wasn’t that long ago that climate change was still arguable, although not among the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. These days, even the oil companies want you to think they are on board. If you watch their TV ads, you’ll see them present themselves as friends to the environment.
I can remember six years ago when Cory Gardner first ran for the Senate against Mark Udall, a major environmentalist, and challenged him on carbon capture, around the same time he was saying Udall was stuck on abortion rights, which, Gardner insisted, would not be under threat. Now Gardner says he’s a national champion in fighting climate change. I believe the correct assessment would be national straggler. And as for abortion rights, well, he’s straggling there, too.
But Trump, Gardner’s much-embraced candidate in the presidential race, went so much further, straight into flat-earth territory. Even as wildfires rage up and down the West Coast, moving now to Idaho, as we in Colorado still have fires to fight, Donald Trump debated science with Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary.
“That science is going to be key,” Crowfoot told Trump, “because if we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians.”
To which Trump replied, with a Trump-like smirk, “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.”
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When Crowfoot said, “I wish science agreed with you,” Trump went all on in climate denial, saying, “Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.”
That got a laugh in the room, swear to God, even as six of the 20 largest fires — three of the top five according to record keeping that began in the 1930s — have hit California this year. Not to mention record temperatures. According to an August paper in Environmental Research Letters (h/t Axios), the number of autumn days with “extreme fire weather” in California has doubled since the 1980s. In Colorado, 16 of the state’s largest fires have come in the past 20 years.
Biden jumped on Trump’s take on climate science, of course, and brought it back to the suburbs, where Trump argues, somehow, that a combination of Biden, AOC and, Black Lives Matter and antifa will destroy them.
Calling Trump a “climate arsonist,” Biden said, “Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes, but if he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating, and more deadly.
“Meanwhile, Donald Trump warns that integration is threatening our suburbs. That’s ridiculous. You know what is actually threatening our suburbs? Wildfires are burning the suburbs of the West. Floods are wiping out suburban neighborhoods in the Midwest. Hurricanes are imperiling suburban life along our coast.”
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It would seem to be a good issue for Biden. According to recent polling from Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans say the federal government needs to do more to reduce effects of climate change. And 79% say developing alternative energy should be a priority while only 20% say that oil, coal and natural gas resources should be expanded. There’s more. You can check it out here.
I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to give credence to the scientists who study this stuff.
If you spend any time at all as a reporter in Colorado, you become far too knowledgeable in the ways of wildfires. You don’t have to be a reporter, of course. You just have to live in Colorado. You may remember when then-Gov. Bill Owens said it looked as if all of Colorado was burning, and everyone — including at least one long-haired columnist — made fun of him for panicking would-be tourists. That was the infamous Hayman fire from 2002. All of Colorado wasn’t burning, but a hell of a lot of it was. And a hell of a lot of Colorado has been burning every fire season since.
I ventured into that fire a few times. I wasn’t a rookie. When I moved to LA from the East Coast in the 70s, the only thing I knew about wildfires was what I’d learned from Smokey Bear. Until that day my wife, Susie, woke at 3 a.m. to a fire, driven by 60 mile-an-hour Santa Ana winds, in the hills behind our house. The fire came within a few hundred yards. One hill would turn into an inferno, the wind would pick up, and then the fire would jump to the next, as if someone had dropped a tank of lighter fluid on it. We had to evacuate, but our neighborhood came through unscathed.
When I moved to Colorado, the story was much the same. During the Hayman fire, I was on a press tour surveying the damage. We were in our protective gear, walking among the burned trees and vegetation, with the fire still burning along the ground, when we were told to get back on the bus. NOW!!!
It was a rickety old school bus, fit for reporters and not much else. The wind had picked up, the fire had turned and now it was chasing us. It seems we journalists were the last to know to clear the area. It was like a bad movie. In fact, I kept thinking about that terrible movie Twister when people were trying to outrun a tornado.
The driver knew the drill. That bus hit speeds I’m guessing it had never reached before. It also hit fences. And behind us, we could hear, like gunfire, exploding treetops, one after the other. Because we’re reporters, and we’re supposed to be fearless, we made our jokes, but it was really only funny when it was all over.
We reached a place where firefighters were resting, assuming that would be a safe spot. But just as I was interviewing one weary firefighter, I heard a shout to get back on the bus. NOW!!! The firefighters got on their buses. We got on ours. Trees were exploding again. The bus was hitting fences again. We somehow got out safely. Others haven’t been so fortunate, of course. In Colorado, we know all about loss, the loss of life and property. We know it has already been another terrible year, for fires, for smoke, and for all of it to come in the midst of a pandemic.
And you don’t have to be a scientist to know the only sound we should all be hearing is, do something NOW!!!
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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