When ol’ Irene came around over 10 years ago, I briefly got a new nickname: Hurricane. I flashed on it reading about the evacuation and preparation for 2011’s Hurricane Irene, and her damage, chaos, and aftermath. The city of New York – my home for nearly a decade – took unprecedented steps to close its mass-transit system, as did Washington and Philadelphia. The storm was less ferocious than feared, although it could prove one of the costliest in U.S. history because it attacked such a wide area. B’s parents were visiting us from Connecticut when it hit, and they arrived home to a downed tree that cut their power (for nearly a week), but thankfully not much else.
Nature at her most fierce is the polar opposite of the cute heartwarmer that many – including me – are enraptured by. We want to forget that it can also destroy. (Rousseau: “Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves.”) But destructive forces are the often flip side of creative ones. Fire, after all, enables the birth of new forests from the ashes of the old. The gift that Titan Prometheus stole from the gods on Olympus, and was mightily punished for, has allowed humans to cook and warm ourselves, but it also has the ability to lay bare vast swaths of land.
Fires are now raging through the western states, including as always at this time of year, my home state of California, but especially in Texas. Over 80% of Texas is in critically dry condition, in the state’s worst drought since the 1950s – largely blamed for causing the wildfires. Even historically wetter areas are burning, flames fanned by winds from Tropical Storm Lee.
Humans’ polluting greenhouse gases are altering our planet’s climate: glaciers are disappearing, ice caps are melting, storms are more severe and frequent, and so are droughts. Scientific evidence and consensus are international. Why is there still a debate about this in America?