September 30, 2023

Under apocalyptic skies, Republicans are blowing smoke on climate change

On Thursday, much of the northeastern U.S. was blanketed for a second day in thick, highly dangerous smoke from wildfires raging in Canada. HuffPost asked Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) if he sees a connection between the hazy sky and the overwhelming amount of science showing that global climate change is contributing to extreme fires.

“We’ve had fires all our lives, come on,” Tuberville scoffed. “We are all for the environment, but this is just another situation where you have to do your job in forests. I mean, you just can’t let it grow up. It’s a pity this is happening. That too shall pass.”

It’s true that many American forests are overgrown and prone to devastating fires, largely due to decades of firefighting and Smokey Bear’s anti-fire coverage. But it’s absurd to suggest that solving the current wildfire problem is as simple as preventing trees from getting old. In fact, mature and old-growth forests are more resistant to fire and sequester vast amounts of planet-warming carbon.

Tuberville wasn’t the only Republican to use the historic smoke event — a rare phenomenon in cities like New York — to spread pro-logging talking points while somersaulting to ignore or downplay its link to climate change.

Speaking at a Senate GOP press conference Thursday in Washington, D.C., Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said East Coasters are getting a taste of the smoky summers that have become the norm in the West.

“This is what happens when you have more lawyers crawling around in your forests than loggers, and when your forests are not managed properly,” he said, referring to environmental groups that have sued to block logging projects. “Washington bureaucrats and the justice system in this country continue to give us policies that can lead to air quality like this.”

U.S. forest policy has no impact on the current smoke crisis, which has resulted from hundreds of early-season wildfires in neighboring Canada. Those fires, which Canadian officials have called “unprecedented,” follow a prolonged heat wave in May, it shattered several temperature records.

In a post on Twitter, London-based meteorologist Scott Duncan noted that Canada was “at the epicenter of the most significant heat anomaly on Earth” last month.

Daines, of course, made no mention of climate change in his remarks.

“The bottom line is, we manage our forests better, or our forests manage us,” he said.

The same can be said of runaway greenhouse gas emissions, which are driving up global temperatures and exacerbating the kind of extreme heat waves and droughts that are paving the way for more wildfires. Wildfires are expected to become increasingly intense as climate change worsens.

Another Montana Republican, Rep. Ryan Zinke, who ran the Federal Department of the Interior during the Trump administration, also took the opportunity to bang the pro-log drum, prompted by a tweet in which Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) scolded Republicans.

“Imagine being a Republican climate change denier in Congress — you come into work today at the Capitol, see the sky filled with smoke… and you still don’t understand that we need bold and immediate action to save our planet?” she wrote Wednesday. “Ridiculous.”

Zinke, that one Long history of downplaying climate science and dismissing the link between climate change and wildfires, denounced Jayapal as a “radical extremist” — one of his favorite labels for environmentalists and anyone who opposes increasing logging and forest thinning.

“Imagine being a radical extremist with a baseless agenda that blocks common sense forest management and thereby leaves the West living in a shadow of smoke for months,” Zinke tweeted. “Ridiculous.”

Zinke doubled his stance on Thursday, tweet: “I have no pity for DC politicians who deal with smoke. If liberals don’t allow us to manage forests, they should deal with the consequences, just as we in the West should.”

Wildfire is complex and warrants a nuanced discussion. Numerous factors are contributing to increased fire activity in North America and abroad, from climate change-enhanced heat waves and droughts to forest mismanagement and fire exclusion policies that have left forests choked with dangerous amounts of vegetation.

But if this week’s debilitating plumes of smoke have highlighted anything other than the growing risk of fire in a warming world, it’s that Republicans see logging and thinning as the only solution to the problem — and the only thing worth pursuing. to discuss.

“There is no question that Canada clearly needs to focus on forest management,” Representative Marc Molinaro (RN.Y.) told “Fox & Friends” Friday morning. “But now is not the time to lecture people about the science of climate change.”

As much as Republicans say it, the truth is that wildfires will never be put out with chainsaws and logging equipment.

“We will never work our way out of this mess,” said Matthew Hurteau, a forest ecologist at the University of New Mexico, tweeted late last year. “We need to invest in restoring the fire to our forests and part of that investment involves fixing a broken system that rewards suppression and punishes science-informed management.”

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.


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