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Note to White House: Wake Up and Smell the Fire

Last Friday, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) addressed a number of topics during her roundtable discussion with local media in Las Vegas. Before she opened the table to questions, she spoke about something that’s affecting Nevadans across the state… So much so, that she saw and smelled it while at Lake Tahoe for the annual Tahoe Summit.

Two days later, a top Trump administration official presented a very different narrative on the California wildfires. Why did he question the science on wildfires and climate change, and what does this say about the nation’s ability to tackle the greatest global security threat of our time?

“The air quality was horrific. You’re smelling smoke. You’re seeing smoke. It was all over the valley.”
– Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, on the smoke from the California wildfires reaching Lake Tahoe
Photo by Andrew Davey

Shortly after she convened the roundtable, Cortez Masto spoke about the Tahoe Summit she attended alongside Senators Dean Heller (R) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California), and other local Members of Congress. After explaining the progress being made to secure federal dollars for the affected areas, she commenting on how the Northern California wildfires made their presence known at Lake Tahoe.

As Cortez Masto described it, “The air quality was horrific. You’re smelling smoke. You’re seeing smoke. It was all over the valley.”

She then touched upon one of the subjects she addressed during the Tahoe Summit: “Part of the discussion was about climate change. […] At Lake Tahoe, there’s a lot of concern about wildfires.”

“This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”
– Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
Photo by Andrew Davey

Two days after Cortez Masto’s press roundtable, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke surveyed some of the wildfire damage in Northern California. While there, he told local reporters, “This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management.”

Shortly after Zinke cast doubt on climate change’s role in worsening wildfires across the American West, the Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Greg Zimmerman cast doubt on the purpose of Zinke’s California trip: “Secretary Zinke is either being willfully ignorant or purposely deceptive. Any politician ignoring the role a warming climate plays in record-setting wildfire seasons loses all credibility as an honest broker. Instead, Zinke is in California using an ongoing natural disaster to push an unpopular political agenda.”

What might that “unpopular political agenda” entail? For one, the Trump administration has proposed opening up more national forest lands in California to commercial logging. President Donald Trump himself floated this proposal as a wildfire prevention tool, even though there’s no evidence proving its efficacy (at anything other than private companies profiting from public lands at the expense of local residents and wildlife).

It’s time to wake up and smell the fires
Photo by David S. Roberts, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

At the same time, Trump himself also engages in regular climate denial. Not only has he failed to acknowledge the science on climate change and wildfires, but he’s also infamously referred to climate change as a “Chinese hoax”. When it comes to action, Trump not only doesn’t want to address the cause of climate change, but he’s also rolling back the Obama administration’s climate action programs. And instead of offering any kind of compassion during this trying time, Trump is fighting against California and its own efforts to act on climate change.

Meanwhile, the fires continue to burn across the region. No matter how often Trump and his cabinet try to deflect the blame, they can’t cancel the science. They can, however, take productive steps to address the near-term impact of the wildfires and the long-term challenge of climate change.

As the saying goes: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Now might be a good time for the White House to wake up and smell it.  

Cover photo by Scott Liebenson, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.

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