It’s days like today that I wished I had former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s superpower and could “love that smell of the emissions,” or at least was immune to them. In reality, of course, nobody is. But reading statistics about millions a year dying from air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels is one thing. Having your own eyes water because you dared to leave the house for five minutes to walk the dog is quite another.
Over 75 million Americans from the Canadian border down to South Carolina are facing air quality alerts telling them the very air they breathe is either unhealthy or outright hazardous. The wildfires ought to be a clarifying moment for climate action in many more ways than one.
First and foremost, the wildfires should finally put to rest any of the doubts that deep and sustained cuts to our burning of fossil fuels are indeed warranted. We’ve long known enough to act, and the remaining uncertainties push the need for much stronger climate action higher still. Attribution science has made such leaps in just the past few years, that science can now link individual weather extremes to climate change and the burning of fossil fuels. That includes wildfires. The causal relationship between a warming climate and growing wildfires isn’t in doubt.
Statements like this will no doubt bring out the “rational” skeptics, the “skeptical” environmentalists, and assorted other self-styled “honest” brokers. Don’t you know that the climate has been changing forever? (It has.) That there have been wildfires before? (There have.) That we should stop expanding suburbs and exurbs into forested frontiers prone to wildfires? (We should.)