This is the Ashcroft Reserve fire in BC in 2017. That was the worst year ever for wildfires in that province - until this year! Photo by Shawn Cahill.
As I write this, human bodies incinerated beyond recognition, are being pulled from the ruins of wildfires in California. More than a thousand people are either missing or confirmed dead, with property damage set to top several billions of dollars. Smoke from the fires has now enveloped San Francisco.
President Trump blames "poor forest management,"and, after first threatening to withhold it, finally grants emergency aid. His critics take him to task for his lack of empathy for the victims. After visiting the fire zones, he continues, disgracefully, to deny the role manmade climate change is surely playing here.
But what's worse, his absence of a heart (which has been evident for some time), or his actual policies which have shown him to be complicit in these horrible disasters? Those critics seem determined not to mention that, since "day-one," Trump and his administration have been busy reversing steps taken under President Obama to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, whether they come from power plants, the planes we fly, or the cars, trucks, quads, speedboats, lawnmowers or snowmobiles we drive.
All of these emissions (but especially those from coal), are trapping the sun's rays, dangerously over-heating our planet, creating conditions favourable to all kinds of extreme events, droughts and wildfires among them. All the while, Trump has slashed regulations aimed at curbing the massive toxic pollution which coal creates, claiming he wants to get people back working again in this dirty and dangerous industry.
He has gutted his own Environmental Protection Agency by putting skunks like Scott Pruitt in charge. Trump, Pruitt and others have monumentally betrayed their civic duty, by crippling the very branch of government which is supposed to protect human, animal and plant life. Instead, they are greasing the wheels for more harmful oil and gas development in places like the once-pristine Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
Recently, Trump also rolled back federal rules aimed at reducing the escape of methane into the atmosphere. It's a greenhouse gas which is way more potent than the most common one, carbon dioxide. Methane, a prime component of natural gas, has been leaking into the air in alarming amounts from unknown numbers of "fracking sites,"where natural gas is often produced around the world.
And last, but not least, Trump has thumbed his nose at the rest of the world by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. Scores of countries have signed on, promising to keep "global heating" in some kind of check, so that planet Earth can continue to be a place where life forms like ours, can continue to exist and flourish.
So, exactly why are Trump's critics, who often appear more like impotent bunglers than responsible lawmakers, not holding his feet to the fire over things like this, far more than they are?
Sadly, I fear that they do not want to offend an uninformed, poorly-educated or, dare I say it, stupid public, who form much of Trump's base. As a result, this Polluter-in-Chief is given a pass for his misguided, reckless and even criminal behaviour. Polls show the majority of Americans still believe that the science around climate change is somehow not "settled"yet. It is! Reams of scientific wisdom, accumulated for at least a generation, prove this!
Trump (who thinks climate change is a hoax), along with "pseudo-scientists," hired by the oil industry, now seem to have actually captured the hearts and minds of a largely "unconscious" public. This is a nation where enlightened, proven truth is somehow largely missing from the homes, churches. schools and boardrooms of an otherwise advanced civilization.
Numbness to scientific fact is no stranger to Canada, either.
As I watch TV here at home in Manitoba, I see (as does everyone else) endless streams of ads from the car companies. Perhaps as many as ten each hour, carpet-bomb the viewer, day and night. Slick, beautiful cars and trucks, each better than the other, are available with rebates and low interest on each purchase. Children appear in some, lured with the promise of onboard "wi-fi," so they can watch their favourite movie while on yet another carefree trip with their families.
Yet there's never a whisper of advice warning either those children or anyone else, that these very cars and trucks, most powered by fossil fuels, are major contributors to air pollution. Transportation is a major source of global warming emissions. Pollutants from vehicle exhaust have long been linked to adverse impacts on nearly every organ in the body. (Source, US Union of Concerned Scientists.)
Neither does it seem to matter that Canada was a proud signatory to the Paris Accord a scant few years ago, pledging to keep emissions low enough so the planet does not incinerate. But in our so-called western democracy, vehicle-makers are allowed to engage in such disgraceful behaviour with impunity.
To give the Devil his due, at least in the 'States, the world's biggest oil company, Exxon, is being indicted for covering up decades-old evidence of the harm its product does to our planet. No such thing here. So the ads continue, unabated and unchallenged.
What role are people of faith playing here?
Anecdotes told by survivors of the California wildfires on TV news offer disturbing insights into what a lot of people actually think and believe. One couple told a remarkable tale of escaping the flames by sliding down a huge cliff to safety. The woman gave thanks to God for saving their lives.
A man, who was almost blind, thanked the Lord for guiding him as he managed, by following a police car, to drive through the flames to safety. This is a common refrain among people who never bother to explain where God was when, in this case, as they were being "saved," hundreds of others were burning to death!
In Canada, a pastor who writes a regular column in a rural newspaper, without mentioning climate change, confidently informed his readers a couple of years ago, that "God loves storm victims." He was referring to a series of super-hurricanes which whipped the southern U.S., sending countless God-fearing Texans into the streets, with floodwaters up to their armpits. When I challenged him as to how such terrible events could possibly be an act of God's love, he assured me, well, God didn't really make the storms happen. He just let them happen!
Now I understand completely.
After all, why should the faithful believe in science, when scripture, especially to Evangelicals on the religious right, promises them the rapture, the Second Coming and everlasting life? Or what purpose does it serve to cut back on fuel consumption when it is God who will have the last word anyway, including the option of either raining fire and brimstone down on his wicked flock (inflicting "Armageddon" or "end days"on all of them), or, indeed, saving us all by just refraining from doing so?
In such scenarios, I would argue that religion does nothing but stand in the way of practical, useful solutions - and helps ensure runaway climate change will culminate in a worst-case scenario - where places on Earth become "hothouses" - in which even the healthiest among us, will perish. In other words, it will prove to be, as Karl Marx famously stated, "the opiate of the masses."
This unwillingness or inability of people to grasp the reality of our climate crisis is, sadly, evident, not only south of the border but, in Canada, as well.
Evidence of this is everywhere. Vehicles, both big and small, regardless of the weather, are left mindlessly parked and running while their owners run errands. Excuses are either weak or non-sensical. A semi-driver told me he would have turned his rig off had he been away from it longer. As it was, he left it idling while he did some banking across the street. And he looked at me as if I was crazy when I told him "Mother Earth will thank you if you turn it off, next time!"
Some years ago, I asked a Greyhound bus driver if he ever thought of climate change when he left his vehicle running during prolonged stopovers (as he was doing in this case). He looked at me blankly and replied, "Oh, do you mean that guy in England?"
Each time I sit outside on my patio, I try to spot vehicles driving by with more than one occupant in each. Most everyone should know by now that, the more people each vehicle carries, the more fuel-efficient travel then becomes. Hence the wisdom behind the push for more public (bus, light rail and rapid) transit. Yet, to my dismay, the vast majority of vehicles I see, carry only one occupant - the driver.
This astonishingly low level of what I would call "eco-wisdom" is there to see pretty much everywhere I look.
It has been argued that we can't possibly tell the unvarnished truth to our children. It would simply upset them too much. Yet we seem alright (and rightly so), with teaching them as much as we can about the horrors of past wars as a cautionary tale, to ensure they "never happen again."