Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Climate Change Is Totally Ruining Your 4th of July

Posted By on Tue, Jul 3, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Unless God, Allah, Yahweh and/or Xenu hate fireworks (and, by extension, America), what are we to make of Metro Nashville Police's zero-tolerance policy regarding illegal (read: personal) fireworks?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 29, 2012

Due to the extreme heat and dry weather conditions, the Nashville Police and Fire Departments are enacting a zero tolerance policy regarding the use of illegal fireworks in Davidson County.

There is an especially high risk that fireworks could ignite grass and brush fires that could quickly engulf residential areas and endanger lives.

The Metro Nashville Police Department is reminding Nashvillians that it is illegal to sell at retail or use fireworks in Davidson County, with the exception of properly permitted public displays. Fireworks violations observed by police officers will result in the issuance of misdemeanor citations and/or the confiscation of fireworks.

Is this typical big governmentism, telling you, a citizen, when you can and cannot be irresponsible with consumer explosives? Could it be false alarmism, symbolic of the effete culture wrought upon us by death panels and political correctness? Or could it be ... science? (Assuming you still believe in it.)

If you didn't spend last Friday in a humidity-induced coma, chances are you can recall that the temperature of 109°F (roughly 113°F if you include humidity) was recorded as the hottest day in Nashville's history — or, more specifically, since 1871, the first year some egghead decided to write the numbers down with a fountain pen.

In a way, the drier-than-normal conditions created in Middle Tennessee by record temperatures — and the resultant multi-city ban on fireworks across the state — is less an act of divine origin and more of a logical, regional analogue to the havoc wrought by the wildfires raging through the nation's Western states. Whether you want to hear it or not, whether you believe it or not, whether you love America or not, the missing link between the Colorado fires, Tennessee's prohibition on combustible fun, and other seemingly unnatural phenomena, is climate change.

The fine folks at Media Matters have compiled a lengthy analysis on the lack of contextual coverage of the wildfires via mainstream media outlets over the last three months, and, wouldn't you know it, not even 5 percent of stories made the obvious connection between the fires and climate science.

"The major television and print outlets largely ignored climate change in their coverage of wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and other Western states," the analysis reads. "All together, only 3 percent of the reports mentioned climate change, including 1.6 percent of television segments and 6 percent of text articles."

Worse, a majority of fire experts (seven out of nine) wish journalists would include climate science into stories that otherwise do not. As Dr. Max Moritz, a fire ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Media Matters:

In my view, journalists could be more careful about linking their coverage to science in general. This would include mentioning the possibility of fires being driven by anthropogenic climate change, what the uncertainties are, why it's important, etc. I also think it extends to other aspects of these fires... For example, how much of what we are seeing might also be due to people increasingly living in fire-prone ecosystems (ignition sources, home losses)... and which of these ecosystems are naturally adapted to infrequent high-intensity fires vs those that are not (and thus are more sensitive to fire suppression and subsequent fuel accumulation).

All of these are dots that need connecting for people to understand what is going on and why, and in a way that is less open to polarization. Without connecting the dots people are free to oversimplify and/or politicize the story, misunderstand and/or ignore the root causes of problems, and continue making the same mistakes. The media could play a very important role in helping the public learn to coexist with fire, similar to lessons associated with accommodating other natural hazards on the landscape.

Even the two scientists who didn't think journalists had a responsibility to connect the dots believed that, at the very least, climate change could easily be a factor in the increased aridity of the Western U.S.

Although this is an appeal to authority, well, so what? Most of us aren't climate scientists, and unless we subscribe to the dry-rotted political notion that anybody with an education (i.e., an elitist) isn't to be trusted, then let's quit going to the hospital lest we be subjected to the whims of elitists whom we would likely not want to have beers with. Let's entrust the practice of medicine to our peers! Sure, there's a small chance that, say, your neighbor Glenn knows how to conduct a triple-bypass surgery using just a pair of barbecue tongs and dental floss. But there's a bigger chance you wouldn't let him try, because Glenn didn't even make it through community college. In the absence of perfect knowledge, the best we can do is err on the side of caution. (Sorry, Glenn.)

It's no small irony that the group most vociferously opposed to climate science (conservatives) are also the most stereotypically patriotic. But what if it didn't have to be that way? Astroturfing and Big Business ties aside, wouldn't you love to live in a world where the Tea Party believed enough in science to fight for carbon emissions reductions because it was the patriotic thing to do? They'd easily outdo progressives at their own game, with far less smugness, and in the process turn the tide back enough so that, come July 4 each year, we can all do what it is our divine right to do: Risk injury and death at our own hands by mishandling gunpowder under the influence of drugs.

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