Wednesday, March 28

Wednesday Propaganda: Raging Climate Change

I've said it before, and I'll say it again for the record: I'm sort of a climate change agnostic. I don't deny something wonky is going on with our climate. I won't deny that humanity is pumping huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and ecosystems of the planet to great effect, and I don't believe God will save us from our own stupidity. Stopping just short of complete omnicide, we humans have the capability for massive amounts of destruction to ourselves and to the earth.

BUT...having said all that (while risking the complete confusion of people at the extremes of our political sliding scale) I don't think focusing on climate change is as productive as tackling other issues. Why does no one talk about pollution anymore? Why aren't we talking seriously about resource depletion? We have still have a hundred year supply of oil! Hooray. What will our grandchildren do to fuel their 2112 Corvettes? Oh, I forgot. Science fiction will take care of those problems. So we should buy more sci-fi novels so the sci-fi industry can create jobs? Something like that...

This month is going down in the record books as the driest March in modern Colorado history. Dry periods led to mass migrations in the past. Whole cultures vanished because of drier years in an arid climate. But modern man, no, we're pretty darn stubborn, and we ain't gonna budge no matter how dry it gets! Right?

The Lower North Fork Fire has burned over 4,500 acres. 28 homes have been lost so far. Two people are dead and one is still missing. 900 homes have been evacuated.

For comparison, the most expensive wildfire in Colorado history was the 2010 Fourmile Canyon Fire near Boulder. It burned 6,181 acres and 169 homes were destroyed over 11 days. Fourmile occurred in early September of that year after a dry summer. We're still in March and facing a fire that could potentially exceed the magnitude of the most expensive fire in state history. The major difference is that the Fourmile Canyon area is/was much more densely populated than the area where the Lower North Fork Fire is burning now.

Day three of the Fourmile fire there was 0% containment. We're into day three of the Lower North Fork Fire and have 0% containment. In a parallel timeline, Fourmile will be 40% contained tomorrow and 56% contained on Friday. We'll see what happens with Lower North Fork.

Let's return to the driest March on record for a moment. It is, after all, our current reality. I've been in Colorado four years. I found good comparative data for the first three years, and then a figure for Golden for last year, and the local news station's report of 0.03 in Denver for this year. Not perfectly comparable, but close enough for argument's sake.

The breakdown looks like this:

March 2012
0.03 inches in Denver
March 2011
0.24 inches measured in Golden
March 2010
3 - 4 inches in the plains
5 - 6 inches in the foothills
March 2009
1 - 2 inches in the plains
0.5 - 1 inches in the foothills
March 2008
0 - 1.5 inches in the plains
1.5 – 3 inches in the foothills

Typically the worst fires are in the foothills of the Front Range. Fourmile, Buffalo Creek, Hayman and now Lower North Fork were/are all located in relative close proximity to the metro area and below the sub-alpine zones of the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. Fourmile was the most heavily populated and Hayman the least. Hayman was historically the largest area burned in the state and Fourmile was the most expensive with the most homes lost (to date).

And what about severe tornadoes in January, February and March of this year? If the climate's not changing, then I am failing to accurately remember my childhood. I seem to remember big snows (even in Kentucky) in the winter and tornadoes in the summer-ish season. I can remember clearly back thirty years.

So what does all this mean? Why am I rambling on about it on a cycling blog? Well, warming and drying trends are dangerous for a sprawling metro area in an arid region. Denver (and most other Front Range communities) pumps water from the west side of the Continental Divide as well gathering it from all available sources on the east side. Western water law is more convoluted than anything Congress can knot up these days.

If we don't reduce our impacts on the environment, if we don't cut back on the rate at which we're taking black stuff out of the ground and shooting it into the air, if we don't begin to live more in harmony with our environment the consequences are going to begin snowballing and approaching a critical mass.

We're staring down the gunbarrel of reality, and for the most part we don't even realize it.

I know a lot of people think its an imposition on their freedom to cut back. I mean, shouldn't we be free to drive as much as we want? But the best way to look at that is if we squander the resources and use more than our "fair share" then what about the "freedom" we'd be taking away from our children and grandchildren? And truly, the only way to know what our "fair share" is would be to go back and calculate "fair shares" after the resources are gone. Whoops! The generations that came of age between 1980 and 2020 used wa-ay too much! By then it's too late.

Go ride your bike.

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