September 11th, 2017

While our attentions are focused on Harvey and Irma and Jose and… in the southeast, unnamed and impersonal fires are burning down the northwest and turning the moon red.

Naomi Klein, writing in In a Summer of Wildfires and Hurricanes, My Son Asks “Why Is Everything Going Wrong?” for The Intercept, explains:

At a playground in the haze, I meet a young mother who offers advice on how to reassure worried kids. She tells hers that forest fires are a positive part of the cycle of ecosystem renewal—the burning makes way for new growth, which feeds the bears and deer.

I nod, feeling like a failed mom. But I also know that she’s lying. It’s true that fire is a natural part of the life cycle, but the fires currently blotting out the sun in the Pacific Northwest are the opposite, they’re part of a planetary death spiral. Many are so hot and intransigent that they are leaving scorched earth behind. The rivers of bright red fire retardant being sprayed from planes are seeping into waterways, posing a threat to fish. And just as my son fears, animals are losing their forested homes.

The biggest danger, however, is the carbon being released as the forests burn. Three weeks after the smoke descended on the coast, we learn that the total annual greenhouse gas emissions for the province of British Columbia had tripled as a result of the fires, and it’s still going up.

This dramatic increase of emissions is part of what climate scientists mean when they warn about feedback loops: burning carbon leads to warmer temperatures and long periods without rain, which leads to more fires, which release more carbon into the atmosphere, which leads to even warmer and drier conditions, and even more fires.

I’ll be worm food long before the worst arrives and once the feedback loops feeding more and more carbon—long stored in trees and permafrost—fully take hold, we will have lost any opportunity at survival.

Frank Herbert’s 1965 magnum opus Dune was of a piece with Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring. Together they form the basis for much of what we think of as the environmental movement today. My own environmentalism has roots in those works. More than a half-century later (a nanosecond in Gaian time) we have made minor tweaks here and there, but we are staring over the edge of an ecological cliff and the bottom is shrouded in smoke and gloom.


  1. anon says:

    A couple countries are already due to stop selling gas powered cars by 2040. I think we have a good chance of making progress like we did with cFCs in the 90’s, but it will require vigilance.

  2. Jeff Hess says:


    You may be right, but the CFC lobby industry was nowhere’s near the size or might of the fossil fuel industry.

    We’re fighting a much bigger monster.


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