Thursday, August 29, 2013

Letting our forests burn to the ground, out of fear of the Bogeyman

(Image of the Yosemite / Rim Fire in California, August 23, 2013, from NASA's Terra satellite. The fire is even larger now. Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team.)

The "Rim Fire" in California has now burned over 300 square miles of forest & natural areas, and destroyed over 100 structures (see "Rim fire containment expected by Sept. 10"). The fire has "threatened water supplies, hydroelectric power and giant sequoias" and has caused areas of Nevada to issue alerts to stay indoors due to dangerous air quality (see "Yosemite fire haze sets off air quality warnings in Nevada"). 

During the New Deal, strong efforts were made towards fighting and, more importantly, preventing forest fires. In addition to directly fighting fires, formerly unemployed men, now working in the WPA & CCC, built thousands of miles of firebreaks, constructed access roads to remote areas, erected fire lookout towers, cleared out dry wood & vegetation, and more. A forester with the U.S. Forest Service, in 1942, noted: "Largely through the fire control improvements and facilities constructed by the CCC it has been possible for the state foresters in the southern region to provide fire control for millions of acres of privately owned timber lands that otherwise would have continued to suffer severe damage annually" (Roosevelt's Forest Army: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Perry H. Merrill, 1981).

("Here Comes the Bogeyman," a painting by Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)  

So, why don't we have a CCC today, to help fight these record-setting wildfires? Millions of young adults are looking for work. And why don't we have a WPA today? There are about 26 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one (see 

Well, one reason is that Senate Republicans, in September of 2012, blocked a bill that would have created a new CCC-type program for unemployed veterans. Another reason is that few members of Congress supported the late Senator Frank Lautenberg's legislation to create a new WPA (the bill died in committee, see here). But the overarching reason, I believe, is that we're so scared of Bogeyman Socialism, that we've simply become too afraid to help ourselves. We'd rather allow massive damage to our environment, and the complete financial destruction of our unemployed fellow citizens, than work together to solve problems through government programs like a new CCC & WPA, because, you know, that would be "godless communism." Even with our existing fire prevention and firefighting programs, like the U.S. Forest Service, we've cut their budgets, and thereby made them less effective to handle evermore damaging wildfire seasons.

The Socialism Bogeyman, that evil spectre who is out to take our guns, deprive us of freedom, and devour our children, is actually doing a great job of frightening us into passivity and helplessness. So, as we're quivering under our beds at night, waiting for the Bogeyman to come get us, hundreds of square miles of our forests burn.

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