SEATTLE — If you are at all claustrophobic, seeing nothing but white smoke from the windows is unsettling. If you go outside, even a precious N95 mask unearthed from a dusty pile of paint cans and brushes is insufficient. Your lungs hurt. Your eyes burn.

Worse, just a few miles away, is the unending destruction. Houses evaporated, leaving asymmetrical piles of ash. Hulks of cars not yet paid off beyond salvage. The forlorn, black hulk of a child’s tricycle, seat gone, overturned on its side. The sounds of inconsolable sobbing from parents who shudder at what comes next. The horror as realization dawns that some neighbors did not make it.

Just weeks ago there was a kind of weird jubilation that even amid the heartbreak of the pandemic, the air seemed cleaner, the rivers more sparkling. Climate change couldn’t be that bad if a few weeks of shutdown showed such promise for the environment.

That hope, like trees and homes in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington, has vanished. Climate change is manmade evil.

Flooding in the East Coast. Powerful hurricanes, far more dangerous than a few years ago, hurling at us so fast we are running out of names for them. Dozens of uncontained fires incinerating whole towns. Elsewhere, drought destroying more farmers’ desperate plans for survival.

When Donald Trump smirked at the California scientists earnestly warning of the peril of climate change and said that “it will get cooler,” it was a taunt that showed he does not even understand what he is mocking. Global warming is real and is making the Earth hotter and we haven’t even figured out all the ramifications.

But climate change, the better term, is much more frightening. It is making climate far more extreme. Snow storms measured in feet, not inches. Drought that consumes crops for miles, year after year. Slower, wetter storms that ravage the coastlines week after week, not just once a century. Endlessly, all over the world.

We are bit players in a movie we’ve seen a hundred times. The monster is outside the door. Nobody in charge will pay attention. The scientists trying to warn that apocalypse is happening are fired, ridiculed, silenced. People die.

We are in a movie on a loop. Today it’s environmental destruction. But all year long it has been death and denial, over and over and over.

A president assures us over and over and over that the virus will just disappear, like magic, knowing all the while it is a killer leaving not just death but maimed bodies as it moves from campus to nursing home to elementary classroom. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control are muzzled by a ranting person put in charge of deciding what information is released and, mostly, what is not.

A climate change denier is now in charge of a vital post in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The United States abandons its leadership roles around the world and dismisses hard-fought efforts at saving the planet as hoaxes.

Scientific American, the 175-year-old magazine, is so appalled by science denial at the highest levels it endorsed Joe Biden for president, its only political endorsement since 1845.

The president openly holds super-spreaders, the nation’s only large rallies with thousands of yelling, fired-up supporters without masks or social distancing, as he puts all the resources of the federal government behind his reelection effort. He goes endlessly to court, seeking new ways to prevent people from voting in areas where they might vote against him. He goes to court to try to keep people from getting health care.

Immigrants, including those here legally, widely face discrimination. A doctor is accused of stealing the uteruses of detained immigrant women, bringing to mind Nazism’s worst atrocities. Children remain separated from their parents for years. Know-Nothingism rules again.

From coast to coast, Americans are singing the same refrain: Life as we know it seems to be coming to an end, and we know that what comes next may be more devastating and painful than we could have imagined.

Trump has disregarded science at our peril. Repeatedly. Repeatedly, science warned us, and science is proving far more correct than the man behind the caustic, impenetrable white smoke.

— Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.

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(2) comments

John Green

Amazing how global warming only burns forests on the west coast of the United States, nowhere else.

Since she is such an expert on man creating global warming, she must know how to make the entire planet a constant 72 degrees for eternity with no storms ever.

Michael Clark

Ann, you may want to study the science of forest management. Let's just accept that humans have caused the surface temperature of the Earth to go up less than one degree centigrade over the past century. That has about as much to do with the size and severity of this season's forest fires as the temperature on the Moon does.

Before man existed lighting strikes started wildfires that burned brush and other easily ignited fuels on forest floors unimpeded. The vast majority of the time the fuel on the forest floor burned out long before the fire could climb the trees and set the forest's crown ablaze. Thes fires burned in years with above average rain. They burned in years with below average rain. They burned in years in places where it had not rained for decades. Believe it or not, droughts happened before man came along, to! But since underbrush was allowed to burn periodically as lightning started fires the amount of fuel needed to cause a catastrophic fire that would wipe out an entire forest was a once per millennium type of event.

Then along came humans and insisted on building homes and even entire towns inside forests without any fire breaks to protect them. Every time lightning starts a fire we rush to put it out immediately before it causes any property loss. The problem is that in saving human property we also preserve all of that fuel on the forest floor until it builds up to the point that there is enough dry brush and dead limbs that when lightning eventually does strikes, and sooner or later lightning will strike, it will burn long enough and hot enough to set the crowns of the large trees on fire. So instead of having a series of minor fires that clean the floors of small areas of forests every decade or so we delay what was once a natural process until a lightning strike causes a major catastrophe that, before humans arrived, rarely happened on so massive a scale.

Yet the same folks who want to point fingers and blame the forest fires that are now raging out of control on a politician who has been in power for less than four years refuse to acknowledge their own political camp has opposed proper forest management for the last century or more. By opposing policies that would allow small fires to burn off the fuel that, when allowed to build up over decades, is the major contributor of the catastrophic fires we are now seeing those people have contributed far more to the current crisis than those at whom they point their fingers and claim that the mere act of denying climate change over the past three and one half years is somehow to blame for the predicament out west. These are the same folks who refuse to allow common sense fire breaks to be created to prevent these catastrophic fires from spreading over hundreds of thousands or even millions of acres.

It's not exactly rocket science, much less climate science. All one needs to do is go look at any of the sovereign native American reservations in the Southwest. They are allowed to do their own forest management without interference from external groups who have not a clue how to properly manage forests. They do prescribed burns on a cyclical basis to keep scrub brush at a manageable level. They build fire breaks that prevent catastrophic fires that do occasionally ignite in periods of extreme drought so that the damage is contained to limited areas. They are roundly criticized for their successful forest management by folks who live in concrete jungles and claim to support "the environmental."

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