My View: Fires show need to be good stewards
As wildfires rage again this summer across the West, there has been little attention to the role climate has played in setting the conditions for yet another combustible fire season.
Policymakers and the media should make the connection — based on science — so that the public can be better informed regarding how policies advocated by the federal government, in particular, are setting the stage for wildfires to rain down death and destruction.
For people of faith around the world, the debate over climate change is over. Faith leaders — from the Vatican to the World Council of Churches and the world's leading Jewish and Muslim bodies — have all acknowledged the reality of climate change and humanity's role in fostering it.
The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes wrote in "Whose Gospel?" that: "We have interpreted the 'dominion' granted to humankind as giving us raw power to exploit and abuse the rest of creation, rather than as requiring mature responsibility of us to show respect and loving care for creation."
Oregonians were quick to condemn the teen found guilty of starting last year's massive Eagle Creek fire with illegal fireworks, and he certainly deserved punishment, but shouldn't the rest of us be held accountable in some way for not addressing the reality that the fire season has grown and become more explosive because of inaction on climate change?
Scientists agree that human behavior is affecting the climate, but will not hear the truth from officials in Donald Trump's administration. The president has withdrawn U.S. support for the Paris Accords (abandoning our nation's moral leadership position on this critical issue).
That's a stark contrast to 2011, when then-Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told Congress about the link between wildfires and climate change. "Throughout the country, we're seeing longer fire seasons, and we're seeing snowpacks that, on average, are disappearing a little earlier every spring as well as devastating droughts," he was quoted in The New York Times. "As a result, fire seasons have lengthened by more than 30 days, on average. Our scientists believe this is due to a change in climate."
A 2015 paper published "in the international journal Nature Communications, a team of researchers concluded that from 1979 to 2013, fire weather seasons have lengthened across 18.39 million square miles of Earth's vegetated surface, resulting in an 18.7 percent increase in the global average fire season length. The global burnable area affected by long fire seasons has doubled in that time, and from 1996 until 2013 there has been a 53.4 percent increase in the frequency of long fire seasons." The U.S. Forest Service's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory prepared that paper.
That same year, Pope Francis issued his encyclical "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home," in which he acknowledged the scientific truth that human activity is the primary factor behind climate change and noted: "Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded."
That same sense of concern for young people and belief that humans are called to be stewards of creation and not exploiters of it drives my own commitment to this issue. In my role at Pacific University, I worry about the future of young people entering adulthood at a time when the planet is in peril. As the father of two teenage children, I worry about what this planet will offer them and their children as the Trump administration takes action that will make climate change worse.
If we needed an example of the risks, it appeared earlier this summer when the camp our daughters were attending, Camp Silver Creek near Salem, was evacuated due to a fire. We rushed from Portland to pick them up at a ranger's station.
Every news story and public statement offered by officials regarding wildfires this year needs to make the scientific link clear that parts of our planet are burning because we have turned our back on our responsibilities to be good stewards and have as a nation embraced false truths over hard facts. Change will not occur without increased awareness of the consequences.
The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, lives in Northeast Portland. He is the