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Wildfires have torn across the western coast of the U.S., devastating communities, destroying entire neighborhoods, burning millions of acres and claiming dozens of lives. It is an undisputed crisis, and there can be little doubt that climate change has helped fuel it.
Unfortunately, President Donald Trump continues to throw cold water on scientific evidence and expertise. In a back and forth on Monday with California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot, Trump asserted that “it will start getting cooler” as California endures record heat. Crowfoot, a member of Democatic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration, said he wished science agreed with the president.
“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said in response.
Well, scientists do know, actually, that climate change is intensifying wildfires on the west coast.
“To cut to the chase: Were the heat wave and the lightning strikes and the dryness of the vegetation affected by global warming? Absolutely yes,” David Romps, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, told the MIT Technology Review in August. “Were they made significantly hotter, more numerous, and drier because of global warming? Yes, likely yes, and yes.”
Despite this, Trump continues to cling to a faulty, overly simplistic argument that forest management is the primary culprit here — a deflection of blame that University of Colorado fire scientist Jennifer Balch called “infuriating.”
Forest management is part of the equation, but it cannot be used to sidestep the realities of climate change.
“It’s often hard to know what Trump means,” Balch told the Associated Press. “If by forest management he means clear-cutting, that’s absolutely the wrong solution to this problem. … There’s no way we’re going to log our way out of this fire problem.”
Make no mistake, this is part of a larger, and dangerous, framing of climate science (and other scientific research) from Trump that devalues expertise and the evidence in front of us. He has called climate change a “hoax” and tried to further the false notion that there is disagreement among the scientific community when it comes to climate change.
But for clarity on the level of consensus among scientists about the reality and cause of climate change, people need look no further than experts from within the federal government that Trump leads.
Here’s what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has to say on the subject: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Mainers can see and understand the impacts of climate change here and now in our atmosphere, as the haze from the west coast fires has traveled across the country. The current haze here in Maine is too high up to impact air quality, according to the National Weather Service, though part of the state did see its air quality forecasts downgraded during a similar event last year. This is yet another reminder that as “America’s tailpipe,” Maine can be the recipient of pollutants from outside the state.
Maine has also seen the number of wildfires here in the state soar in 2020, with the Maine Forest Service saying as of late July that rangers had responded to nearly 800 fires — a 170 percent increase from 2019 and the most in 10 years. And for the first time in 18 years, the entire state of Maine is in a drought.
Wildfires in particular are very visible impacts of climate change that we can see in real time. Another less visible but still concerning impact is the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine.
As part of an ongoing climate conversations series, the Bangor Daily News will be convening a free online event open to the public on Thursday, Sept. 17 to discuss how the warming gulf impact’s Maine’s marine economy. Joining the conversation will be University of Maine fisheries science professor Yong Chen, research scientist Kathy Mills from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Mook Sea Farm founder Bill Mook, and University of Maine marine sciences professor Rick Wahle.
Whether it’s better understanding the obvious or less visible results and implications of climate change, Americans should place value on the expertise and knowledge of scientists and stakeholders on the ground. We hope BDN readers will join this conversation Thursday.
The west coast fires may seem far from us, but it is increasingly clear that climate change is impacting Maine in numerous ways. Understanding these impacts — and ways to both mitigate and adapt to them — will be essential as our climate continues to change.