IN THIS YEAR OF CATASTROPHIC WILDFIRE and hurricane damage, with too many communities fire- and storm-damaged beyond recognition, we also find ourselves floundering amid equally erratic political extremes where some are divorcing themselves from the guidance of science. To state this more directly: some are trying to expunge the accepted and cautionary science of climate change.
These denialists may be crass opportunists whose naysaying aims for political and economic gain. To me, though, some of this rings of an earthier flaw: pigheadedness — a traditional set of traits, “stubbornly obstinate,” that my grandmother, a child of Kentucky pioneer stock, taught me the wisdom of avoiding. When I fell into such narrowness she’d admonish: “God gave you a brain, son, so use it.” And now, as a colleague of managers and scientists of wildfire, I might channel my dear Grandma and warn us all against accepting such blindness. Because wildfires are burning more freqeuntly, erratically, larger and faster in part due to climate change. And any of us who are responsible for wild and prescribed fires — for fireline personnel, communities at risk, and fire-adapted and impacted landscapes, — simply cannot allow a political wind to overwhelm our engagement with the very real and hazardous fire winds we now live with.
Wildfires respond to climate; climate is changing; so it’s our job and obligation to respond to a changing climate. To stubbornly ignore climate change adds fuel to our wildfire concerns. Yet perhaps in reaction to denialism, I begin this issue’s Briefing in a struggle against a related sort of personal flaw — a rant. While a briefing should offer a clear and concerned voice, one might argue that safety at this point calls for some sort of rant, if only to let out a scream, since in these past months we’ve been torn between two news streams — one focused on weather-induced catastrophes with undeniable climate-change links, and the other stream a knee-jerk anti-climate-change distraction.
This is what sparked my rant — reacting like a child told no for no good reason by his parents. For instance, in the US federal service, some have apparently suggested that the phrase “climate change” be expunged (and it’s rapidly disappeaering from federsl webpages, like snowmelt). And according to an initial report from The Nation, the draft 2018-2022 vision for the US Department of Interior (http://bit.ly/2iixyZz) may eliminate the phrase entirely.
So I simply have to say it. Climate change. And again, as if ths pigheadedness is forcing me to return to tanrums, the ultimate childhood defense — climate change climate change climate change climate change climate change climate change climate change.
If you say it enough and fast — climate change climate change climate change climate …you might accidentally stop with the phrase reversed. The accepted science of climate change transitions into a call to action: change climate.
Whether your agency or your neighbors accept climate change or not, I think any of us can choose this reversed phrase. As we face weather extremes and fire catastrophes, we can opt to change our climate — we can change our personal and professional and community climate first, and then the changing of our global climate may follow. As fire managers, we can (and do) manage wildland fire and fuels in ways that improve habitats, and when we join our fiery talents with our best science, we can manage our landscape with fire and sequester carbon in leaves, stems, trunks, boles, roots and soil.
And with this very same science informing our best practices we can learn to better manage the wildfires (magnified by climate change) that burn entire communities, kill people, and impact landscapes beyond their current resiliency. Beyond our physical work, our professional commitment to leadership during stressful conditions is widely honored and emulated. Who better than fire managers and scientists to share our observations that that the stressors are increasing
We are effective leaders, and we have tools to manage within a politicized climate. For example, that same draft DOI strategic plan, when it drops down into the details for the department’s Office of Wildland Fire, is wise enough to include “science-based” guidance, a focus on firefighter and community safety, and support for the concepts of fire ecology and our cohesive strategy — all of which build on and reflect the familiar, accepted and essential practices that we apply in our everyday work.
PERHAPS THIS IS WHY I EDGE TOWARD A RANT — we are so very good at “making order out of chaos” that I’m angered when some add chaos for the sake of chaos.
In honor of our profession’s search for order, I note that in this particular issue you’ll read some about climate change per se, as a local and global risk, but more about our on-the-ground strategies for changing our climate — personally and professionally.
This may be our strongest professional value — that we can find solutions, regardless of the noise around us. While each article and image here (in this October 2017 issue) deserves a more complete reflection than I offer in this condensed version, it seems noteworthy in this challenging year how each contributor offers a takeaway solution, including:
- Invest in science (President’s Column), and lead during crises with core leadership strategies (Thoughts on Leadership)
- Engage with colleagues to propel our skills and knowledge in fire management and science (IAWF News, IJWF science, and the UK Conference Preview)
- Remember, we’ve been fighting for science and engaged strategies for decades (25 Years of Wildfire Magazine)
- Incorporate our genders and diversity, and our personal history and values, and the tools of firelighting (report and essay on Women’s Training Exchange).
- Focus on and support the work we’re doing as a profession, globally (and locally) to face the “wicked problems,” as demonstrated in our “Report from Indonesia.”
- Plus, consider the many tools and strategies shared by our advertisers, from hand and water tools to sky-tools and tools that are key for strategic planning and learning.
As this is an issue that refers more than once to friends and family (note particularly our essayist Johnny Stowe), I feel emboldened to return to my grandmother’s lessons. Who, I must admit, fell prey in her later years to the traits of dogmatism and pigheadedness she’d warned me against … yet regardless of her biases, I feel she would accept my explanation for why I act on science; she’d accept what I’ve learned about how we’ve been adding a pollutant to our skies, and that this pollution is building a blanket of gases that traps heat and harms our rare and amazing Earth.
I trust she’d accept my science because she understood, when I first explained some of my professional choices, that I became a firefighter and firelighter because she and her generation taught me to value our gardens and communities, and our Earth. And as I have some expertise in actual firebrands, I think she’d agree with me: we must move beyond the political firebrands who deny we’ve changed our climate. And I think she would’ve agreed with me — that we must move quickly and decisively (as any fireline leader will) to fix our mistakes.
Whatever the fire or climate issue, it is heartening to know, when reading this issue of Wildfire, that we can lead toward solutions in part because of those who appear in these print and online pages. Because we are a community of professionals, because we are experts in working together to manage our wildfire issues, I sense we can also lead and work together to change our climates, to turn down the political heat so we may seek focused and stable fire funding and climate change strategies. And so we may work to resolve the larger issues, in wildland fire and beyond, that our communities and our warming Earth so desperately need us to manage.