A cigarette is what, three inches long?
A burning tree is anywhere from 100 to 250 feet tall
How many cigarettes in a burning tree?
No one knows.
Not the American Cancer Society.
Not the American Lung Association.
Not the Centers for Disease Control.
Not even the U.S. Forest Service, which will soon be sending young men and women into harm’s way to fight the country’s godawful forest fires.
In fact, none of these organizations has anything to say about the risks of cancer-causing chemicals found in the wildfire smoke that will be invading young lungs during the 2018 fire season.
So far as I know, we here at Evergreen are the only ones thus far willing to pin the bell on this cat. We hope to change that this year.
The American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association both have lots to say about cigarettes and air pollution. And they should. It’s their job.
Shouldn’t they also be waving red flags about wildfire smoke?
They don’t seem to think so.
I’ll give my friends at the Forest Service a pass on this one. They are funding research aimed at identifying the long list of deadly chemicals found in wildfire smoke. Google “smoke from wildland fires” and you’ll be led to scads of studies dealing with wildfire smoke and how wildland firefighters are prepared for risking their lives and health on fire lines.
Now that Congress and most of the West’s state legislatures are back in session, all sorts of ideas for combating “climate change” are being run up flagpoles. Climate change is pretty much the default position for gas bags who are “concerned” about air polluted by wildfire smoke.
The state legislatures in Oregon and Washington are pretty sure that raising energy taxes will improve air quality. No mention of economic impacts or – inexplicably – the health and economic losses associated with enduring months of wildfire smoke.
Most legislators in these states seem determined to whistle past the wildfire graveyard. Why? Don’t they breathe the same air we breathe?
Meanwhile, California Assemblyman, Tim Grayson, a Bay Area Democrat, has introduced legislation that would make it harder for litigators to stop the construction of roads and transit projects that have already passed muster with state climate regulators.
We sympathize with Mr. Grayson’s frustration with slow moving or derailed transit projects. Serial litigators are destroying our National Forests – to say nothing of our rural timber economies – faster than we can grow new ones.
Litigators don’t need to prove environmental harm. Simply showing that confusing regulations have not been followed – a crap shoot at best – is sufficient. Just ask the leadership in any federal resource management agency. I doubt Assemblyman Grayson knows this. Likewise, urban legislators anywhere in our nation.
California has long been a political petri dish, much to the dread of voters in “flyover” country – the vast expanse that lies between the nation’s coastlines. What great public inconvenience will finally force legislators in California – and Oregon and Washington – to get serious about the health and environmental risks posed by these enormous wildfires?
Tom Bonnicksen’s analysis of one 1990s California wildfire included an estimate that every car in California needed to be garaged for an entire year to mitigate the fire’s emissions. No one blinked. The PhD forest ecologist’s report landed with a dead-cat bounce on the state legislature’s front porch in Sacramento.
When will well-choreographed, fake concern for public health, safety and welfare be replaced by legislation that reflects genuine concern for people and the environment?
“You’re lucky,” a dying and disgusted forester friend told me 15 years ago. “I won’t live long enough to see blood in the streets, but you will.”
I hope he was wrong about the blood part.
Here’s an idea ripe for California’s petri dish: The federal government can’t be sued without its permission. But Congress already cleared the way for such suits when it ratified the Equal Access to Justice Act. Serial litigators routinely use its provisions to help stymie Forest Service plans for reducing the risk of wildfire in National Forests.
It’s time for state legislators to test the veracity of the Act by suing the federal government for sponsoring and paying for litigation that is poisoning our air, water and citizens.
States could lose this lawsuit, but if they do there will be a citizen uprising unlike any in our country’s long history. To save themselves, members of Congress who routinely cast their free environmental votes will join well-informed rural delegations that have been trying for years to fix this damned mess.
To help set the stage. we’re going to find someone who can help us figure out how many cigarettes it takes to equal the cancer-causing chemical release from a single 100-foot-tall burning tree.