The law may describe acts of natural disaster beyond human control as “acts of God,” but that isn’t stopping finger pointing from the right and left for wildfires whipping across Southern California fanned by Santa Ana winds.
The CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday reported on “a new age of mega-fires–forest infernos 10 times bigger than the fires we’re used to seeing” that scientists believe result from global warming.
On the other side, conservatives blamed environmental groups like the Sierra Club whose forced changes to cut down on logging of old forests allowed unabated growth to underbrush that becomes a tinderbox during a prolonged drought.
USA Today reported Tuesday afternoon that more than 500,000 people have been forced from their homes by out-of-control fires raging for a third day. Flames had destroyed more than 1,300 homes and businesses and burned over a third of a million acres. At least two people had died and 45 were injured, including 16 firefighters from the 7,000 who are battling the blaze.
The disaster became not only fodder for the latest arguments over the impact of global warming on weather patterns, but also reopened old debates about the influence of environmental groups on the state’s forest-management policies.
Science magazine carried a research article in August 2006 that concluded changing climate is a greater influence than forest management on the frequency and intensity of wildfires.
A fact sheet by the Union of Concerned Scientists said if the average statewide temperatures continue to rise, the risk of large wildfires in California is expected to increase about 20 percent by 2050 and 50 percent by the end of the century.
But a columnist for Alan Keyes’ Renew America Web site said it isn’t global warming that is behind the current mega-fires in western forests, but rather the “success” of the Sierra Club and other “city-slicker environmentalists” who forced changing of logging and brush control that led to a buildup of fuel.
“Those who know the forests have been warning for years these kinds of fires would happen,” wrote Mary Mostert, a political writer who lived on the edge of a forest in northern California from 1975 to 1999.
“It was just about 100 years ago that America began to try to protect the national forests by quickly putting out any fire,” she wrote. “About 30 years ago, the environmentalists began their determined and largely successful effort to halt logging in our forests.”
“So, what has happened in those largely conifer Western forests in the meantime?” she asked. “They have been largely overrun by brush that creates the kind of mammoth fires we are now witnessing in the West. Fire is nature’s way of keeping conifer forests healthy, as even the Sierra Club is now belatedly beginning to comprehend. Without the small regular fires that we have been putting out in our forests for the last 100 years, what we now have are forests overrun by brush that not only strangles the conifers but also changes the ecology of the conifer forests.”
Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh said the Sierra Club “creates tinderboxes out of forests.”
“Of course, this is a built-in recipe for the wackos to blame global warming for all of this when these are common,” Limbaugh said. “Fires are common ¦. The Sierra Club will not let you get in there–none of the environmentalists will–and get rid of the dead junk that is at the bottom of these forests that is just like kindling wood.”
Limbaugh mimicked liberals who say “we must maintain the earth” and “this is nature.”
“They just continue to miss the point,” he said. “We are human beings. We have dominion. We manage our lives. In order to thrive, we have to alter our environment, and, if altering the environment means clearing out some dead brush to make fire less of a gigantic possibility than it already is, then we have a responsibility to do that.
“But this is all rooted in the mistaken belief of the environmentalist wackos that human beings are only intruders here, and that we are predators, and that we’re destroying the planet.”
Limbaugh called it “propaganda” designed to frighten as many people as possible and a “hoax to make you feel as guilty as possible because you’re responsible.”
“Those of you who are about to lose your homes or have lost your homes in fires in Southern California, and Idaho, you are punishing the planet,” he said. “Mother Earth is just getting even with you because Mother Earth doesn’t want homes where you put them, and when a hurricane comes along and destroys your home on the beach, it’s Mother Earth getting even with you because Mother Earth doesn’t want homes on her beaches.”
“It’s designed to make you feel guilty because you’re causing this,” Limbaugh said, “and when some dingleberry comes along with the idea that you need to roll back your lifestyle and have your taxes raised, you’re supposed to–in order to absolve yourself of this guilt and sin–go right along with it. It’s about bigger government controlling your life, and that’s what global warming actually is all about.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Limbaugh’s remarks are theologically unsound.
“Rather than listen to scientists about global warming and the theologians about environmental responsibility, Rush Limbaugh fuels a destructive ethic that is hostile to Christianity,” Parham said.
“Limbaugh’s hateful comments about the awful California fires exhibit the sin of anthropocentrism. He wrongly thinks that only human beings matter, that only this generation matters and within this generation only he matters. That’s an ethic of selfish pride, an ethic that characterizes his personal life and political ideology.”
“As an environmentalist,” Parham said, “I take my ethic from the biblical witness, which is abundantly clear that human beings are the crowning glory of God’s creation, but not the only jewel in the crown. Creation has value in and of itself apart from any value we assign it. It has value because God has assigned it value. We honor the Creator when we obediently guard the creation. We dishonor the Creator when we pursuit with pride and selfishness our greed. The Christian ethic of love for neighbor means we act to keep others from being harmed today by environmental misuse and we take initiatives to protect future generations from the possibility of suffering from our environmental misdeeds.
“Instead of using his gifts to advance the common good, Rush consistently plays the blame game with personal tragedies, misstates positions and rallies an attitude contrary to the Christian faith.”
“Global warming is real,” Parham said. “The Christian community has a moral obligation to address it, if we’re going to be faithful to the Bible’s pro-environment mandate.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.