Wildfires reminder that climate change will harm West forever
One of us is a former politician, an Outward Bound instructor who became a senator. The other is a professional athlete, a snowboarder who climbed and rode mountains long before going to Capitol Hill to meet with policymakers on climate. There’s one place we both love to congregate: on snow-covered mountains, from the high peaks of the Himalaya to the craggy summits of the Rockies. It is in those rugged locales that we’ve seen the impacts of our changing climate first hand.
Right now, all we have to do is step into our smoke-covered backyards to see those effects. Wildfires are burning millions of acres around the West and entire states are shrouded in thick smoke. All of California’s National Forest land and dozens of state parks are currently closed to reduce fire risk. This week, national forest lands along Colorado’s Front Range closed because of wildfires in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests.
Wildfires in the Western U.S. have increased by 400% since 1970, a direct result of increased variability in our climate. This year’s burns are the worst we’ve seen. The fires are burning homes, displacing families, costing the government $1 billion a year to fight, and impacting the economies in communities affected by evacuations, devastation, and smoke.
Individual action will not be enough to remedy this situation—we need systemic change and we need it now. Voting for Joe Biden for president is our first step toward a more positive climate future. Biden will behave in a way that will make America proud and bring us together. He’s also the best presidential candidate we’ve ever had in the fight against climate change.
While scientists have repeatedly proven that the expansion of fossil fuels is a main contributor to our warming climate, President Donald Trump has continued a full-scale acceleration of oil, coal, and natural gas. Climate change should not be a partisan issue. We are all impacted by it. Yet thanks to fossil fuels, climate has become one of the most divisive issues on the campaign trail.
A quick reminder of Trump’s record while in the Oval Office: He made plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. He rolled back vehicle fuel efficiency standards. He eased regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and relaxed methane gas restrictions. He’s quelled critical information, like ordering the EPA to cease gathering data from oil and gas powerhouses.
Biden, on the other hand, trusts science and has acknowledged that climate change is our most existential threat. He knows that in order to move forward on a set of climate solutions, we need to have a national policy, which has to come out of Congress in a comprehensive, bipartisan approach.
On his first day in office, Biden will reestablish the U.S. in the Paris Agreement, preserve the Clean Air Act, restrict methane pollution for oil and gas companies, and demand that corporations publicly divulge greenhouse gas emissions. Biden has stood up for communities that have faced environmental justice concerns and he’s been an advocate for clean air and clean water. His goals for his first 100 days in office will be the most aggressive climate agenda of any American president we’ve seen.
Mountains are a place many of us go for inspiration. But the wilderness that is so important to the American ethos is at stake. The climactic changes we’re seeing out West—rampant wildfires, less snowfall, quicker runoffs, dwindling soil moistures—are affecting our quality of life and our economies. We need clean air, clean water, and snow for our communities to function. It’s where our food comes from; it’s what our livelihoods depend on. While the West burns, not all hope is lost. A bright future is ours if we can come together to vote for it.
Mark Udall was a United States Senator, serving Colorado from 2009 until 2015. Jeremy Jones is a California-based professional snowboarder and founder of the climate activist group Protect Our Winters.
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