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Lolo Peak fire tour

Jeannette Dreadfulwater, center, a public information officer at the fire camp for the Lolo Peak fire, gives a tour of the camp to, from left, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue; Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke; and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.

As western Montana and many other parts of the West burn in a desiccating season that is one major wind event away from a repeat of the 1910 Great Burn, that smell in the air from forests cremated into micro soot is the stink of human-caused climate change denial.

When U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke — Montanans, Republicans and climate change deniers one and all — recently, and cynically, used the nearby Lolo Peak fire as a photo opportunity to blame environmentalists and their lawsuits for the fires, I thought, O Lord, where’s a load of slurry when you need one?

If they could blame environmentalists for super hurricanes Harvey and Irma and what other horrors the Atlantic storm season will bring, surely they would.

Don’t you know? The 270,000-acre fire in eastern Montana this summer was because environmentalists wouldn’t let the feds cut more grass.

The Great Burn of 1910 — little environmentalism but lots of logging. What mattered was nature — prolonged heat and drought followed by a cold front with extreme winds that whipped widespread fires into a wall of flame. Climate change makes the first two conditions much more prevalent, as we are seeing this year. Climate change makes super hurricanes much more prevalent, with unusually warm water in the seas feeding the storms.

In Montana, 1 million acres burned. 1,700 fires. Unhealthy to hazardous smoke choking the valleys in which we live. A total cost well over $220 million and counting. What is the cost to tourism? To the health of our lungs?

And this is just Montana, as nine Western states battle drought and fires.

2014, 2015, 2016. Each year a new record for global surface temperatures, with 2017 on track to be at least the second-hottest. A steady rise in temperature, decade after decade since the 1970s, matching the steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, released by humans, now over 400 ppm.

But you won’t hear a peep of concern from our Republican representatives and the Republican president of the United States, who cheeps climate change is a Chinese hoax. Whether glib or plain stupid, what they are saying by their inaction is that they don’t take the lives of Montanans, the lives of Americans and lives across the globe seriously. What matters to them is money, business as usual and votes, and who can blame the near half of America that denies climate change and casts their votes accordingly, when they are misled by politicians who don’t care about science, or pretend they don’t.

By not taking what climate scientists have been telling us for decades seriously, by not educating themselves on the science of climate change, our politicians are not taking our lives seriously, nor our children’s lives, nor the lives of generations to come. And they mislead their electorate into voting for carriers of the staff of ignorance.

Here’s a place to start educating: coal. The stupidest use of coal is to dig up all that carbon reserve stripped from the atmosphere, burn it and release that carbon back into our atmosphere to warm the Earth. And then cynically defend "business as usual" by denying climate change exists and merely crying “Jobs!” The unremitting pumping of carbon into our atmosphere "leads" us towards a global future of unnecessary suffering, conflict and death.

Climate change will educate us that the 2010s are a mere prelude to the devastation to come.

Zinke, Daines, Gianforte: you and so many others fiddle away while the world burns.

Ron Scholl has a master of science degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana and lives in Missoula. 

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