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How We Can Wrench Independence from the Corporate State

This week we learned what “extreme” in climate changed extreme weather means for human loss -- so what are we doing about it?

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Large fires send a lot of toxic pollutants in the air. The previous year NASA reported that the “raging forest fires in central Russia, Siberia and western Canada have created an enormous cloud of pollutants covering the northern hemisphere.” Furthermore, many of us were concerned that the smoke from the Las Conchas Fire might contain nuclear material due to previous unregulated dumping of nuclear waste at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

But our main concern was—the entire southwest could have been nuked. There were some 20,000 55-gallon drums filled with plutonium-contaminated waste that sat on the surface underneath fabric tents in Area G at LANL. The fire was about 3.5 miles from Area G when I wrote the piece. Unsurprisingly the government lied: “Lab spokesman Steve Sandoval declined to confirm that there were any such drums now on the property,” the Associated Press reported on June 27. Three days later another lab spokesperson told the same AP writer that there were 10,000 drums stored on the property—belching out a half-truth. New Mexico and the neighboring states got saved from nuclear contamination not because of human ingenuity but Nature came to the rescue—wind started to blow in a north-south direction, away from Area G.

To understand the ecological impact of the fire, I sat down with New Mexico state land commissioner Ray Powell and his team of nearly a dozen staff that included many ecologists. I never wrote about what I learned from that meeting until now. They told me that the Las Conchas Fire was burning so hot and was moving so fast that the firefighters reported to them that they had “never seen a fire like this before.” The heat was so intense that it was burning all the way down to the roots of trees. The sub-surface desert dwellers—gophers, mice and reptiles—surely got burnt alive. And the speed of spread was astonishing—“averaging an acre of forest burned every 1.17 seconds for 14 straight hours.” To give you a linear perspective: say the acre is a square with four equal sides; then each side would be about 209 feet. No animal could ever move 209 feet in 1.17 seconds. I came to realize then what “extreme” means in extreme weather events.

Following year the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire that started in the Gila Wilderness burned 289,478 acres and became the largest fire in New Mexico history.

Last month the Black Forest Fire in Colorado  destroyed more than 500 homes and was called, "the most destructive fire in Colorado history." Then the came the news: nineteen firefighters died in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. The change of wind direction (that saved New Mexico in 2011) it seems might have been the cause that killed the Arizona firefighters. “The sole survivor of the blaze … warned his fellow firefighters … when he saw [from the lookout] the wildfire switch directions and head straight for them,” the Associated Press reported on July 3. As I write this, the Silver Fire in New Mexico has grown “to 137,326 acres with 59% containment” as of July 2.

So what are the Beltway politicians doing about climate change?

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On June 25 President Obama gave a much-anticipated climate change speech. The day before, in an email Bill McKibben wrote: “Well, some good news: five years in, we're starting to see at least the outlines of a strategy from President Obama to deal with climate change.”

Each time golden words arrive from Obama—supporters cheer, opponents sneer, apologists veer, while critics use spear—to expose his peace with terror. I’ll take a closer look, not at what he said, but just a few of the responses that resulted from the speech.

 
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