I posted a few times in the past couple of days about the smoke that has been inundating the Seattle area from fires mainly in British Columbia, but some in California as well.

The first-order guess for a lot of people would be: climate change.

While the warmer climate is a contributing factor, it is, realistically, a rather minor one. The main one is also human-caused: ironically, lack of fire.

We have known for decades at least that fire is a needed part of the forest ecosystem. Fires have been in nature since as long as nature gave it the ability to take a spark and burn. Plants and animals have evolved such that their species (perhaps not individuals) will continue to survive despite the occasional fire that may break out. In fact, some species require fire to continue on. (such as preparing seeds to sprout, for instance)

So lately, we’ve had a lot of fires on the west coast.

Why?

It’s because we’ve started to consider fire to be “scary” instead of needed. When feelings rule over intellect you start to have problems.

Now you have these absolutely enormous fires.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight these massive fires. All of the plants and animals evolved to be able to survive (as a species, perhaps not as individuals) the normal run-of-the-mill forest fire. These mega blazes just weren’t there for the evolution.

But when it takes years to orchestrate a controlled burn… Couple that to overall feelings that fire is scary and you get to a position now where without controlled burns (or at least far fewer of them) we’re spending exponentially more to fight the mega-blazes.

I know we, as humans, fucked a whole lot of shit up over the past couple hundred years and it’s going to take a while even to try to get a handle on it. There’s no silver bullet in any of this. Just setting controlled burns tomorrow isn’t going to fix things. We even have to look at land use issues and where we build as well. There are a lot of hard societal issues that we have to face, but we’re unlikely to address any of them. (Like, maybe you shouldn’t build your house in an area prone to fires, for instance)

The thing that struck me about the NY Times article I linked to is the way people are framing the argument — people used to be afraid of all fires, but are getting the message that proper forestry has fire occasionally. Just because you’re afraid of something doesn’t make it bad, you could be frightened about vaccines, but that doesn’t make them evil, for instance.

It reminds me of when I lived in the Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Solon. We got rid of all of the predators and in a completely unsurprising turn of events, the deer population exploded. (To the point where they started to become malnourished because they were running out of forage) There were people protesting at the council meetings opposed to culling the population (and the meat would be donated to organizations that fed the hungry).

Whenever you let feelings get in the way of science and/or good policy you’re inevitably going to get hurt in the long run.

Yes, I apply the same rule to everything — guns included. Just because you’re scared of something doesn’t mean that you get to veto it.