Texas wildfires: Is drought the new climate?
Well before the contagion of wildfires was sparked this week, the state had been experiencing a weather catastrophe. Texas has seen its driest consecutive months since record-keeping began in 1895. Parts of the state have had no measurable rain in nearly a year. The drought, warn officials from the National Weather Service, may continue into next year.
A brutal heat wave has tormented residents, with some cities experiencing 100-plus degree weather for more than a month.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential candidate, scoffs at the notion of human-induced climate change, even suggesting recently on the campaign trail that scientists are manipulating data to make money. He also has declared a weather-related state of emergency every month since December. Meanwhile, Texas' state climatologist has warned that his fellow citizens should get used to this new climate of extremes.
These horrible fires are driven by wind, to be sure, but are fueled by much more combustible decisions: fire-prone nonnative plants planted to benefit another nonnative -- cattle. Rampant urban incursions into wildlands, placing homes in danger. Private property owners' failure to manage the grasses and trees on their land. A budget-cutting policy that pared most of the state's volunteer firefighters.
Climate-watchers are reminding Perry that Texas' nightmare is a direct result of a political decision to ignore the reality of climate change, leaving the state unprepared for its devastating effects on public health, the livestock and agriculture industries, and, ultimately, the sustainability of life in the arid Southwest.
Photo: A nearly drained stock tank in West Texas. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times