Mourn our Gorge, but then we must move forward and heal planet

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

For so many of us who call this area home, the magical Columbia River Gorge has long been a sort of sanctuary — the one place we can go when we need to shake off our miseries.

But what do we do when the place that helped us weather the losses is lost?

First, we must allow ourselves to mourn — to let those raw feelings of disbelief, sadness and anger wash over us.

Just be careful that you don’t get stuck on that last emotion.

Yes, police believe a 15-year-old Vancouver boy and his friends, who were inexplicably throwing fireworks into a tinderbox, started the devastating Eagle Creek Fire on Saturday. And yes, if that is true, then that teen and his friends deserve to be punished. But before we call for a boy who’s barely out of childhood to serve hard time, we need to all take a long, hard look at ourselves.

Placing 100 percent of the blame for these horrific fires on a bunch of self-absorbed kids, who were probably just doing what teens do best — thinking about themselves and not truly understanding the consequences of their actions — is just a short-term, symptom-suppressing prescription for what ails us.

The real remedy is going to be much more difficult. That’s because, when we talk about wildfires raging out of control in the Columbia River Gorge and in Montana and near Los Angeles; when we fret over “biggest ever” hurricanes in Texas and Florida; or try to contemplate the thousands who have perished in uncontrollable flooding in Southeast Asia, we cannot ignore the impacts of climate change.

And if you’re one of the many who are thinking, “Wow, the weather’s been weird lately,” instead of understanding that these storms have all come with buyer-beware tags, then you need to brush up on what the majority of the world’s climate scientists have been warning us about for at least as long as that alleged teen firestarter has been alive.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has long contended that, “as the world warms, we can expect more wildfires.” What’s more, they say, those wildfires are likely to be more severe than ever before.

“As the climate warms, moisture and precipitation levels are changing” states a report by the UCS. “Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier spring snowmelt typically cause soils to be drier for longer, increasing the likelihood of drought and a longer wildfire season, particularly in the western United States.”

A recent article in The Atlantic explores scientists’ theories that climate change has helped decrease the frequency of hurricanes, but made those that do form much wetter and stronger than ever before.

“Research suggests a warming world will have less frequent, more intense tropical cyclones,” the article concludes, adding that, for hurricanes that form in the North Atlantic Ocean, “climate models have high confidence that future storms will drop more rain and medium confidence that they will have higher wind speeds.”

If we accept that climate change is going to keep throwing mega-storms our way, we must also accept that we need to change our lifestyle if we want our children to live a semi-normal life free of polluted air, flaming forests and flooded cities.

One way to get started is to find out how much you and your family are adding to climate change. The site has an easy-to-use Climate Footprint Calculator — and once you tally up how much you’re adding to the carbon footprint, you can choose to reduce your footprint as much as possible by doing things like committing to a vegetarian diet (or at least buying more organic veggies and fruits); switching to public transit for your daily commute (or trading your gas-powered vehicle for an electric or hybrid car); and vowing to recycle or compost the majority of your waste.

It may not seem like much, but it’s a start. For more solutions on how you can help fight climate change, visit The Nature Conservancy’s site at