NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson announced before yesterday's race that he was going to donate all of his race winnings to the California wildfire victim's relief fund. In response, his corporate sponsor, Lowe's Hardware, decided to match that donation. So did his employer, Hendrick Motorsports. So did the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson ended up winning the race, and as a result the victims of the horrible disaster in California will be getting over $1 million in assistance from NASCAR and its sponsors. Tip your hats, gentlemen. Jimmie Johnson may not be the most popular driver at the track, but he is a class act.
Then there's the other end of the spectrum. I have to hand it to Congress. Just when I think the bums up there couldn't stoop any lower, they prove me wrong. Case in point, Senator Harry Reid said this: "As you know, one reason that we have the fires burning in southern California is global warming. One reason the Colorado Basin is going dry is because of global warming." And then, Barbara Boxer blamed the fires on, what else, but Iraq by saying that the ability of the state's National Guard to respond to disasters like the fires has been compromised because too much of its equipment and personnel are committed in Iraq.
This is what it means to "politicize" something, like a natural disaster. Keep in mind, as these two Congressional leaders were issuing their statements, people in southern California were literally running for their lives as their homes burned to the ground. But Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer weren't going to pass up an opportunity to score political points over something this big. We haven't had a tragedy like this since Katrina which, by the way, was another juicy opportunity for our politicians to take advantage of.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for healthy debate. I think it's important to discuss these things, to try to find the cause, to hopefully prevent it in the future. But, shouldn't we wait until people's homes are no longer in flames? Shouldn't we wait until the temporary shelters are finally empty? Seems like common sense - and common sensitivity - to me, but then again there isn't much of that in Washington these days.
And now that we seem to have the fires under control, how about we explore Senator Reid's claim? In doing so, I came across this column by Steven Milloy. Milloy is a "junk science" expert. Basically, he takes so-called scientific claims and puts them to the scientific evidence test. Milloy is an evidence-based kind of guy - like me. He doesn't go for rhetoric, heresay and anecdotal claims. He seeks the truth.
So, let's play along with Reid and assume (as he is claiming) that increased global temperature alters atmospheric conditions to prevent rainfall and ensuing drought conditions are exacerbated by warmer temperatures that increase drying on the ground. Here's what Milloy found in the scientific literature:
---During the period 1900-2005, precipitation seems to have actually increased in areas above 30 degrees north latitude — including California and the rest of the U.S. — according to the most recent assessment from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
---During the period 1900 to 2005, moderate-to-severe drought conditions occurred in Southern California during 34 of those 106 years — that is, about one-third of the time.
---During the period 1900-1940, when most of the 20th century's one-degree Fahrenheit temperature increase occurred, there were 7 years of moderate-to-severe drought.
---During the period 1941-1975, when global temperatures cooled, giving rise to concerns of a looming ice age, there were 11 years of moderate-to-severe drought.
---Since 1991, when global temperatures rose slightly past the 1940 levels, there have been 7 years of drought.
Now, this is very simplistic, but the point is that even the most basic of scientific data fails to support Reid's theory. In short, Reid was speaking out of the backside of this trousers, taking advantage of a horrible tragedy to score cheap political points. As for Boxer, the National Guard has already refuted her claim that they are too undermanned for their mission at home.
Maybe Reid was trying to cover for his eco-nista supporters. Milloy also found compelling evidence that decreased forest management and controlled burns (due to the efforts of environmentalists to limit these actions) likely contributed more to these fires than anything else.
"Our forests are detonating like napalm bombs. We need to remove dead and dying bug-killed timber," said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif. This was said in 1994 when Congress was trying to pass legislation to increase forest management in the west. That failed, but it was revitalized in 2003 and opponents said Bush was just trying to help his friends in the logging industry. Actually, I think the environmentalists called it a "trojan horse for sneaking through logging projects."
Bush countered this by saying: “For too many years, bureaucratic tangles and bad forest policy have prevented foresters from keeping our woodlands healthy and safe...This year's fire outlook seems less severe, and that's good news, yet the danger persists, and many of our forests are facing a higher-than-normal risk of costly and catastrophic fires." Again, the legislation failed.
Bush could have responded to Reid and Boxer by reminding them of his warning back in '03, but there is a time and a place. People were running for their lives at the time. Their homes were burning down. Those are times when politics doesn't matter...at least to some. And I salute the President for not saying "told you so", even when his critics couldn't help themselves.
And I'm waiting for Harry Reid to revise his statement and blame the environmentalists for the fires.