Climate change more than melting ice caps

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR about how climate change is interacting with natural wild fires. I found an article about the paper, which was published originally in Ecosphere, which discusses some of the long term impacts of the climate change on wild fires. To do this, the group used 16 different climate models which ranged from very favorable emission numbers to catastrophic emissions numbers. This allowed for a wide range of different types of human activities and reflective climate changes in the area to be tested. This is important as it gives the article much more validity than if they had simply decided to use the worst case, or best case. Of course, there will be people that will argue that man has nothing to do with the climate and we aren’t impacting it. However, that’s sticking your head in the sand. We know we have impacted the climate in the past (hello Acid Rain) and have actually fixed it though changing our behavior (Acid Rain again).

Just using the climate models isn’t enough to really predict how and where wildfires will occur in the future. The wild fire itself had to be modeled as something where the conditions it could exist in can be tested. The group decided to model wild fire in the same way that movement of animals are modeled. Under certain circumstances it’s likely that an animal group will move into a specific type of environment. This is based on the amount of water, the amount of vegetation and the temperature. Wildfires need the exact same resources to exist. However instead of being lush and moist, the area needs to be dry, but with enough water to have had plant growth to a certain size.

By combing the two techniques the team was able to show that the West is going to be burning a lot more frequently than they are not. This of course creates a serious problem. People like to live in those areas. People don’t like to leave their houses when there are disasters, which means that we’re going to have more people burning, like the one in Colorado.

The authors, in the NPR interview, argued that this means we need to learn how to live with wildfire in the same way that we’ve learned how to live with floods and earthquakes. How can we do that though? It is likely to be more difficult than flooding because you can’t just build a mound of dirt as a ridge to prevent fire from moving further. With water you can do this with varying success. With fire, that mound of dirt will eventually grow grass on the mound and would just as easily catch fire. Even stone walls would be passable as a strong wind could blow embers over the wall or heat the wall to the point of material catching on the other side.

These are issues that we will have to resolve in the next 10-30 years. This seems like a long way off, but time has a habit of sneaking up on you and before you know it we’ll be having wildfires like we had in Texas last year and are having in Colorado and New Mexico now. I’m glad we’re aware of the extent of the risk now though.

Religion, Morality and political stances

This morning on KUT (local NPR station) there was a local interview between the KUT host and an author of a book that discussed how religion has been playing a larger role in the public forum in the United States and that people are basing their political stances more and more on religion. I am skeptical of this for several reasons. First, the morality these stances are based on are sometimes dubious at best even within the religious context. Secondly, some of these moral stances aren’t actually based on teachings in the specific religion, but are much more cultural in origin than religious.

Let’s look at the first issue. There are many issues that we can examine to see if the validity of the moral stance. How about the death penalty. Many Christians (not all) strongly support the death penalty. This stance clearly violates one of the Ten Commandments (thou shall not kill). Supporting this type of policy is not congruent with this belief. In addition, it conflicts with the belief that all life is sacred, which is the argument against abortion. I personally don’t agree with either stand, I’m against the death penalty and pro-choice (by which I mean I support the woman’s right to choose if she wants to be pregnant or not).

I arrived at these moral stances outside of the Christian frame work. I find that life is sacred since we only have one. Ending a person’s life for whatever reason is a horrible thing. It destroys everything that they are and could be, it destroys their potential. Now some people may think that this is ok in the case of people that are beyond help, but who defines “help”? Or perhaps it’s ok to kill people that are more committing horrible crimes against other people and they can never be reformed. Well, first there’s a lot of things we need to look at as to the why they were doing what they were doing. We should investigate what changes we can do and what sort of environment we want them to be living in after the we’ve given up on them.

In terms of abortion, it’s a trickier matter than the death penalty. However, women should have control over their on bodies and when/if they ever want to have children. Sure killing a fetus is killing a possibility, but every time a person has sex there are thousands of possibilities that are destroyed by a condom or other birth control. It’s just a matter of time and why you chose to stop the pregnancy. In some case the baby can destroy the potential of the mother or could end up being a huge drain on society. These can cause larger issues than if the fetus was aborted when the woman wanted it to be aborted.

Issues of morality may not be easy, but there are also moral issues that happen to conform to a specific outlook on life. In the case of gay marriage, this is more of a cultural issue than a religious issue. The very book that proponents quote as the reason for denying this right is ignored on a routine basis (eating shellfish is a killable offense). Marriage has long been something sanctioned by the state and has a level of cultural normalcy that has moved it from the realm of religion alone. In some states it’s possible to be married through time spent living together and getting it approved by a Justice of the Peace. Marriage is a way that cements a relationship in your own mind, the mind of your community and with the state. A civil union doesn’t have the feeling of importance and smacks of differences in rights and demotes a person to a second class citizen.

There are definitely some policy stances that could easily be seen to be rooted in religious beliefs such as supporting welfare, turning the other cheek, being a pacifist and giving your money to the poor and needy. However, there are many people that are against abortion and against welfare. These wildly different stances  for a Christian smacks of a cultural belief structure driving many of these policy stances rather than their religious beliefs themselves. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a Christian or that have to be against abortion and for welfare, but it means you should be honest about the source of your morality in regard to your policy stances. You need to look inward and really investigate why you stand for something and why you’re against something. Look close enough and you may find that it’s due to your social and cultural influences rather than your religious beliefs.