The fires this time: A result of failed energy policy?

While President Bush has used the California fires as an opportunity to swipe at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, legendary South Carolina civil rights attorney Tom Turnipseed has an interesting column today which argues a major factor is Washington's failure to confront global warming:

With water supplies rapidly shrinking, Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia declared a state of emergency for 85 counties and asked President Bush to declare it a major disaster area on October 20, 2007. A drought of historic proportions is affecting Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, as well as parts of North and South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia. Meanwhile, drought is feeding a fiery fiasco in California. [...]


On October 21, 2007, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley reported that "recently there has been an enormous change in Western fires. In truth, we've never seen anything like them in recorded history. It appears we're living in a new age of mega-fires - forest infernos ten times bigger than the fires we're used to seeing." According to the number of acres burned, 7 of the 10 busiest forest fire seasons in the United States have occurred since 1999 based on records going back 47 fire seasons to 1960. [...]

Pelley also talked with Tom Swetnam, a fire ecologist at the University of Arizona. Swetnam has the largest collection of tree rings in the world, that go back 9,000 years, with each one of those rings capturing one year of climate history.

Swetnam says recent decades have been the hottest in 1,000 years, with a dramatic increase in fires high in the mountains, where fires were rare in the past. "As the spring is arriving earlier because of warming conditions, the snow on these high mountain areas is melting and running off. So the logs and the branches and the tree needles all can dry out more quickly and have a longer time period to be dry. And so there's a longer time period and opportunity for fires to start. The fire season in the last 15 years or so has increased more than two months over the whole Western U.S.," Swetnam says.

Swetnam contends that climate change - global warming - has increased temperatures in the West about one degree and that has caused four times more fires. Swetnam and his colleagues published those findings in the journal "Science," and the world's leading researchers on climate change have endorsed their conclusions.

Meanwhile, state leaders in South Carolina are moving forward with plans for a new coal plant on the Pee Dee River, which environmental groups argued this week would be a public health disaster -- and only contribute further to global warming:

Conservation groups oppose Santee Cooper's proposed plant as a "worst-choice" alternative. Each year the facility would emit thousands of tons air pollution in an area with already high asthma rates. It would require hundreds of acres of landfills and mile-long coal trains. The plant would consume nearly three millions of gallons of water each day and emit over a hundred pounds of mercury annually next to the Great Pee Dee River, which has existing health advisories due to dangerous mercury levels in fish.