Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
Generation Xers grew up with MTV, Nirvana, and the dot-com bubble. Today, Americans born roughly between 1961 and 1981 are better educated and work longer hours than their parents, sit on their children's school boards, and take active roles in their communities. But when it comes to climate change, Gen Xers voice a resounding "meh."Tim McDonnell
That's the result of a University of Michigan study that polled some 3,000 Gen Xers and found that in the last several years their overall interest in climate change has waned.
Sociologist Jon Miller, the study's author, sees this as a sign of victory for the climate disinformation campaign. "I was optimistic because this group of people is more scientifically literate; they've grown up in an era of of science and quantitative discussion, unlike their grandparents," Miller says. But the complexity of climate science, the long time scale it takes to play out, and seeds of doubt sown on the nightly news have caused many Gen Xers to simply tune it out.
The data shows a broad "migration to the middle," says Miller, with passionate voices on both ends of the spectrum quieting down in favor of passive disengagement.Tim McDonnell
The trend cuts through the political spectrum, as the chart at the top of this post shows: Conservative, moderate, and liberal Gen Xers alike felt more "disengaged" about climate change than any other attitude (details on those categories here). Not surprisingly, conservatives were overwhelmingly less concerned about climate change than liberals, with moderates split more or less evenly.
Climate change is one of the most politicized scientific issues in recent history. Miller says that when faced with loud debate over a subject they don't fully understand and whose full impacts seem to be on the horizon, most people will just stick with their political party lines. "Democracy works best on short-term issues, so [climate change] is a real challenge," he says.
But stepping outside the Gen X bubble, a string of recent climate-related surveys suggest a society more ready and willing to grapple with global warming could be in the offing.
When Hani Ahmad left his home in Colorado Springs as the Waldo Canyon fire raced down the mountainside, he expected to return. When he did, the house where his family has lived for two decades was a smoldering hole in the ground. The only recognizable remnant was a melted hunk of stove. As the family rounded the corner for the first time, Hani's daughter captured the horror on her phone. The family agreed to share the footage with Climate Desk, offering an exclusive look into the heart of the destruction.
Hani is searching for answers in the ashes. Built-up fuel, high winds, and the proximity of houses to the forest all play a role, he says. But eating away at him is the worry that climate change made it worse—and that the danger is only growing.
Update: Monday, July 2: Firefighters continue to make progress on the Waldo Canyon fire, which is now 55 percent contained. The Denver Post has an interactive Google map that allows you to navigate the neighborhoods damaged by the fire. Here's a video shot by a resident returning to his scorched neighborhood:
Update: Sunday, July 1, 2:39 PM: Firefighters have contained 45 percent of the Waldo Canyon fire, and evacuations continue to be lifted. Officials slightly increased the count of houses destroyed to 350, and the death toll was raised from one to two. The Denver Post reports on residents confronting the damage here; the Boulder Daily Camera's take is here. The High Park fire is now 100 percent contained.
Here's a Colorado Springs resident describing the moment when she found out the moment her house was destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire:
Udpate: Saturday, June 30, 10:30 AM: The High Park Fire is almost completely contained, an most evacuees are returning to their homes. Meanwhile, the Waldo Canyon fire is now 30 percent contained, but since the weather has become hotter and drier, firefighters expect a challenging weekend. The Denver Post reports that burglaries occurred at several of the homes that were evacuated.
Here's a time-lapse video of the Waldo Canyon fire, taken from June 23-June 28. (I recommend muting the terrible soundtrack.)
What are the biggest fires that are currently burning? Friday, June 29: There are currently ten active wildfires in Colorado.
The second most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, the High Park Fire started near Ft. Collins on June 9 and has burned more than 140 square miles and destroyed 257 homes, to the tune of $36.4 million in firefighting costs. It is now about 85 percent contained, and nearly 2,000 evacuees are just returning home. It's expected to be completely contained by July 1.
The other high-profile blaze is the Waldo Canyon Fire, which started on June 23 just outside Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city. At about 26 square miles, the Waldo Canyon Fire is smaller than the High Park Fire, but because of the population density in its path, it's already the most destructive in Colorado history. So far, it's only 15 percent contained and has killed one person and burned 346 homes on 35 streets, according to the Denver Post. Tens of thousands around Colorado Springs have been evacuated, and Army troops are working to protect the Air Force Academy there. So far, the Waldo Canyon Fire has cost $3.2 million. "Huge, ugly, black clouds of smoke," is how one evacuee described the fire to the Post."When you step out of your front door and there's smoke, it's absolutely terrifying."
Here's a video of President Obama's visit to Colorado Springs:
You can see before and after aerial views of the landscape around both the High Park Fire and the Waldo Canyon fires with this cool USGS tool.
This is a video taken from a home near the Waldo Canyon (Colorado Springs) fire:
Here's one view of the High Park fire near Ft. Collins:
In a conference call with reporters this morning, leading climate scientists Dr. Steven Running of University of Montana and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton explained how more frequent and severe wildfires are a predictable by-product of global warming, as higher temperatures leave dried-out forests just a lightning-strike away from uncontrollable blazes.
"This is really a window into what global warming looks like," Oppenheimer said. "It looks like heat. It looks like dryness. It looks like this kind of disaster."
Scientists are reluctant to attribute these or any fires directly to man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the fires fit squarely into a pattern predicted by climate models that show emissions driving warmer winters that lead to longer, drier summers.
The Waldo Canyon fire invades a Colorado Springs neighborhood on Tuesday, June 26. Jerilee Bennett/Colorado Springs Gazette
Is this the new normal?
If local temperature averages continue to rise, then yes. This March through May was the second warmest such period on record for Colorado, and as the chart below shows, it's been exceptionally dry:
Courtesy NOAAA 2009 federal study found that higher spring and summer temperatures are the principal cause of more and bigger fires in the Southwest. Movever, Running added, higher winter temperatures mean less snowpack to keep fallen wood moist; this year, Colorado's snowpack has been 80 percent below average. Warmer winters also benefit the invasive pine beetle: More beetles are surviving the winter and emerging hungry, leaving a wake of dead trees that make perfect kindling.
Smoke from the High Park fire seen from National Guard post near Ft. Collins. The National Guard/Flickr
So if this is the new normal, what's the best way to fight fires?
The important thing, Running said, is to keep brush buildup low by using carefully controlled burns and collecting and reusing dead wood from the forest floor. Firefighters should also focus their efforts on areas near human development, and let fires out in the wildnerness burn more freely. This week, at least one Washington lawmaker railed on the Forest Service for not doing more to aggressively battle the flames. But Running cautioned that with high winds, the fires "are like a nuclear bomb going off," and that telling anyone to simply stop them is like telling NOAA to simply stop hurricanes before they reach land.
Both scientists agreed that if, as predicted, wildfires continue to become more frequent and severe, there will only be so much we can do to control them.
"There's always a shortfall between climate change and people's ability to engineer or adapt," Oppenheimer said. "Eventually, if we don't control emissions, we won't be able to adapt."
Two residents near the Waldo Canyon fire embrace as smoke rises over their neighborhood. Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the photo taken from the UC-Boulder parking lot was of the High Park Fire. The sentence has since been fixed.
The High Park fire rages in northern Colorado on Monday.@j_noecker via Twitter
For the past 30 years, residents of tiny Laporte, Colorado, near the Wyoming border, have gathered inside Bob's Coffee Shop to swap gossip over coffee and Danishes near the dense pine forest of Lory State Park. But since the weekend, Bob's has become a very different kind of social hub: a de facto refugee camp for homeowners fleeing what many here call the worst wildfire in decades.
From a booth just a mile and half from the fireline, Bob's owner Chris McCullough described in a phone interview seeing forest ridges ablaze with arching orange flames, a sky blanketed in thick white smoke, and ash falling like snow. At other tables, locals shared updates about the fire's spread and talked about what they were—and weren't—able to save from their homes, which may—or may not—still be standing.
"It's the fastest-growing, hottest-burning fire I've ever seen," said longtime resident and Bob's patron John Brewer, whose home was evacuated Saturday night. "I don't know how we're going to survive this one."
"It's the fastest-growing, hottest-burning fire I've ever seen," said one longtime resident. "I don't know how we're going to survive this one."
Other evacuated locals agreed. "The whole hillside was erupting as we were looking at it," said Charlie Wrobbel, who was awoken in bed with his wife Saturday night by the sudden flash of 40-foot flames a few hundreds yards from the doorstep; they snatched up pets and what personal items they could carry and drove off. "We were heartbroken, because we didn't know if there would be anything to come home to."
By Monday afternoon, they still didn't.
The High Park fire, as it's known, had grown to nearly 60 square miles by late Monday, making it, along with a massive fire still raging in New Mexico, one of this year's earliest of the mega-fires that ravage the West every summer. One man is believed dead, according to the local sheriff's office, along with over 100 structures destroyed. The fire was started by lightning, which on Saturday morning ignited a stand of pines that, after an unusually arid winter and spring, were 30 percent drier than normal.
Most visitors to New York City crane their necks for a view of the city's famous skyline, but locals know better: To get the best views, you have to go up. Here's your chance to take a rare—and vivid—journey atop a few of the city's billion square feet of rooftops.
As the Big Apple faces ever-hotter summers, officials are looking for ways to cool off in some of the only unused space left in a crowded city: rooftops.
Fertile vegetated "green" roofs absorb the sun's rays, while reflective "white" roofs bounce them back to space. Both are sprouting up in response to a 2008 city rule that requires new roofs to be climate friendly. Meanwhile, the city is working with the Obama administration to overhaul its hulking construction bureaucracy, making it easier for solar panel installers to turn rooftops into the city's fastest-growing energy provider.
Climate Deskstrapped on hardhats, jumped into elevators, and scaled ladders to see firsthand how the roofscape of New York is adapting to face a changing climate.