The Pack-a-Day Club: The Smoky Sequel

The Pack-a-Day Club: The Smoky Sequel

I never cease to be amazed by the stuff that comes over the transom here at Evergreen. Just when I thought I’d said all that need be said for now about the cancerous risks of wildfire smoke, a friend sent me a copy of the "Montana/Idaho Wildfire Carbon Emissions Inventory for 2013-2017."

We owe a debt to the Forest Service’s Shawn Urbanski for assembling this data, and the data that appears in my earlier temper tantrum, "The Pack-a-Day Club," in which I assert that the choking wildfire smoke that hung over much of the West for more than two months last summer was the easy equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Thus far, no one has contested my claim. I don’t think anyone will, and the data sets that appear below help explain why.

Apart from the deadly health risks associated with wildfire smoke, there is the matter of its contribution to atmospheric pollution and, of course, climate change itself. Note the record 15,129,539 tons of carbon dioxide that Montana’s wildfires generated in 2017 – more even than the 13,925,262 million tons of CO2 that Idaho’s wildfires generated in 2015.

The governors of Washington and Oregon are proposing new taxes on industrial polluters in their states, but there is no mention of the biggest air polluter of all: The West’s federal lands wildfire crisis and, by extension, the United States Government. In a word: Congress.

I have no idea how many million tons of CO2 wildfires in Oregon, Washington and California dumped into the atmosphere in 2013-2017, but I intend to find out. I do recall PhD forest ecologist, Tom Bonnicksen, telling me a few years ago about one northern California firestorm that released more pollution into the state’s airsheds than all the cars in California had released in the same year.

We’re going to be treated to lots of election-year posturing from the usual gasbags in the coming months, but I don’t see much evidence that the West’s state and federal delegations are serious about curbing the economic and environmental impacts climate change, to say nothing of the carcinogenic risks associated with breathing wildfire smoke for months on end. If any of you think i’m wrong, tell me what I’m missing. Meantime, here are the data sets Shawn Urbanski assembled: You can’t make this stuff up.

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