“One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday, stressing the need to pass the Democrats’ comprehensive energy package.
Moments later, when asked by a reporter if he really believed global warming caused the fires, he appeared to back away from his comments, saying there are many factors that contributed to the disaster.
Complexity is difficult to express for people accustomed to speaking in soundbites (which they do in part thanks to pressure from people like me), but it’s essential, when we’re talking about environmental problems, so we don’t say stupid things.
Warm weather — yes. Dry conditions — yes. High winds — yes. All things that contributed directly to the wildfires (dangerous construction, too), and all things likely to be among the consequences of global warming over time. But just like Hurricane Katrina, the wildfires can’t be connected in a direct line to a phenomenon whose effects we’re just seeing. There’s an impenetrable cloud of other factors in between, and there always will be; definitive statements like Reid’s are easily dismissed by people who are determined to spend their time scoring debating points against the environmental movement rather than helping keep it honest and constructive.
You see it in hyperbolic claims that global warming could mean the end of life as we know it, or that other pollution will “destroy the earth.” It’s not true. What’s at risk is our quality of life and our prosperity and comfort, which ought to be bad enough — but to catch the attention of the indifferent and the skeptical, too often we overreach.