The East Coast has been boiling these past weeks. High humidity and higher than normal temperatures have made living uncomfortable, influencing everything from familial congeniality to worker productivity. I admit to having been noticeably cranky—and I’ve observed that those around me also seem a bit more edgy than usual—must be the heat.
But as I watch the utter devastation from the unyielding string of wildfires raging in California—and in Europe and Asia—I have few grounds to complain. I cannot imagine the terror confronting individuals, families and first responders who fight such raging infernos day after day, and literally in their own backyard.
It took the President a long time to address the tragedy of these fires. And while his comments this week rightly lifted up the bravery and self-sacrifice of fire fighters, his ill-informed tweets emphasized criticism of environmental policy and erroneously charged California officials with dumping water into the Pacific Ocean—charges quickly debunked. There is widespread agreement among experts that a primary reason for increases in wildfire size, frequency and intensity is a result of climate change. This was never mentioned by the President as his administration has banned the phrase from use.
Every day, we see new images of destruction and hear stories of dreams shattered and lives lost. Combined with reports of climate change’s ever-escalating impact, it is easy to lose hope. However, an article in the Washington Post by Peter Gleik, co-founder of the nonprofit Pacific Institute and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, offers these words of encouragement:
Farms and cities are taking steps toward more sustainable water policies every day. New technologies, including smart irrigation systems, monitor soil moisture and crop needs and provide the right amount of water at the right time, permitting farmers to grow more food with less water. The efficiency of washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, faucets, shower heads and other residential and industrial water-using technologies is improving. Better water-pricing strategies are providing incentives to trade water among users and cut wasteful uses.
Homeowners are replacing grass lawns with drought-resistant gardens. Incremental steps are being taken to help protect and restore fisheries and natural ecosystems devastated by earlier uninformed water policies throughout the West.
And new unconventional sources of supply such as high-quality recycled water and stormwater are being tapped. The good news? Total water use in the West — and nationwide — is dropping, even as populations and our economies continue to grow.
I was heartened to read this. I wish I had read such news in one of the President’s tweets. Here is yet another missed opportunity to rally the public around something positive, something constructive, and from which we can all benefit. Such upbeat words from a knowledgeable source could spawn an army of volunteers committed to saving the planet, equipped with practical solutions for addressing an issue that is already impacting lives and livelihoods and inspired to take one of the greatest challenges of our day. What a patriotic movement it could become!
I long for the President to use the immense power of his bully pulpit for such ends. And I am not alone in feeling stifled and depressed—not only by what is happening in our Western states, but also by the trajectory of a whole range of national policies and priorities. From permanently scarred children separated from their parents at the border to unprecedented levels of corruption in the White House, we have become unmoored from any national ethical compass.
Weary California firefighters are symbolic of our whole nation. We’re exhausted and could all use a refreshing breeze of upbeat information and ideas.Why can’t the President take a breath, set aside his politics and crazy theories for just a minute, and offer us hope? Oh, yeah—two reasons, I guess: Hope is an Obama thing and, of course, it’s mostly California that’s burning—and you know how they vote.