View Mobile Site

Nature, not man, is in control of our climate

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED August 7, 2014 1:02 a.m.

Smoke hung over Yosemite Valley Sunday.

From atop El Capitan at 7,569 feet what would have been a view where you could see for well over a hundred miles was turned into a blurry haze thanks to the fire still burning near Foresta.

Sitting atop such a big piece of rock after hiking for nearly eight miles through segments of forest that looked ripe for an inferno helps you see things a lot clearer.

We are idiots.

Strike that. We are self-centered for thinking we can ever 100 percent control nature.

A few weeks ago President Obama said one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard him utter. He blamed the wave of forest fires we are having on climate change.

Duh. We’re in a drought. So from that perspective it is climate change. But the President’s inference was to global warming being caused by manmade greenhouse gases.

In other words coal-fired power plants and the big Chevy SUVs the Secret Service uses to ferry around the President and Vice President are the culprits for weather change, melting glaciers, and rising seas.

So I’m not misunderstood I don’t like coal-powered plants and I believe big SUVs are overkill although they are perfectly justified for the security and safety of our President. I’ve driven a hybrid for eight years. I say this because there is a nasty tendency by some to label those that question aspects of climate change as Stone Age meat eaters.

If I had walked 200 feet to the south from where I was standing on El Capitan, I would have plunged 3,600 feet to the floor of Yosemite Valley. Had I ventured forth 800,000 years ago from the same spot I would have been able to practically walk on ice from El Capitan to Glacier Point. The reason Yosemite Valley exists today is because the massive Yosemite Glacier receded.

Yes the Lyell Glacier in the Yosemite high country as well as others in the Sierra are receding faster today than they were 60 years ago.

But to believe man has the power to do that much destruction is a bit egotistical. There’s no doubt man is adding to the mix but our impacts on global warming are probably miniscule at best.

We are conceited to believe the current drought is the result of man’s doing. A water shortage per se may have all of our fingerprints over it but not the drought.

Tree ring studies of bristlecone pines as well as trees that were submerged at one time in Mono and Tenaya lakes— all of which are in our own backyard — show periods of mega-droughts consisting of two decades or more of dry years dating back to before 1700.

That’s long before modern civilization reached the West or California. There were no SUVs back in the 1700s. No matter how powerful we think we are, nature is still in control.

The reason we have more destructive forest fires today is due in part to a well-intended but misdirected federal policy of extinguishing wildfires. Before the West was developed and land put under control of the Forest Service fires were allowed to burn. And because they burned, they got rid of fuel build-up — dead trees, leaves, bushes, fallen branches, and such — that increase the intensity of fires

The error of such a strategy has been corrected in national parks such as Yosemite where they now do control burns to reduce fuel.

Elsewhere such a change in strategy is problematic.

That’s because man has built in places that aren’t exactly safe to do so.

Wildfires are becoming more destructive to a large degree because what they are burning and threatening today isn’t necessary wild things. Its homes and other buildings.

It’s a price we pay for having developments such as Pine Mountain Lake near Groveland nestled among a thick carpet of pine trees.

There have always been massive forest fires even when man wasn’t around. Lightning strikes were — and still are  — the No. 1 cause of wildfires in California.

If greenhouse gases have created more lighting strikes that trigger fires then it is right to blame the growing intensity of forest fires on man’s role in climate change.

If there is a federal concern as expressed by the White House to reduce wildfires that inflict large scale damages there are a couple of things that would be much more effective than blaming greenhouse gases.

u Expanding logging operations that reduce fuel sources by thinning trees.

u Stop building homes in forests.

Man is not the great and powerful.

Nature is.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...