Though often viewed as a problem for western states, the growing frequency of wildfires is a national concern because of its impact on federal tax dollars, says Professor Max Moritz, a specialist in fire ecology and management.
In 2015, the US Forest Service for the first time spent more than half of its $5.5 billion annual budget fighting fires-nearly double the percentage it spent on such efforts 20 years ago. In effect, fewer federal funds today are going towards the agency’s other work-such as forest conservation, watershed and cultural resources management, and infrastructure upkeep-that affect the lives of all Americans.
Another nationwide concern is whether public funds from other agencies are going into construction in fire-prone districts. As Moritz puts it, how often are federal dollars building homes that are likely to be lost to a wildfire?
“It’s already a huge problem from a public expenditure perspective for the whole country,” he says. We need to take a magnifying glass to that. Like, “Wait a minute, is this OK?” “Do we want instead to redirect those funds to concentrate on lower-hazard parts of the landscape?”
Such a view would require a corresponding shift in the way US society today views fire, researchers say.
For one thing, conversations about wildfires need to be more inclusive. Over the past decade, the focus has been on climate change-how the warming of the Earth from greenhouse gases is leading to conditions that worsen fires.
While climate is a key element, Moritz says, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of the equation.
“The human systems and the landscapes we live on are linked, and the interactions go both ways,” he says. Failing to recognize that, he notes, leads to “an overly simplified view of what the solutions might be. Our perception of the problem and of what the solution is becomes very limited.”
At the same time, people continue to treat fire as an event that needs to be wholly controlled and unleashed only out of necessity, says Professor Balch at the University of Colorado. But acknowledging fire’s inevitable presence in human life is an attitude crucial to developing the laws, policies, and practices that make it as safe as possible, she says.
“We’ve disconnected ourselves from living with fire,” Balch says. “It is really important to understand and try and tease out what is the human connection with fire today.”
While fossil fuels—coal，oil，gas—still generate roughly 85 percent of the world’s energy supply, it’s clearer than ever that the future belongs to renewable sources such as wind and solar.The move to renewables is picking up momentum around the world：They now account for more than half of new power sources going on line.
Some growth stems from a commitment by governments and farsighted businesses to fund cleaner energy sources. But increasingly the story is about the plummetingprices of renewables，especially wind and solar.The cost of solar panels has dropped by 80 percent and the cost of wind turbines by close to one-third in the past eight years.
In many parts of the world renewable energy is already a principal energy source.In Scotland，for example，wind turbines provide enough electricity to power 95 percent of homes.While the rest of the world takes the lead，notably China and Europe，the United States is also seeing a remarkable shift.In March，for the first time，wind and solar power accounted for more than 10 percent of the power generated in the US，reported the US Energy Information Administration.
President Trump has underlined fossil fuels—especially coal—as the path to economic growth.In a recent speech in Iowa，he dismissed wind power as an unreliable energy source.But that message did not play well with many in Iowa，where wind turbines dot the fields and provide 36 percent of the state’s electricity generation—and where tech giants like Microsoft are being attracted by the availability of clean energy to power their data centers.
The question“what happens when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine?”has provided a quick put-down for skeptics.But a boost in the storage capacity of batteries is making their ability to keep power flowing around the clock more likely.
The advance is driven in part by vehicle manufacturers，who are placing big bets on battery-powered electric vehicles.Although electric cars are still a rarity on roads now,this massive investment could change the picture rapidly in coming years.
While there’s a long way to go，the trend lines for renewables are spiking.The pace of change in energy sources appears to be speeding up—perhaps just in time to have a meaningful effect in slowing climate change.What Washington does—or doesn’t do—to promote alternative energy may mean less and less at a time of a global shift in thought.