You Don't Have to Be a Democrat to See the Wildfires for What They Are | Opinion

We're on the edge of it here in Montana. While we recently had a catastrophic fire blow through Bozeman's Bridger Canyon and destroy dozens of homes, and while there are other fires active in our state, the massive wildfires that have killed at least 35 people and covered the United States in a smoky haze are farther west, in Oregon, California and Washington.

I've lived through round after round of smoke, fire and ash in Montana. The whole experience, from the choking gray clouds that obscure the mountains to the worry that burning embers could ignite our homes, simultaneously raises our collective blood pressure and wears us down, like the threadbare knees in an old pair of Carhartt work pants.

Here in Montana's Flathead Valley, in the shadow of Glacier National Park, we keep speculating about the dirty gray smoke, which smells less like an aromatic campfire and more like an ashtray from a truck stop restroom. Is it coming from one of our Montana fires, or next door in Idaho, or a more distant blaze in Washington, Oregon or even California?

With the windows and doors shut, and three different HEPA air filters running nonstop in my house for the past week, I've also pondered why wildfire smoke, which never really seemed to bother me in my younger days, now causes such pain in my lungs and my sinuses.

The truth, though, is that my family and I are the lucky ones. The fact that I can't see the mountains that rise up a mile and a half from my house is a minor inconvenience when I compare our personal situation to the people who've lost their homes or livelihoods—or even their lives—through circumstance and happenstance and just plain bad luck.

Of course, while bad luck is definitely part of it, there's also a fair amount of anthropogenic cause-and-effect involved.

Wildfires have always been part of our western landscapes. The West—at least most of it—tends to dry out and burn. That's a given. But as humanity has pumped billions and billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each and every year, and global temperatures have risen as a result, we've seen our snowpacks decline, our forests grow ever hotter and drier, and our wildfires become larger and more catastrophic.

Despite our current president's stated belief that nobody knows what's causing our explosion of wildfires, America's scientists do, in fact, know. We are doing this to ourselves. We, as a species, are continuing to burn fossil fuels. Our planet is growing hotter, and the western U.S. is trending both hotter and dryer. And as a result, we're experiencing both longer fire seasons and larger, more catastrophic wildfires. It's a clear causal relationship that has been confirmed by science, and that's true regardless of what climate deniers might claim or which political party you belong to.

Which leaves those of us living in the western U.S. with one existential question: Where do we go from here?

In the short term, we can hope for a break in the weather while making sure that the men and women in charge of fighting our wildfires have the human resources, equipment and funding necessary to do their jobs. Then, once the worst of the 2020 fire season is behind us, it's time to take a long, hard look at how we can make our forests and other landscapes healthier and more resilient. Most importantly, we have to encourage Americans from across the political spectrum to take climate change seriously and address our ongoing addiction to fossil fuels. And that has to start this fall, with the most basic and essential act of American civic engagement.

More than anything else, we need to vote.

Not necessarily for liberals or conservatives—and definitely not for authoritarians—but for leaders who believe in science, and who will share facts rather than falsehoods, and who understand that Americans can overcome any problem if we have leadership that brings us together instead of pushing us apart.

If enough of us stand up and vote, we can restore facts, science and logic to their rightful place in America's political hierarchy and douse the fevered flames of climate denial. What better gift for a world on fire?

Todd Tanner is a lifelong hunter and angler, an outdoor writer and the president of Conservation Hawks. He also co-hosts 'Round The Fire on EarthX TV.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not represent any other individual, business entity or organization.