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Our Column

En español
In Never-Never Land
By Javier Sierra

As I write these lines, an army of firefighters valiantly battles the fires that so far have devastated at least 700 square miles in Southern California.

The firestorm has killed at least seven people, scorched hundreds of homes and other structures, and triggered the evacuation of some 500,000 residents, the largest internal movement of people in California’s history.

It’s too soon yet to gauge the magnitude of this catastrophe. But it, indeed, has taught us two valuable lessons. First, we have seen that the lack of resources and preparedness —at the local, state and federal levels— for these kinds of disasters constitutes a clear threat for future crises.

And second, and much more important, the October 2007 fires once more have confirmed the prediction of the scientific community about the fundamental role global warming plays in these catastrophes.

"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change," said Ronald Neilson, bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service and member of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Neilson agrees that no single weather event or natural disaster can be directly linked to climate change, but he adds “things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows, and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects."

Neilson’s basic conclusions are a reflection of the world’s scientific consensus; that the billions of tons of global warming gases emitted by human activity constitute the main cause of the warming of the atmosphere and climate change. They also warn us that if we fail to take urgent measures to fight it, the consequences, just like those in Southern California, will be catastrophic.

It’s because of this overwhelming planetary consensus that we find the White House’s attitude toward this global crisis terrifying. Recently, as in a fairy tale, or perhaps a Halloween story, Dana Perino, the White House Press Secretary, made our collective jaws drop when she reassured us that “there are public health benefits to climate change.”

This determination to claim that the Earth is square is shared by a powerful movement of naysayers, who, funded by the oil, gas and coal industries, insist on discrediting or even mocking the scientific evidence and those who fight global warming.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that the naysayers frantically reacted to former Vice President Al Gore’s winning this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Upon announcing the bestowing of the world’s most prestigious award, the Nobel committee called Gore “probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted” to fight global warming.

Gore shared the prize with IPCC, a group of close to 3,000 scientists from throughout the world, whose research and findings about climate change Gore has done so much to promote.

But instead of turning on those who have ridiculed him during decades of efforts to warn us about the climate crisis that lies ahead of us, Gore gave a new lesson in class by donating the award’s cash prize to his Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit group dedicated to making the world aware of the dangers of global warming.

Indeed, vindication is a dish that’s best served cold. On October 26, in Spain, Gore received the Príncipe de Asturias Prize for International Cooperation, considered the Nobel of the Hispanic world, and in March his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” won two Oscars.

Gore acknowledges that global warming will disproportionately affect people of color, including Latinos, and the most disadvantaged. As Gore said:

"In my country, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, in discussing human rights, that, 'A threat to injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' In the very same way, we now face a global crisis that makes it abundantly clear that increased CO2 emissions anywhere are a threat to the integrity of this planet’s climate everywhere. My hope is that the Nobel Peace Prize brings increased awareness and action to the climate crisis."

Our other hope is that the White House and the rest of the naysayers will finally come back from Never-Never Land and stop telling us fairy tales.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. For more information, please visit

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