As nearly everyone knows, the state of Colorado is plagued with unprecedented forest fires. Currently, firefighters are battling eight major fires. Tens of thousands of people are being forced to evacuate their homes.
Colorado is a state largely untouched by many of the natural disasters that affect Americans. Earthquakes are rare (although, will undoubtedly be made more common with fracking). Limited bodies of water make floods both rare and isolated. The eastern part of the state sees tornadoes, but not usually of the size seen in midwestern states. Coloradans, by and large feel safe, tucked against the backdrop of the Rockies.
That’s not to say that Colorado is immune from the ravages of Mother Nature. The state’s dry, hot summers make it particularly susceptible to fire. Lightning, often without accompanying rain, can turn brittle timber to raging flames in no time at all. From a purely natural perspective, this is a good thing. Forest fires are nature’s way of cleaning house. From the most horrific of burns, springs life. One of Colorado’s most ubiquitous trees, the aspen, comes from burned land.
In the last several years, Colorado has had a problem even worse than its usual combination of dry and summer heat, beetle trees. Mountain pine beetles have been a major problem for Colorado. Any trip through the mountains will reveal thousands upon thousands of dead pine trees littering the landscape. Global warming is giving Colorado a double whammy for forest fires. It heats the land, making everything drier and more flammable, while encouraging beetle growth, which kills the trees, creating even more kindling.
The big problems, as usual, come when nature meets man. When houses sit atop the dry timber and within yards of the beetle trees, human lives are put in danger. I’m not blaming people for living in the mountains or foothills, but when you’re rooming with Mother Nature, she has ways of taking the whole house.
Sometime in the last 30 years, ‘taxes’ became a dirty word. People wanted all the government protections they were accustomed to, but didn’t want to pay for them. As taxpayer funding fell for schools, people vilified schools because quality fell. Voters are quick to blame the government as infrastructure crumbles but refuse to pay for upgrades. No one needs police or firefighters until well, they need them, then they sure as hell better be around, funding or not.
Colorado’s political landscape is as rocky as its peaks. The state is as well-known for the hyper-religiously conservative Focus on the Family as it is for the town often nick-named, “the People’s Republic of Boulder.” The urban center of Denver is as liberal as New York or San Francisco. Its surrounding suburbs can be as conservative as Arizona. Like much of the country, libertarianism has become the new catch-all political philosophy.
At the voting booth, things can go either way. Colorado is truly a swing state. One cycle, it might be dominated by Republicans, the next, Democrats, but like many Americans these days, voters both on the right and in the center have an aversion to taxes and that shows in the voting booth.
Less than two months ago, voters in the town of Loveland, CO, voted down a property tax increase that would have gone to fight fires. One of the major fires is very close to Loveland. In November of last year, voters rejected tax increases that would have helped seal the gaps in Colorado’s budget.
Even more significant is the home of Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is becoming a true libertarian paradise in that they refuse to pay for anything, and for that, they are getting nothing. Their property taxes are the lowest in the nation, but they have almost no services. Despite record temperatures this June, pools are closed. Streetlights have been shut off. Parks have no trash cans. City vegetation has been left to die. City employees have been cut to a bare minimum. Some services have been picked up by volunteers, which might be fine during non-crises times, but Colorado Springs is currently ground zero for one of the state’s largest fires. 32,000 people, including personnel at the Air Force Academy, have been evacuated. There is no current count on the number of homes that have been lost.
Additional boots on the ground might not have prevented Colorado’s fires, but it’s reasonable to assume that the damage could be lessened with more firefighters.
It’s often said that libertarianism is the philosophy of “I’ve got mine and f’ off.” That philosophy works fine for the individual until the individual actually needs help. Human beings don’t live in insular pods. When our neighbor’s house burns, there’s a good chance ours could. When our coworker gets sick, there’s a good chance we will. At some point in the very near future, voters have to stop seeing themselves only as individuals and start thinking as a community. As much as I weep for my home state of Colorado, I hope these fires wake the voters up to realize that sometimes government is necessary and that someone needs to pay for the protections that everyone takes for granted. Perhaps then, people will be more amenable to the conversation about global warming and its short and long-term dangers.