Right-wing blowhard Glenn Beck didn't make any friends in Southern California on Monday. Media Matters caught him in flagrante delicto on his talk radio show, declaring, "I think there is a handful of people who hate America. Unfortunately for them, a lot of them are losing their homes in a forest fire today." (Thanks to David Roberts at Grist for the tip.)
Mocking any single egregiously stupid Beck statement is an exercise all too easy, like knocking low-hanging fruitbats off the tree, but still, this particular blurt is stunningly wrongheaded.
The comment came in the context of a discussion of how Beck's politics differ from Arnold Schwarzenegger's. Beck took issue with Schwarzenegger's recent proposal that Republicans need to move to the political center if they want to win elections. The governor has also been out front on environmental issues, as befits a California political leader, because out here on the West Coast, we all hate America so much that we want to pass legislation limiting the production of greenhouse gases, and thus simultaneously destroy the economy and force everyone to drive small foreign cars.
I'll grant that this might be true of some people in Berkeley, but it's been raining here lately and we don't currently seem to be under any threat from devastating firestorms. But outside of a few Malibu movie stars, I don't think that the hundreds of thousands of people currently being forced to evacuate their homes in Southern California really fit Beck's demo. At least some of the neighborhoods most at risk in San Diego, for example, appear to be suburban communities in the north that are up in the hills. Homes in such places tend to be expensive and occupied by people of more conservative persuasions.
We pause now, for a quote from San Diego Fire Chief Tracy Jarman.
"We're stretched about as thin as we could possibly be ... We've never seen conditions like this," she said of the wind, drought and dryness. "That's why it's the most challenging we've ever seen."
Never say never, because California's fires are only going to get worse. While climate change is only one of many things -- fire suppression patterns, land use and development, the state's normal drought cycle -- contributing to the increasing devastation wrought by fire, there is a growing consensus among scientists that rising temperatures are already contributing to the severity of current fires. Among other factors, notes an excellent article in Monday's Riverside Press-Enterprise, "A study published last year in Science magazine connected earlier snowmelt and the later onset of winter weather to an increase in the size and intensity of fires."
But maybe Beck does mean to lump all Californians together as America-haters. Schwarzenegger was elected by both Democrats and Republicans, and his environmental initiatives appear to have widespread popular support. So bring it on! Damn us all for our support of a Nazi carbon tax. May we all burn in, uh, California!
Glenn Beck lives in Connecticut, where wildfires aren't normally considered part of the fall calendar. But maybe he should step outside and take a look at the foliage. According to the Associated Press, warmer temperatures are screwing with the autumnal fashion show.
Forested hillsides usually riotous with reds, oranges and yellows have shown their colors only grudgingly in recent years, with many trees going straight from the dull green of late summer to the rust-brown of late fall with barely a stop at a brighter hue.
"It's nothing like it used to be," said University of Vermont plant biologist Tom Vogelmann, a Vermont native.
He says autumn has become too warm to elicit New England's richest colors.
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in Burlington have run above the 30-year averages in every September and October for the past four years, save for October 2004, when they were 0.2 degrees below average.
I love New England too, but really, people, count yourself lucky.