As I write, the Wallow fire in eastern Arizona is at 607 square miles — larger than the city of Phoenix — and zero containment. I haven't been to Eager or Springerville in more than 30 years, but Google Earth confirms that this is still a part of the state that has not been consumed by the Growth Machine. All of Apache County has less than 72,000 people and grew only 3 percent from 2000 to 2010. It is magic country.
Unlike the Rodeo-Chedeski fire, which consumed 732 square miles along the Mogollon Rim, this doesn't appear to have the added risk of hundreds of tract houses built amid pine trees on land made private by secretive federal land swaps. It also lacks Valinda Jo Elliott, the accidental arsonist, who stalked away from a fight with her boyfriend carrying the essentials for the wilderness that every Boy Scout learns to carry: Cigarettes, a lighter, flip-flops and a towel. And be sure to light a "signal fire" in dry, windy country when you get lost. She is the perfect Arizona voter, if not member of the Legislature.
This is pure tragedy. It is also a taste of the future.
None of this is being discussed in a nation where the major public policy debate of the moment is Anthony Weiner's weiner. Much less is it even allowed into public discourse in Arizona, where the Kookocracy believes climate change is a hoax, and if it's not then the free market, lots of guns, and Jesus' second coming will take care of it. (Washington state is studying the consequences, including the potential for a flood of "climate refugees" from you-know-where). The usual prattle has begun, blaming the fire on environmentalists and lack of vast clear-cut logging. I love it that Gov. Jan "Gub'ment is the Problem" Brewer trumpets a federal grant that will help pay for the firefighting. Does she realize that her party's desire to shrink government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub will leave a governmental corpse unable to endlessly bail out Arizona's bad bets?
All I can guess about the business interests that really run the GOP — and much of the Democratic Party, as well — is that they think we will muddle along and adapt. Unlike the Tea Party rabble that are their brown shirts, they know perfectly well that climate change, just like peak oil, is real and happening now. There will be losers and winners, as in any economic event, but they will be winners because they always are. So what if much of the earth becomes uninhabitable, disease spreads, political instability grows, species are made extinct and food shortages become widespread — we can move cargo and drill for oil in the ice-free Arctic Sea! Anyway, we'll be dead by then and there's much to loot in the meantime. These are the same people who brought you wars without end and a recession without end. What could possibly go wrong following their advice? Meanwhile, America lacks a real opposition party and what little watchdog press exists reaches only those who already know we are in an emergency.
For those who always carp about "you never offer solutions," here we go. We should tax carbon emissions at every level. Build a 21st century intercity rail system and retrofit suburbia with transit, especially light- and commuter rail. Do the Manhattan Project of renewable, sustainable energy. Change land-use patterns to encourage more scalable, walkable, transit-served and compact metropolitan areas. Stop the sprawl. Get away from the cars. Forget coal, gas and drill-baby-drill, because they will only make the problem worse and keep stoking our appetite for the same destructive patterns. In other words, we will have to change our living arrangements, as Jim Kunstler says. And Americans — least of all Arizonans — won't even consider doing that.
What is not available is a "solution" that will allow us to sustain the unsustainable. Many hucksters are peddling this. It won't work. Future generations will curse us, hope we burn for our selfishness and idiocy. And so we will.