Tom Boatner would never be mistaken for a left-leaning, big-city liberal.

He spent 30 years fighting fires in the American West before becoming chief of fire operations for the Bureau of Land Management.

After the tragic deaths of 19 young firefighters Sunday afternoon in Arizona, CBS aired a segment of a previous interview with him.

“You know there are a lot of people who do not believe in climate change,” Scott Pelley said, standing with Boatner on the edge of a large fire.

“You won’t find them on the fire line in the American West,” Boatner said flatly.

“We’ve had climate change beat into us over the last 10 or 15 years. We’re dealing with a period of temperature, humidity and drought that is different than people have seen in our lifetimes.”

Politicians from the South and the West have been among the most consistent opponents of measures to curb carbon dioxide output as they continue to doubt the consensus of scientific opinion that the world is getting hotter.

U.S. production of CO2, the gas thought most responsible for climate change, has declined slightly over the past several years as the recession slowed industrial output, vehicles became more efficient and more of our electricity was produced by burning cleaner natural gas.

Much of the opposition to climate-change science seems based upon simple self-interest rather than informed science.

The Southern and Western states produce the coal and petroleum products that account for most of the carbon dioxide output in the U.S. 

What’s more, they enjoy much lower electric energy rates because they rely on coal-burning power plants. The electricity is cheap because they send the biproducts, toxic chemicals and carbon dioxide, up tall smokestacks and into the upper atmosphere, much of which finds its way into New England.

This results in labored breathing for people with lung disease and asthma, and thousands of premature deaths.

Last week, members of Maine’s lobstering, tourism, conservation and educational organizations launched a public-awareness campaign about the climate threat to our state’s signature catch: lobsters.

Warmer water could shift lobster habitat north, said Dr. Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine. Warmer waters may also threaten Maine’s lobster population by introducing predators or competitors from the south.

More acidic waters resulting from air pollution may harm lobsters’ ability to form shells, although more research on that is required.

The week before, a National Wildlife Federation report on global warming and wild birds reported that our state bird, the black-capped chickadee, is already beginning a slow retreat to Canada.

Temperatures here are becoming uncomfortably warm for some other inland and shoreland birds, like puffins, while mid-Atlantic species such as the red-bellied woodpecker and the black vulture are now appearing in southern New England.

So far, Maine has not suffered the sort of disastrous weather being recorded in other parts of the world, namely rising sea levels, longer, more intense droughts and the scalding hot temperatures like those seen in the West.

But we’re also not using our time to explore and plan for possible consequences.

Last week, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature that would have restarted statewide preparation for climate change.

In 2010, 75 state, federal, local and business organizations produced a preliminary report, a road map for helping Maine prepare for climate change.

When LePage came into office, he not only eliminated Maine’s Planning Office, but also ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to stop working on climate change planning.

So, while other New England states are taking the threat seriously and planning for climate change, Maine has its official head stuck in a hole in the sand.

As temperatures continue to rise, we may one day find this a costly and dangerous mistake.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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