• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!

The Summer of No Return

Photo Source NASA Goddard Space Flight Center | CC BY 2.0

The forecast for August 8th was ominous. The temperature in Portland was predicted to breach 100 hundred degrees for the second time in a couple weeks. In the end, the mercury stalled at 96 degrees because the sun was blotted out for most of the day by a thick pall of pinkish smoke from the Mendocino fires 500 miles to the south. Two days later the undulating jet stream carried traces of the smoke another 3000 miles east to New York City and beyond.

In just two weeks, the Mendocino Fire complex had scorched 340,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in California history. The Mendo fire started four days after the Carr Fire ignited, which destroyed more than 1000 homes and killed eight people near the city of Redding in northern California. The Carr Fire, still burning in mid-August, has seared more than 210,000 acres. In the Sierras, the 100,000 Ferguson Fire closed the Yosemite National Park and killed two firefighters. In southern California, the Holy Jack Fire erupted in a mushroom cloud of smoke on Hiroshima Day. California was burning from border to border.

Clarence Sibsey is a fire refugee. For the second time in two years, he was forced to evacuate his home near Clear Lake.  “We’ve never had fires like this before,” Sibsey told the Los Angeles Times. “Why now?”

In one of his most mystical Tweets, Donald Trump tried to give Sibsey an answer. The president blamed the California fires on the state’s policy of allowing some of the waters from its much-molested rivers to empty into the Pacific Ocean, instead of being totally diverted into the irrigation ditches of the Central Valley and the Klamath Basin. It may have escaped the President’s keen grasp of California geography that the two biggest fires are burning adjacent to several of the state’s largest lakes, including Lake Shasta, Trinity Lake and Clear Lake.

Following Trump’s lead, Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, strode forth to calm a troubled nation by assuring us that the historic fire-season had nothing to do with climate change. Instead, Zinke pointed the finger at radical environmentalists as the culprits, who the former Navy SEAL and failed micro-brewmeister alleged had shut down logging across the West. “America is better than letting these radical groups control the dialogue about climate change,” Zinke  fumed “Extreme environmentalists have shut down public access. They talk about habitat and yet they are willing to burn it up.”

In the last 2o years, 84 percent of wildfires haven’t been “wild.” They’ve been started by humans, many of them by people affiliated with the timber industry seeking to profit from post-fire salvage logging.

In order not to excite skeptical minds, Zinke has cut all funding for federal research into the links between climate change and wildfires. As if to drive home the point, Trump’s EPA hubristically unveiled its plans to rollback emissions standards for new cars and trucks with the California fires as a kind of operatic backdrop.

Not even the timber industry is taking Zinke seriously. Their own internal documents reveal what should be obvious to all: extreme heat is fueling the mega-fires. Across the West, temperatures have increased by more than 2 degrees since the mid-1970s. Higher temperatures lead to drier vegetation. As a consequence, wildfires burn hotter, longer and spread faster. The proof is on the ground. Since 1984, the average number of acres burned in the West each year has more than doubled. The fire season starts earlier and ends later. In California, the fire season has expanded by 76 days since the mid-80s.

Last September, San Francisco, notorious for its frigid, fog-bound summers, hit 106 degrees, shattering a record for any date. On the day the Carr Fire ignited, the temperature in Redding topped out at 113 degrees. The Carr Fire raged with such fury that it created fire vortexes that propelled plumes of searing air 40,000 feet into the sky at speeds of 130 miles per hour.

The Mendo fires are burning on the outskirts of wine country in (take note, Mr. President) Lake County about 120 miles north of San Francisco. Since 2012, more than half of the land in the county has been burned over. Lake County is now the most fire-prone county in California, perhaps the entire United States. In 2015, the Valley Fire consumed 1,300 homes and killed four people. The next year, the Clayton Fire roared through the town of Lower Lake, incinerating more than 300 houses, mobile homes, offices and churches. Land that was just burned is now burning again.

July 2018 was not just the hottest month in California history, it may have been one of the hottest months on Earth in the last 40,000 years with the daily temperatures (night and day) in Death Valley averaging 108 degrees, six degrees higher than normal. July 24th saw the hottest rain ever recorded, when a cloudburst opened over Imperial County when the temperature was 119 degrees.

Meanwhile, back up in Oregon, the Columbia Gorge is burning again. Four major fires have blackened more than 100,000 acres and will likely burn until the November rains. Or longer. There are still embers smoking from last year’s fires. In Portland, the temperature topped 90 degrees 15 times in the month of July alone, the hottest on record. For perspective, from 1941 to 1975, Portland averaged only nine 90 degree days for an entire year. Since 2000, the annual number climbed to 15 days. In the past two years, the average has been 22 days. Through mid-August of this year, the temperature in Portland has already hit 90 degrees 25 times, and that’s with the skies turned opaque by layers of smoke.

Call it a heat wave if you want, but up here it felt like the summer of no return.

A Matter of Life or Death

You may have noticed. We are running our annual fundraiser. You scrolled right past it, right? Please don’t. You’re annoyed by the yellow box obscuring one-third of your screen? So are we. But two weeks into the fund-drive, we are lagging way behind. We have had more than 1000 CounterPunchers step up to the plate to donate. But that’s only a mere thousand out of the hundreds of thousands who read CounterPunch every week. Day after we give you the best writers: JoAnn Wypijewski, Paul Street, Laura Carlsen, Michael Hudson, Laura Flanders, Richard Wolff, Louisa Willcox, John Steppling, Martha Rosenberg, Ken Surin, Kim Domenico.  Writers who are penetrating, knowledgeable, and funny. Writers who don’t scare.

To single these out these journalists is not to belittle our other regular contributors. And if you’re a regular reader you’ll know them and you’ll also know all the surprising new voices you meet on our site each day. They come from every quarter, because they’re aware, like you, that this is where interesting radical and independent minds meet and where they combine in the true spirit of resistance to the dead grip of conventional thought and politics-as-usual.

We need your donation, whatever you can afford. If we don’t make our target, we’ll have to cut back our operations. You want that to happen, just as the darkness is gathering around us?

So, if you like what we do, donate now.

Before That Moment You Touched My Lips

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Behold, America: the Entangled History of “America First” and “The American Dream” by Sarah Churchwell

Standing Rock: Greed, Oil and the Lakota’s Struggle for Justice by Bikem Ekberzade

Confidante of “Tyrants”: the Inside Story of the American Woman Trusted by the US’s Biggest Enemies by Eva Golinger

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week (on vinyl) …

Comfort Me by Carla Thomas

Solar by John Scofield and John Abercrombie

Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley

Bullets in the Bargain!

Emile Zola: “There are always clever people about to promise you that everything will be all right if only you put yourself out a bit… And you get carried away, you suffer so much from the things that exist that you ask for what can’t ever exist. Now look at me, I was well away dreaming like a fool and seeing visions of a nice friendly life on good terms with everybody, and off I went, up into the clouds. And when you fall back into the mud it hurts a lot. No! None of it was true, none of those things we thought we could see existed at all. All that was really there was still more misery– oh yes! as much of that as you like– and bullets into the bargain!”

More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch


Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls