07/31/2012 12:50 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2012

Wildfire Denial

At a recent congressional hearing on the record-breaking Western forest fires, a witness rhetorically asked the Republican majority what solution they had in mind.

"Do you want to be remembered by future generations as a Herbert Hoover who sat idly by in the face of calamity, or as an Abraham Lincoln who took every measure to save the union? Are you Neville Chamberlain or will you be Winston Churchill who worked tirelessly to prepare Britain for the approaching onslaught?"

The questions were posed by Dr. Joseph Romm, a former Energy Department official and the only witness from the environmental community. His motive was to elicit from the Republican House members on the podium whether they agreed climate change was at the root of the wildfire problem and must be mitigated by a reduction in carbon emissions.

The Republican response was predictable. Romm's challenge was greeted with stone-faced silence by the GOP lawmakers, most of whom in the past had expressed skepticism about a human role in global warming, if they acknowledged the climate phenomenon at all. They were there to push for increased thinning of timber dry forests.

Undeterred, Romm went on to warn that if Congress focused solely on the symptoms of climate change, namely the prolonged drought and massive wildfires, the strategy would be akin to "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Food prices would eventually soar, Romm said, and large parts of the South would be uninhabitable by 2100.

Romm's admonition was ignored by Republican lawmakers who devoted their time to extracting support from the five other witnesses regarding increased thinning as the preferred fire-suppression alternative.

Thinning as an effective fire reduction strategy is spotty at best, Romm argued. It can be a helpful short-term strategy in certain situations, he noted, yet even in the best of circumstances it is a bandage rather than a cure. Indeed, Romm concluded, thinning alone was unsustainable in the long run. If climate change were not addressed, he warned, droughts would become more severe, the soil would get ever drier, the forest would become more fire-prone, and the thinning of brush would mushroom until barely any trees remained.

Why, then, were the Republicans on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee so dead set on thinning as the solution? Many environmental activists see a connection between the promotion of expanded thinning and the lobbying of the timber and livestock industries for an increase of commercial access into our national forests.

That leaves individuals like Romm engaged in an exercise in futility. It is safe to say that virtually all Republicans in Congress are slaves to a doctrinaire denial of human-induced climate change, placing them squarely in the "Hoover-Chamberlain" camp.

For the nation's sake, they need to snap out of it quickly and realize they are "losing the forest for the trees."