The people of Gatlinburg, Tenn., awoke in a panic Tuesday morning, Nov. 29. The fire that began Monday night continues to burn, leaving hundreds of buildings destroyed and seven dead. As the death toll continues to rise, Tennesseans pray for a miracle.
This fire has consumed more than 15 thousand acres of the Great Smoky Mountains. Native animals are dying, historic buildings are gone and people are losing all they have. The end isn’t in sight, and Southerners are scared. There is little hope. This fire has caused permanent damage to the area.
However, this fire has increased environmental recognition in the area. As the South has little experience with fire. Smokey the Bear has a different lecture in the South than the West.
In the West, Smokey warns us of fire safety. Preventive measures are displayed throughout National Parks. In the South, Smokey warns us about bears: how to avoid bears, how to act when approached by one and how to close the trash can to keep bears out.
They aren’t warned about fires in their humid, wet climate. Visible fire damage is rare. It’s just not a pressing issue in the South. That’s why it’s so easy for Southerners to ignore fires, and even easier for Southerners to ignore climate change.
It’s no secret conservatives are the main opposers to climate change. About 56 percent of Republicans deny global warming according to thinkprogress.org. Right-wing politicians go as far as to call climate change a hoax, our president-elect being one of them.
Red states believe it is a hoax simply because the evidence isn’t strong enough. Sure, it’s getting a little hotter outside. Sure, the South only gets two inches of snow. But these concerns aren’t detrimental — fires are. You can’t ignore flames tearing through a community.
This is a wake-up call. Tennessee and other surrounding states will have to take climate change more seriously. It’s an issue that’s impossible to ignore now. When the people of Gatlinburg leave their homes, they will see the effects of climate change in the withered trees and empty forest. They will begin to ask why this happened and how they can prevent it, forcing them to recognize global warming.
A similar issue resides in Flagstaff. Flagstaff’s citizens see less and less snow every year. Although Coconino County itself isn’t a predominantly red community, the state of Arizona has voted Republican (except for Bill Clinton’s win in 1996) since 1952. As the people of Phoenix and Tucson make their way up to take part in winter activities, they will notice less natural snow and increasingly warmer weather. And inability to produce a cold climate will be detrimental to the Flagstaff Nordic Center, Mormon Lake Lodge and Wing Mountain snowplay area.
Conservatives will be forced to recognize global warming in their backyards and cold-weathered vacation spots. Although the fire in Tennessee is absolutely devastating, Southerners have to care. Although the snow in Flagstaff is still visible, Arizonans will notice a difference. The effects are large and impossible to ignore.