Blaming God For Human Mismanagement

Blaming God For Human Mismanagement
Smoke from record-setting fire currently burning in Texas

Our hearts go out to those who have lost property and maybe even loved ones to the so-called natural disasters that have increased in frequency and size. Few of these disasters are the typical product of nature. What God created has always been in balance and functioned without the massive changes we are seeing in today’s world, but skeptics are blaming God for human mismanagement.

Among the disasters that have increased in number and ferocity are wildfires. They destroyed massive numbers of trees, causing a shortage of wood and wood products, destroying homes and businesses, and even entire towns. The Nature Conservancy reported that the average wildfire size today is 23,000 acres. In the 1980’s, the average wildfire size was 7,000 acres. A currently burning wildfire in Texas has destroyed more than one million acres.

Those of us with some training in environmental management know that the “Smokey the Bear” idea of preventing any kind of fire was an ignorant practice. In the natural world, lightning and spontaneous combustion produce small fires. When you allow leaves and dead wood to accumulate for decades, a lightning strike can cause a massive fire with lots of fuel for combustion. Even the amount of smoke these huge fires generate threatens people living thousands of miles away.

God has used fires in surprising ways. There are some trees whose seeds do not germinate unless they have been exposed to fire. Some animals depend on naturally burned-over areas to produce food such as berries and nuts. Still, we have been in some areas where the fire’s massive heat sterilized the area, preventing anything from growing.

Skeptics are blaming God for human mismanagement that has caused the devastating fires we are seeing today. A major cause of today’s catastrophic fires is human prevention of naturally occurring small fires. We need to recognize that the intelligence of design has kept woodlands healthy and stable in the past. We must work with that design intelligently to avoid the tragic pictures we see on the news.

We also need to understand that there are some places where humans should not build buildings. We all know that Los Angeles and San Francisco straddle the San Andreas fault, which has produced severe earthquakes in the past and will do it again. When that happens, skeptics will be blaming God for human mismanagement, even though the warnings were there. We know what we must do, but greed and selfishness seem to rule the day instead of intelligent management of what God has given us.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: The Nature Conservancy newsletter first issue for 2024 (page 13) and NBC News

The Tragic Fires of Lahaina

Maui Map
The Tragic Fires of Lahaina Destroyed the Storefronts
Lahaina storefronts before the fire
The tragic fires of Lahaina destroyed the train station
Lahaina train station before the fire

Those who have not been to Maui may be unable to comprehend the tragic fires of Lahaina and what happened there. I lectured on Maui several times, visited Lahaina, and even lived in the area for a short time in Kehei. Knowing the area, I can understand the conditions leading to the wildfire that destroyed the town and killed so many people.

Maui is a beautiful island. There are two huge mountains and two primary sections of the island. Haleakala is a popular tourist area with a road to Hana on the east side of a volcanic mountain where there are many gardens and lush vegetation. The other side is a barren area of relatively recent lava flows.

On the island’s northern side, a mountain area known as Kahakuloa has an observatory at the top. Lahaina is located on the west side of this mountain. I worked with a church on the east side of Haleakala, a wet area with lush vegetation. Between these two mountains is a relatively flat area with the villages of Waikapu and Pounene and the main shopping area for locals and tourists.

Unlike Haleakala, Kahakuloa has weathered igneous rock on its west side, which has led to soil capable of supporting crops, primarily sugar cane. When we were there, the growers used fire to remove the processed sugar cane. The area was very dry, with a vast cattle ranch and people living in open houses and sheds because rain was infrequent.

What we have described here is a classic example of a rain shadow. Moist air moves up the sides of the two mountains, and as it cools, it drops its water as rain. All the moisture is gone by the time it gets to the top of the mountains. As a result, very dry air goes over the mountain and cascades down the other side, creating desert-like conditions. This is not an area to attract tourists, but with irrigation, it’s a productive agricultural area.

A fire on the mountain’s east side would not spread since lush green trees and grass do not burn easily. On the mountain’s west side, any dead cane, grass, or bushes would be great tinder. People must plan for climate changes, avoiding towns where drought conditions can produce the tragic fires of Lahaina.

Agriculture must use places to plant crops based on understanding the movement of air and water. The tragic fires of Lahaina were not an act of God but the result of human mismanagement of what God has given us. The question is whether we will learn from our mistakes or repeat them.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Predictions of Earth’s Demise Are Highly Exaggerated

Predictions of Earths Demise Are Highly Exaggerated

With many world issues to be concerned about, politicians and the media are predicting the end of the Earth because of global warming. Yes, climate change is real, but predictions of Earth’s demise are highly exaggerated.

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez received widespread media coverage as she predicted the end of humanity would happen within 12 years. Politicians today continue to scream that the end of the Earth is near. The media quoted our current administration with these words: “The world is facing a grave emergency…Every week brings new climate-related devastation. Floods. Drought. Heat waves. Wildfires, Superstorms … We are in a battle for our lives … Climate change is the biggest threat to the global economy.”

There is no question that we need to take steps to improve our planet, but predictions of Earth’s demise are highly exaggerated. The prophets of doom are not only inaccurate, but they are unsettling. Consider the following facts which you won’t see in most of the media:

1. The number of hurricanes annually making landfall in the U.S. has declined since 1900. That is also true for major hurricanes – category three and above. The second-lowest recorded year was 2022.
2. The wildfires in Australia in 2019 and 2020 were close to Sydney and Melbourne, where the major news organizations are, so the coverage was exaggerated. The total number of fires in Australia as a whole was one of the lowest levels on record. The amount of burned areas over the entire planet has dramatically declined over the past 25 years.
3. In the 1920s, roughly 500,000 people died annually due to climate. That number has been dropping to approximately 11,000 people in 2022.
4. In 1890, renewable sources produced 94% of the world’s energy (mostly wood). In 2021, 16% of the world’s energy was from renewable sources.
5. Unlike the politicians’ proposal of net zero by 2050, the most optimistic model suggests we could reach 95%. However, the cost would be roughly $11,000 per person per year.
6. Yale climate economist William Nordhaus received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2018 for his studies comparing the cost of climate change and climate policy. He showed that restricting the average world temperature to a 6.75 degrees Fahrenheit rise, instead of the 7.4 degrees that it will rise if we do nothing, would cost 20 trillion dollars. Limiting the increase to 5.3 degrees would cost about 100 trillion dollars.

The bottom line is that the media and the politicians are exaggerating the long-term effects of climate change and underestimating the economic cost of climate policy. Motivating people to do something is good, but we must consider the cost and apply innovation to do the job efficiently.

God created a resilient Earth, and we must recognize the challenges and be good stewards of God’s gifts. All the hand-wringing of the media and the politicians accomplishes very little. Predictions of Earth’s demise are highly exaggerated.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Thinking Smartly About Climate Change” by Bjorn Lomborg in Imprimis for April/May 2023, Volume 52, Number 4/5.

Wildfires Can Be Beneficial

Wildfires Can Be Beneficial

We have all seen the heart-wrenching pictures of people who have lost their homes to wildfires. Several years ago, we were in the area around Mount Lassen in California and saw how a very hot fire reduced a vast area to dust– including homes, cars, and electric power lines and towers. Of course, some people criticize God’s design when a wildfire devastates an area, but wildfires can be beneficial.

The National Science Foundation funded a 35-year study in Minnesota which showed that periodic wildfires can inhibit plant disease. Oak wilt is a fungal pathogen that can devastate groves of oak trees. The NSF study showed that areas that experience periodic wildfires have a much lower incidence rate of oak wilt than areas with no fires. The difference is striking, with a 765% reduction in oak tree mortality in burned areas over unburned areas.

The NSF report mentions that very little long-term research has been done on fire and plant disease interactions. We can’t blame God for poor design causing wildfires. Studies have shown that many wildfires are caused by poor human management of ecosystems. When people allow forest litter to pile up, the potential for destructive wildfires increases dramatically. How people maintain their properties contributes to wildfire damage to homes in residential areas. With climate change causing higher temperatures and severe droughts in areas with large human populations, wildfires will cause more damage.

The research shows that wildfires are a functional part of controlling invasive attacks on local plants in the natural world. So God’s design is not flawed, but human errors in managing what God has given us have brought great pain to many people. The question is whether we will learn from the past.

Science has given us tools to understand that wildfires can be beneficial in the natural world. Will we continue to promote ignorance of how the natural system works and bring tragic results to people living in areas vulnerable to wildfires?

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: National Science Foundation Research News and the journal Ecology Letters

Natural Solutions for Wildfires and Drought

Natural Solutions for Wildfires and Drought - Beavers
Natural Solutions for Wildfires and Drought - Beaver Dams

People worldwide need water for drinking, growing crops, bathing, and even for transportation. The problem is not so much the lack of precipitation as it is distribution. In the western United States, a massive amount of water accumulates as snow on the mountains during the winter season. This snow melts, and the water runs off in spring and summer. Some it soaks into the ground and creates a wealth of aquifers that carry the water underground for many miles. Humans have tapped this water with wells lowering the water table, causing a scarcity of natural springs and water available near the surface. That causes vegetation to dry up and die, making wildfires a major issue. There are natural solutions for wildfires and drought.

Wildfires that have occurred in the western United States in the past two years were relatively rare in the past. As water tables continue to drop, we can expect to see more fires, water shortages, and more demand for this vital resource. Private landowners have found a partial solution by building small rock dams that slow runoff and allow more water to soak into the ground raising the water table. In the Gunnison, Colorado area, landowners have constructed some 2,000 of those dams known as zuni bowls. The result is that places that were formerly brown through much of the summer and fall are becoming green.

Others seeking natural solutions for wildfires and drought reintroduce beavers into areas where there are streams and rivers they can dam and make ponds. In the past, people have trapped and removed beavers to allow land development projects. Today, people are even planting trees for beavers to use for dam building. When beaver dams create ponds and raise the water table, they create a whole new ecosystem restoring birds and other water animals while reducing the threat of wildfires. In July of 2018, the Sharps fire scorched the Baugh Creek region near Hailey, Idaho. The fire reduced everything to charcoal except the vegetation along beaver-built ponds, which remained green oases.

God created the Earth with natural solutions for wildfires and drought. Human activity often upsets that balance, but we are learning how to restore God’s water solutions. Beavers are among the resources God created to do the job. We just need to know how to use the tools God gave us.

— John N. Clayton © 2021

Reference: Science News, March 27, 2021.

Fire Chaser Beetles

Fire Chaser Beetles
Wind driven fire devils in burning forest.

It seems that God has created creatures to fill every possible need that can occur in nature. One of the most interesting of these is a beetle that is actually attracted to fires. According to the American Museum of Natural History, the beetle is of the genus Melanophila. People who live in areas where wildfires are frequent refer to them as “fire chaser beetles.”

When a fire occurs, the beetles sense its presence and fly toward it. They will lay their eggs in forest material that is still smoldering, or in material that has been recently burned. The biological explanation is that their eggs are safer from predators than they would be in an area that has not been burned, but how would they know that.

If you think about it, this beetle is a significant factor in the recovery of a burned area. One problem after wildfires is that much of the food for birds and mammals has been destroyed. The whole ecosystem has to be reset, and the eggs and baby beetles of Melanophila are at the bottom of the food chain. The fire chaser beetles’ ability to locate the fires involves an infrared detection system. Instead of flying away from the fire, as you would expect, they fly toward it.

How such a system could develop by natural selection is an interesting question. It seems that fire chaser beetles are part of God’s design to assist the recovery of burned-over areas.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: Reader’s Digest, June 2020, page 36.

Self-Imposed Plagues

Self-Imposed Plagues
We have received several emails bemoaning the cost of the storms and wildfires that have caused significant damage and some deaths in every country in the world. Some of the writers have suggested that God is responsible for all the bad things that have been happening. We have pointed out in previous articles how the massive destruction of hurricanes and wildfires are really a product of human mismanagement. But an even greater issue is the cost of self-imposed plagues.

Popular Science in the winter 2018 issue on page 26 published some data on what the magazine calls “The Plagues We Made.” The article uses data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some of the numbers:

-Cost of the opioid crisis in 2015 – $504 billion
-Cost of firearm violence – $229 billion
-Opioid overdose deaths in 2016 were five times what they were in 1999
-Years of life lost to opioids in 2016 – 1,681,359
-Years of life lost to gun violence in the U.S. in 2016 – 916,869
-Americans killed by guns in the U.S. per day – 96.2 – 59% of those are suicides

These self-imposed plagues are taking more lives than the so-called “natural” disasters. As our country moves away from God and deeper into a “survival of the fittest” mentality, these numbers are guaranteed to increase.
–John N. Clayton© 2018

Blaming California Wildfires on God

Blaming California Wildfires on God
I am writing this article near Redding, California. We have been involved in lectureships in California during this month of August 2018. The fires that are burning in this state have been a constant source of inconvenience for us. They are a major tragedy for people here who have lost homes, businesses, and health. Smoke makes travel difficult, but for people with respiratory problems, the smoke can be lethal. Over and over we have heard references to “why did God do this to us” or in other cases “thank God for…” While we understand the emotions that go with all that is happening, we need to stop blaming California wildfires on God.

While working in California, we are blessed to be with Keith Crummer. Keith has been an ecosystem manager and forest management expert in California for over 30 years. He has degrees in forest management from the University of California at Berkeley and from Oregon State. As we discussed the incredible damage of this current series of fires, Crummer just shook his head in sadness. He told us that what is happening in California was caused by human ignorance and mismanagement.

One fact that astounded me is that there are more trees in the United States now than have ever existed in the history of this area. Before the white man arrived on the scene, trees grew and died just as they do today. When the biomass accumulated on the forest floor, small fires set by lightning or by spontaneous combustion eliminated it. Those fires wiped out small trees and allowed grasses to flourish which in turn supported deer, elk, and other mammals. That made the forest less dense. While fires existed, they were small fires that ran out of fuel very quickly.

Then humans moved in and stopped the fires and allowed vast amounts of biomass to accumulate on the forest floor. The trees became so dense that grass could not grow. Crummer said that scientists know that managing the forest involves harvesting the material that falls to the forest floor, thinning the trees, and using the energy that is available from them. This would eliminate the potential for uncontrolled burning because massive amounts of fuel would not be available. It would also allow animals like deer and elk to proliferate. The current fire catastrophe is 100% due to the mismanagement of the environment by people who thought they were doing the right thing by eliminating fires and refusing to allow cutting down trees or removing brush.

In the Genesis account, God told the first humans to “…fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of heaven and over every living thing that moves on the earth” ( Genesis 1:28-30). “The Lord God took man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it…” (Genesis 2:15-16).

God did not tell them to merely preserve the creation. The creation is a living, changing, dynamic entity. It is our job to facilitate the changing Earth. Working and keeping the Earth means to control those things that would destroy what God created including the animals that live on it. We need to stop blaming California wildfires on God. After the fires in Yellowstone National Park, the elk and deer populations returned to levels close to what they were before humans arrived. If we had done what God commanded in Genesis and worked the forests of the western states, the fires today would not be spreading as they are.

So God did not “do it” to those who lost homes. We understand the anguish and desperation that our friends have experienced, but instead of blaming California wildfires on God we need to realize that politicians and bureaucrats have mismanaged the wonderful resources God has given us. Environmental extremists need to understand more fully what must be done to preserve and protect the environment for the benefit of future generations. Followers of Jesus Christ need to let those who are suffering know that we want to help them. God is not the cause of their burden, but He wants to send His people to love and support those who are suffering.
–John N. Clayton © 2018