It’s not your imagination. Wildfire seasons are getting worse, and the West is getting drier

Wildfires this summer have stretched government resources to their limits. (Uriah Walker/U.S. Army photo)

One of the great talking points of late has been the severity, or even the existence, of climate change. There was a time, maybe just short of 30 years ago, when the scientific and political consensus were on the same track, agreeing that man-made carbon and methane emissions were changing the climate.

A lot of industry pushback, in the form of like-minded politicians and convincing-looking counternarratives, soon cropped up. Arguments of “job-killing regulations” and no small amount of doubt-sowing opinion pieces, studies and so forth muddied what was at one time a clearer picture. And to be frank, the far-off implications of what might happen didn’t move the meter much in terms of public opinion.

What people needed was evidence. Evidence they could see. And not just data, which for some reason, people just don’t trust as much as what they see with their own eyes. Bad things were coming, we were told. But for most, out of sight means out of mind.

The trouble with this line of thinking is that when you finally see the negative consequences that were predicted all along, it’s likely too late. And that’s what we’ve seen come to pass in the American West.

Two things come to mind, things that are not only measurable, but visible.

The first is the expanding wildfire season, and the growth of its severity.

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently published these facts on the subject:

Between 1980 and 1989, the American West averaged 140 wildfires of 1,000 acres or larger every year. Between 2000 and 2012, that number nearly doubled, to 250.

The wildfire season has grown in length. In the 1970s, the season lasted about five months. Now it’s up to seven months.

As western states heat up, snowpack is melting four weeks earlier than normal. Hotter, drier forests are becoming more vulnerable to more frequent and more destructive wildfires.

A satellite image of wildfires in California. (NASA image)

The journal Nature confirmed this with its own research, noting that this is a global problem:

“Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyrogeographic shifts. Here we use three daily global climate data sets and three fire danger indices to develop a simple annual metric of fire weather season length, and map spatio-temporal trends from 1979 to 2013. We show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across 29.6 million km2 (25.3%) of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in an 18.7% increase in global mean fire weather season length. We also show a doubling (108.1% increase) of global burnable area affected by long fire weather seasons (>1.0 σ above the historical mean) and an increased global frequency of long fire weather seasons across 62.4 million km2 (53.4%) during the second half of the study period. If these fire weather changes are coupled with ignition sources and available fuel, they could markedly impact global ecosystems, societies, economies and climate.”

And from NASA, data show that as bad as things are looking in the western U.S., the problem is significantly worse in eastern Brazil, east Africa and western Mexico.

The statistics for 2018 obviously aren’t in yet, but if it seems like the entire West is on fire, you’re not too far off target. Drought in the U.S. Southwest created massive wildfires in Arizona, northern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Wildfires later erupted in Utah and Wyoming. Record-setting blazes are scorching California once again, and massive fires are currently burning in Montana and British Columbia. It’s one of the worst fire seasons I can remember, and my guess is by the time 2018 ends, it could be a record-setter.

Lengthening, more damaging wildfire seasons are one thing. But there’s more. The nature of the arid west is changing, too. It’s growing.

NPR recently reported this:

“The American West appears to be moving east. New research shows the line on the map that divides the North American continent into arid Western regions and humid Eastern regions is shifting, with profound implications for American agriculture.”

A meridian running through the plains of Canada and the U.S. and into Mexico is seen as the diving line between the drier West and the wetter East. Researchers, according to NPR, are discovering that line is moving east, increasing the size of the Rocky Mountain rain shadow and making the breadbasket of the U.S. that much smaller. Farmers are finding it more difficult to successfully irrigate their crops (and the depletion of the Ogallalah Aquifer will only make this harder), so they’re switching to ranching, which is less water-intensive.

The arid climate of the West is edging its way into the wetter, more humid East. And that will affect agriculture and livelihoods for people in the Great Plains.

Right now, it’s difficult to measure the impact of this shift, but you can imagine its potential significance. Production of food and biofuels lies with the success of agriculture in the Great Plains. If that becomes less tenable in places like the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the shift will be felt not only by the farmers themselves, but consumers in the U.S. and abroad. The real question becomes one of figuring out how far east that dry/wet dividing line will go.

At one time, people might have wondered what climate change will look like. Well, now we know. It means longer, more intense fire seasons. It means less land for farming, and a fundamental change in the lifestyles of people making a living in the Great Plains.

In other words, some people asked for evidence. Now you can see it for yourself.

Bob Doucette

Bigger floods, more fires, stronger storms, longer heat waves: As the climate changes, get used to more of this

Golfers get in a round while wildfires burn in the background. I can’t think of a better metaphor of how climate change is being addressed in Washington right now. (Kristi McCluer, photo)

If you were to summarize and visualize the effects of climate change in the United States, all you would need is a weather recap of 2016 and 2017.

From the National Climate Assessment, these are a couple of the summarized findings and predicted conditions we can expect as the planet warms:

Extreme weather: There have been changes in some types of extreme weather events over the last several decades. Heat waves have become more frequent and intense, especially in the West. Cold waves have become less frequent and intense across the nation. There have been regional trends in floods and droughts. Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.

Hurricanes: The intensity, frequency, and duration of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s. The relative contributions of human and natural causes to these increases are still uncertain. Hurricane-associated storm intensity and rainfall rates are projected to increase as the climate continues to warm.

I’ve left out the 10 other categories, mostly for the sake of brevity. But to look back on some weather events over the past 12 months or so, it looks like a rogue’s gallery of future conditions climate scientists predict is headed our way.

In November of 2016, severe drought conditions and high winds turned the U.S. Southeast into a tinderbox. Two teens lit matches and threw them on the ground near Gatlinburg, Tenn., starting a firestorm that killed 14 people, torched 2,400 buildings in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and burned 17,000 acres in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Future warming is said to threaten the woodlands of the southeastern U.S., turning it from a temperate forest region into a warmer, and far less forested, savannah environment.

During the winter of 2016-2017, the Sierra Nevada Range saw massive snowfall that averaged, in some places, between 500 and 700 inches. This, after years of drought so severe that the entire state of California was on a water rationing plan. Previous snowpack levels were as low as less than 25 percent of normal, and yet this past winter, it was an abrupt reversal. As late as June, eight feet of snow was still present in some areas. While generally welcomed, record precipitation also prompted flooding that caused more than $1 billion in damage and caused the Oroville dam’s spillways to fail.

Not long after this bounty of moisture, the West Coast went through an intense heat wave that prompted one of the worst fire seasons in memory. Wildfires along the West Coast and in the Rocky Mountain states burned at record levels. Northern California wildfires are said to be the deadliest and most damaging that the state has ever seen. Seattle went through a near-record span without rain. Portland, Ore., normally a temperate city, broke 100 degrees regularly. And we are told that the nation’s wildfire season continues to steadily grow in length as the years have gone by, particularly in the West.

The 2017 hurricane season saw more extremes. The trend of stronger hurricanes has been on the rise since the 1980s. If this season was any indication, things can get much worse. Hurricane Harvey parked itself over Houston and east Texas, using the abnormally high water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico to feed itself for days on end. In addition to storm surge and wind damage, Harvey unloaded a year’s worth of rain on the area in the span of a week. Harvey was followed by Hurricane Irma, which hit Category 5 status at one point, and slammed into Florida with damaging winds, storm surge and flooding. Then came Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, causing damage which could linger for a generation or longer. Hurricane Ophelia hit Ireland (Ireland!), the first such storm so strike the island in nearly 60 years. Ophelia was the 10th major hurricane this season, making this the most active hurricane season since 1893.

I could go on. The warming earth has led to the spread of the pine beetle, which has devastated forests in the American West, adding further fuel to already dangerous fire conditions. We could talk about ocean acidification, which stressing marine life and threatening fisheries. And then there is the real possibilities that some places in the world inhabited by hundreds of millions of people could become so hot as to be unlivable (heat deaths in India have been in the thousands as of late, and one city in Iran recorded a heat index of 165 degrees a little more than two years ago), and that warming conditions in Southwest Asia may have contributed to the explosion of violence and turmoil seen in Syria – a crisis which flooded the region with war, sent refugees to Europe by the millions, seismically altered politics on that continent almost overnight, and even had reverberations here in the U.S. Maybe that’s why the Pentagon recently cited climate change as a major threat to U.S. national security.

And just to be clear, we are causing this.

I spend most of my time on this site discussing the outdoors, or fitness, or plenty of other things far less serious than everything detailed above. But I believe that if you love the outdoors, conservationism must be a part of your life. Naturally, a lot of us want to protect the places we enjoy. Many others make their living helping us do just that. And more importantly, we all have a stake in seeing that the places we live, work and play don’t become washed away by floods or turned to ash by fires just because we didn’t pay attention to what the planet is telling us.

And then there’s this: There are people in power trying to downplay the risk, or stifle commentary on it altogether. Multiple federal agencies are being cowed into submission by people representing interests that do not want to see any action on how we deal with climate change. In some cases, they are literally voicing and printing the talking points of industries that fear they might lose revenue and shareholder value should common-sense conservation policy be allowed to take hold.

So pay attention. Get to know who your elected officials are. Write them often. At some point, enough people must speak up for the political class to listen.

Bob Doucette

A look at some of the greatest explorers ever

Personal exploration is something we should all do. But did you ever wonder who the greatest explorers were?

Personal exploration is something we should all do. But did you ever wonder who the greatest explorers were?

Every now and then, I dive into the ole Twitterverse to take part in a select few chats, most of which deal with the outdoors.

One of them is the Adventure Travel Q&A, or simply known as #ATQA. Some very cool folks take part in this on a weekly basis, and the topics are interesting. The latest one really got me thinking.

The subject was “exploration.” I think there are two ways to look at this concept.

The first is personal exploration. By that, I’m talking about going to places new to you. This is the type of travel where you see something you’ve never seen before, revel in new experiences, and quite often, learn and grow. When people talk about “exploring” something, this is usually the type of exploration they’re referencing. For the record, I’m all for doing as much of this as you can.

The second type of exploration is more of the classic definition: An adventure where you are going somewhere no one has ever been, or doing something that’s never been done.

By this, I’m talking about those folks who were the first to summit the world’s highest peaks, to dive to the deepest part of the ocean, to see new lands never documented by man, or to peer into the darkest corners of space. We’re talking macro-exploration here.

The question was asked who the greatest explorers were. This is exactly the type of question that I can geek out on like nobody’s business. After some thinking, this is what I came up with:

A replica of an oceangoing Polynesian boat. Imagine crossing the Pacific Ocean in one of these.

A replica of an oceangoing Polynesian boat. Imagine crossing the Pacific Ocean in one of these.

The Polynesians. You want to know how there came to be people who live in places like Tahiti, Fiji or Hawaii? They didn’t jump on a steam ship or an airplane. Not originally. No, those brave folks used canoes and rafts powered by the wind (via small sails) and their own oars. The traversed the world’s largest ocean in vessels most of us would be scared to board on a big lake. But they did it, and covered THOUSANDS of miles, braving high heat, huge waves, big storms and hungry sharks. You may not know this, but the Hawaiian Islands make up the most remote island archipelago on the planet. European sailors didn’t land there before these bits of earth had long been discovered, explored and settled by Polynesians centuries before. I’d be hard-pressed to find another group of explorers more hardy than these determined mariners.

The Vikings sailed from Scandinavia to places like Iceland, Greenland and even North America in vessels like this one, centuries before Christopher Columbus.

The Vikings sailed from Scandinavia to places like Iceland, Greenland and even North America in vessels like this one, centuries before Christopher Columbus.

The Vikings. Coming a close second are the Scandinavian butt-kickers known more for their savagery toward the poor inhabitants of Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe. These guys were expert warriors, and adept at the art of psychological warfare. That’s what made their raids and acts of extortion so lucrative. But these folks were also capable sailors, be it along the coast, up rivers or in the open sea. On that last count, they one-upped Christopher Columbus by a few centuries, crossing the North Atlantic toward Iceland, Greenland and even North America. The Vikings briefly settled the southeastern coast of modern-day Canada before giving up — way back in the 10th Century. While they quit North America, the remains of their amazing feats of exploration can be seen in the ruins of Greenland and in the continuing civilization that flourishes on Iceland. Want to know how amazing this is? A typical Viking ship was powered only by sail and oar, and the ships themselves were a little over 50 feet long. Like the Polynesians, they did it without the benefit of modern navigation we take for granted today, and if you don’t already know, the North Atlantic can have some of the nastiest, stormiest weather on earth.

The moon landing may possibly be the greatest example of exploration in history, and certainly one of the greatest achievements in the history of the United States. Exploration!

The moon landing may possibly be the greatest example of exploration in history, and certainly one of the greatest achievements in the history of the United States. Exploration!

The astronauts. Be they American or Soviet space explorers (and many other nationalities now), astronauts (the USSR called them cosmonauts) take part in a type of travel that is completely novel, and overly hostile to the presence of humans. The science, technology and pure guts it takes to strap yourself into a metal can and rocket into the void cannot be understated. Think about it: You have to take everything with you — food, water and air — and protect yourself from blinding light, searing heat/deadly cold and unfiltered radiation. If everything goes right, you live, provided you can get home without frying in the earth’s atmosphere on the journey back. Everything about space is pretty much trying to kill you.

Among the grandest accomplishments therein has to be the moon landings. Seeing this happened nearly five decades ago, and how numb we are to such feats, it requires you to step back to really appreciate what the astronauts of the Saturn project did. They traveled tens of thousands of miles, LEAVING THE PLANET to land on a completely new world. Humans have walked on earth for all of our existence. Before Neil Armstrong, no living thing had ever sniffed the surface of the moon. A lot will be said about what the United States has accomplished in its brief history, but this monumental feat of exploration will go down as one of the country’s greatest-ever achievements. So you were the first to climb X mountain? Fuggetaboutit. These guys are the only living beings on earth to have set foot on another world.

You might be bumming because your own explorations don’t measure up to these badasses. But don’t be sad, little camper. Take heart. Our efforts pale in comparison, but the spirit is the same. The effort involved, the planning, and at times, the courage to carry it out, can be extreme. But think about how much you grow. The deeds of our greatest explorers illustrate how the process of adventure is a pretty awesome thing. Use that for motivation the next time the itch to explore arises.

Bob Doucette

On conservation, denial and wondering when we’re going to grow up

The Animas River in Colorado, seen by me in July of 2014.

The Animas River in Colorado, seen by me in July of 2014.

My first view of the Animas River was about a year ago. First seeing it in Durango, then taking in its seemingly pristine waters on the train ride to Needleton Station, about halfway to Silverton. There is a pedestrian bridge that allows hikers to cross the river on the way to the trails leading up to Chicago Basin and its rugged, wild and high peaks. On the up and on the way back, I had to stop in the middle of that bridge and just stare at the river as it flowed by.

Carving its way through the rugged San Juans, I couldn’t help but think how awesome it would be to fish those waters, and what it must be like to have a cabin on its shores, listening to the river wash its way over the rocks and fallen trees. Few things are more peaceful.

A year later, I saw the Animas through the eyes of the news. The Gold King Mine, upstream closer to Silverton, dumped some 3 million gallons of sludge poisoned with arsenic, cadmium and lead. The spill turned the river’s waters a putrid shade of yellow-orange.

The Animas River, in early August of 2015.

The Animas River, in early August of 2015. (Courtesy)

The cruel irony of this was the fact that the spill was actually caused by a crew working with the Environmental Protection Agency, which was there to find ways to keep the mine from leaking contaminants into nearby Cement Creek.

My initial thought upon learning this news: We did this to ourselves.

The EPA, already a punching bag for business and political interests keen on rolling back environmental regulations, is taking a beating right now. And yes, there should be repercussions for this disaster. Most of the spill has already washed downstream and will dissipate soon enough. But pollution in the riverbed will persist for some time, settling into the sediment to be released anew every time a rock moves or something else disturbs the waterway.

The reality, however, is the Gold King spill is really just a big event in a chain of numerous, smaller instances where leaking mines all over the San Juans have been polluting watersheds in the West for decades. North of Silverton, in Matterhorn Creek, small mines have clouded those waters for some time, and they won’t be clean anytime soon. Other waterways are similarly fouled, forming a long list of bullet points illustrating the long-term effects of extracting wealth from the ground. The Animas looked sick on August 5, but it’s had a small level of toxicity for some time. So have a lot of rivers nearby. Some are “safe,” but I wouldn’t bother filtering drinking water out of Matterhorn Creek anytime soon.

So as it turns out, we’ve been doing it to ourselves for quite some time now.


I live in an area of the world where skepticism toward conservation is high. Here in the Southern Plains, the EPA is seen as an agent of big government liberalism out to shut down jobs. There is a strain of positive conservationism among hunters and anglers, but it only goes as far as preserving wild game and fish that are popular among the hunting and fishing crowd. We’ll do what we can to keep a healthy herd of white-tailed deer, but any mention of spotted owls invites immediate disdain. Like a lot of things, we care about the things we see or otherwise value. But anything out of sight is truly out of mind, and that’s what makes conservation so difficult.

Energy is king in the Oil Patch. We prosper during the booms, suffer during the busts, promise to diversify our economy, then live large once the demand – and price – for oil goes up. Oklahoma weathered the Great Recession and proved largely immune because of how high the price of oil rose, and how successful horizontal drilling and fracking technology have become. We don’t see the damage to the land you see at most drilling sites – instead, we see the nice homes in tidy subdivisions and the gleaming cities oil wealth has provided. Again, out of sight, out of mind.

But as it turns out, there is another ecological price we’re paying as a result of the latest oil and gas boom. Fracking uses a lot of water, as well as a lot of chemicals, to break up underground shale formations that trap oil and natural gas deposits. Something has to be done with that wastewater, with the solution being deep wastewater injection wells far underneath the water table and presumably a safe distance away from human contact.

Those wells, however, have frequently come in contact with small fault lines which have been largely dormant for as long as anyone can remember. Until lately.

Earthquake damage at a building at St. Gregory's University in Shawnee, OK, in 2011. (AP photo)

Earthquake damage at a building at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, OK, in 2011. (AP photo)

You don’t think of Oklahoma, or anywhere else in the Midwest, as being a hotspot for earthquakes. But for the last couple of years, Oklahoma is the most seismically active state in the country, even surpassing California. Geologists have long suspected injection wells as the source of the problem, especially when these quakes started doing real damage. Most are nuisances, registering anywhere from magnitude 2-3 on the Richter scale, but a few have gone into the 4 to 5 range. One of these, a 5.5 back in 2011, caused significant damage to homes, roads and buildings in the central portion of the state.

Years later, after intensive study (and intense lobbying to quash such study), the state of Oklahoma and even a few energy companies have finally admitted that the source of the state’s increase in quakes can be tied to human activity.

Every time Oklahoma shakes, we’re reminded that we’re doing this to ourselves.


It’s been voiced by some that it is arrogant to believe that man can actually change climate. That, according to this line of thought, is within the power of God alone. If you go too far down that rabbit hole, you’ll find people who believe that climate disaster won’t happen because God won’t allow it. Deeper still, there are those who believe none of it matters because the world is bound for destruction anyway, to be replaced with heaven on earth by the powers on high.

These strains of thought seem to be behind guys like U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, Congress’ foremost climate change denier who last winter lobbed a snowball into the Senate chambers in a stunt to illustrate that global warming wasn’t happening.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe shows that this snowball, procured during the winter month of February, is evidence climate change is not happening. (Courtesy)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe shows that this snowball, procured during the winter month of February, is evidence climate change is not happening. (Courtesy)

This is troubling on many levels, because it ignores a high degree of consensus that climate change is happening, and we’re causing it. High altitude and polar glaciers are in retreat, island nations are losing land and sea temperatures keep going up at rates not seen before. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are spiking well beyond what’s been measured before, and those sea water temps are rising at rates not explained by things like natural cycles, sunspots, volcanoes, or any other diversionary alternative theories as to why these pesky climate problems keep cropping up.

At the root of it are two things: The world is burning a lot of gasoline, diesel, oil and coal, and to switch gears to where we are consuming less of these things is extremely inconvenient.

Curbing the burn also means a lot of people would stand to make less money, and if you want to meet the highest degree of resistance from anyone, hamstringing their ability to earn some coin will do it.

People have to be realistic about fossil fuels. They aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Airplanes, ships, cars, trains and trucks all need that fuel to move. The computer, tablet or mobile phone on which you’re reading this has parts made from refined petroleum products. So does the car you drive to work, the bike you take to the trail and the shoes on your feet, not to mention your clothes and just about any other product you use and consume. The very food you eat is almost all dependent on energy derived from oil, gas and coal.

And in conversations with my brother-in-law Mark, a longtime petroleum engineer, everyone in the energy industry knows it’s in their best interest to operate as cleanly, safely and responsibly as possible. A few bad actors cause a lot of headaches for more responsible companies that are trying to do it right. There are a lot of decent people making honest livings in energy.

But at some point, we’re going to have to grow up when it comes to things like clean water, clean air and climate change. We can’t keep ignoring the fact that we do spoil our water, we do make the ground shake and we do cause temperatures to rise. The conversation should not be if we are hurting ourselves, but rather, what can we do to transition into something more sustainable and less damaging.

Otherwise, we’ll be left looking back at another disaster, shaking our heads, and wondering why we keep up this cycle of self destruction.

Bob Doucette

The Weekly Stoke: What killed Christopher McCandless, running on a budget, rip tides, a huge cave and surviving a flash flood

Christopher McCandless at the bus in Alaska. ( photo)

Christopher McCandless at the bus in Alaska. ( photo)

Running a day late here. I’m supposed to be in the mountains right now, but the weather has put a stop to that. Delayed but not denied. Speaking of that, here’s this week’s Weekly Stoke!

Through years of speculation as to what actually killed Christopher McCandless (of “Into the Wild” fame), experts seem to have nailed down a cause.

Here’s a list of five things you should know about rip tides.

Running races can be expensive, but this blogger has found a good way to get your marathon fix on a budget.

Vietnam is getting ready to open up the world’s largest cave for tours.

Scientists have discovered what looks to be the world’s largest volcano. And believe me, it’s huge.

And here’s an wild video on surviving a flash flood in canyon country.

The Weekly Stoke: Obstacle course races, Mount Everest news, tragedy on Mount Hood, ice climbing and the future of U.S. groundwater

For the younger set, August is the time when you’re gearing for school. The rest of us have been working anyway. And in between that, well, hopefully you’ve been doing something awesome. Speaking of awesome, you need to check out what I’ve got here for you on this edition of the Weekly Stoke!

This diagram from Outside Online should help you pick which obstacle course race you should do:

Outside Online

Outside Online

Authorities in Nepal, hoping to get a handle on the circus that has become the Everest spring climbing season, intend to regulate the mountain more.

A snowboarder’s body was recovered on Mount Hood.

Here is part satire, part truth, in terms of nutrition product reviews.

This report does not bode well for the future of U.S. groundwater supplies.

And finally, a pretty sweet ice climbing video. Enjoy!

Seen on the run: Is climate change here?

Is this where we're headed?

Is this where we’re headed?

I was out running the other day, hitting some trails and exploring new routes in a part of the park I’d seldom seen before.

The place has all the things I love in trail running – long stretches of single track, technical paths, lots of trees and hills. Down one old jeep trail was some sort of pipeline. Elsewhere, there were signs naming certain parts of the trail system. The top of the hill is a rocky outcrop, the bottom of the ravine a maze of dry creekbeds.

Eventually I come through the thick tangle of trees and brush into an open area. A sign greets me, telling that a small body of water at my feet is “Pepsi Lake.” It’s really just a pond – Turkey Mountain has a few of these. But the misnomer aside, what strikes me is that Pepsi Lake is about two-thirds dried up.

This is one symptom of an ongoing crisis here in Oklahoma – we’re in the third year of an ongoing drought that has given us little rain, record heat and a host of problems related to both.

The situation doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. It’s been an incredibly dry and warm fall, and as I’m running these trails, I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

It’s mid-December.


I live in an energy state. Oil, gas and coal have been a big part of the development of Oklahoma, and the boom in shale oil and gas has helped the fossil fuel industry reassert itself as the big dog on the block, economically speaking. It’s boosted the state economy, though there are many (mostly from out of state) who decry big energy’s resurgence.

It’s pretty easy to talk a really big game about being green while enjoying the fruits of fossil fuel energy. As I write this, I’m typing away on a computer that is powered by electricity derived from the burning of coal. Same is true with all the lights that are illuminating my home. The computer is partially made of plastics that are made from refined crude oil. For the run I mentioned above, I traveled to Turkey Mountain in a car made from metals, glass and plastics manufactured in factories powered by gas and coal; the car is itself is powered by gasoline (another refined crude oil product) and travels on roads paved with asphalt (also a refined crude oil product). And all those wonderfully cheap techno-gadgets we all love and crave were made in similar processes overseas, shipped to our shores from halfway around the world on cargo ships powered by diesel fuel.

Everything we love about modern life – travel, ease of movement, readily available foods, communications, automation and just about every other convenience that we take for granted – owes its existence to the extraction, refining and burning of fossil fuels. You might not want to hear that, but it’s true. If not for oil, gas and coal, we’d be living lifestyles akin to what people lived in 18th Century. That’s something to think about when you’re on your iPad ripping into someone whose views are not as green as your own, or when you’re riding your eco-friendly bike made from steel, plastic and rubber forged and otherwise manufactured by way of intense drilling and mining for the old, compressed bones of ancient microorganisms buried deep underground.

But here’s another fact: The earth is getting warmer. And just about any scientist in the know will tell you that we humans are the cause.

Everything has a cost.


At this time last year, I was grumbling to myself about not being able to test my cold-weather running gear because of how mild the winter had been. Don’t get me wrong, being able to head outside in the middle of winter and enjoy 60- and 70-degree weather is pretty awesome. I can see why snowbirds from up north eventually retire in the Sunbelt states to the south.

But I was looking ahead. In the winter of 2011, Oklahoma had one really nasty blizzard and cold snap that produced record low temperatures – as cold as -30 degrees F in a town just north of Tulsa.

Not long after that, the state began to warm up and dry out. The following summer registered record heat – like two months straight of 100-degree temperatures and little to no rain. Summer 2011 was brutal, and we were all glad to see it end.

But the following fall and winter were mild and dry, absent of the weather extremes from the year before. I feared that we were in for a repeat performance for the summer of 2012. Turns out, I was right.

I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to getting outside and training, and being a night shift worker, my prime training time is late morning to early afternoon. This past summer I was out running streets and trails in temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees at times. More record heat, and almost no rain.

That pattern has continued this fall and looks to persist this winter. Does that mean I’m in for another brutal summer of training, running up to fall race season?

Big-picture rewind: Who really cares about my training being inconvenienced? The real price for this pattern of heat and drought is a confluence of ruined crops, wildfires and depleted water sources. Ranchers are forced to sell off cattle they can’t feed and water; farm ponds, like Pepsi Lake, are turning into hollow pockets of mud.

Similar stories are being told south of the border in Texas. But go north and you’re hearing it as well in places like Missouri , Iowa and just about everywhere else in the Midwest. It’s so dry, in fact, that state officials and members of Congress are begging the president to authorize the release of more water from reservoirs along the Missouri River. Why? Because the Mississippi River’s water levels are getting so low that commercial barge traffic is close to the point where it can’t reach some ports.

Drought is making Old Man River a puny version of its normal self. But upstream on the Missouri, there isn’t much water left to spare. Blame that on a lack of rain, and also fault the lousy snowpack that accumulated in the Rockies last winter – a lousy snowpack that could be matched in its lack of depth this year as well.

I’m starting to wonder if we’re watching the expedited desertification of the West and Midwest.


I can get used to these mild winter temps. Day after day, week after week, I go outside and I’m greeted by bright sunshine. That’s going to happen today, too, when I head out to the trails for more running/exploring.

I’ve also proven to myself that I can handle the heat. No, I can’t run as hard when it’s 110 as I can when it’s 60, but I can still get some work done and do it safely, provided I take the correct precautions.

My pace is slower. There’s a lot more hydration going on. And there’s a mental toughness you have to develop when you step out the door and are greeted by blast furnace heat. I consider it a challenge.

But I have to wonder: If this cycle of heat and drought continues, what will my beloved wooded hills west of town become? All those blackjack oaks and scrub brush are pretty hardy, but if we start heading into Dust Bowl conditions, will they survive? What if we go into Dust Bowl conditions and never get out? It’s probably too soon to think about that. Who knows? Weather patterns change.

But what I do know is this: I’ll be headed out to the trails today, in mid-December, wearing shorts and a T-shirt again. Looking at the forecast, that will be the case for at least the next week.



It would be one thing if this weather pattern in my part of the world was an isolated event. But it’s not.

Sea levels have risen a foot in the past century. They’re likely to rise more, and a lot faster, if ice sheets in Antarctica, Greenland and the Arctic Ocean continue to dissolve at their current rate. That has led to speculation that events like Superstorm Sandy are not just a warning to coastal communities, but a harbinger of things to come. NOAA says 2012 is very likely to be the hottest in the contiguous 48 states on record, following some other, very hot years in the last decade or so. A pattern is under way.

I was a climate change skeptic for a long time. How could a bunch of fuzzy-headed eggheads from the ivory tower world of academia possibly know that what we’re seeing was caused by us?

It now seems they’re on to something. NASA agrees. They’ve got a thorough rundown of the evidence that the accelerated warming of the planet’s seas and skies is tied to the increased production of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that trap the sun’s heat in our atmosphere.

So what to do? Go green? Develop alternative energy? What does that look like, in terms of practical application?

Do we have to relegate ourselves to scaling back our economy? Accept sky-high energy prices that are the norm in Europe? Given how deeply every aspect of our lives is in the fossil fuel economy, is it even possible?

Smarter people than me will have to answer those questions. Changing national and global habits is hard.

One thing I know for sure is that the world is changing. It’s not just because some scientist or activist told me so. I can see it with my own eyes when I go run.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Felix Baumgartner’s lesson to us all: Push your limits

Felix Baumgartner makes history. (RedBull Stratos photo)

My hope is that as many of you as possible saw Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting sky dive on Sunday. This was a rare moment, and seeing it live was incredible.

Just a few facts: Baumgartner, 43, a skydiver and extreme sport athlete, rode inside a capsule attached to a helium balloon that shot up to more than 128,000 feet. From there, he jumped off a step outside of the capsule and did a freefall into history.

He set records: The highest anyone had ever gone in a balloon; the highest sky dive ever; the fastest speed (833 mph) any skydiver had ever reached. That’s Mach 1.24, well over the speed of sound. This was a feat years in the making, with great risks, a lot of training and cutting-edge technology.

But it almost didn’t happen.

Being inside the specialized pressure suit he’d wear during the jump gave him a serious case of claustrophobia. Add to that the doubts and fears he encountered, the internal pressure of calling the whole thing off was high.

He overcame it, though. He worked his way past the fear of being in that suit, the fear of losing control during the freefall and the last-minute technical difficulties during the flight up.

Finding the internal toughness and resolve to work through those issues allowed him to do something incredible and make a mark in history, breaking a record that was a half-century old.

Felix Baumgartner back on terra firma. (RedBull Stratos photo)

I think there’s a lesson for all of us. How many times do we let fear stop us from attempting something great? How often do we tell ourselves that some feats are beyond us?

Sure, that mountain is gorgeous, but I’ll never climb it. Man, doing a half marathon/marathon/ultramarathon would be cool, but I’m just not like the people who run those. I’m just getting to old to get moving again to get in shape.

Those thoughts sound familiar? Ever hear someone utter words like these? Ever say them yourself?

“Fear” is a natural emotional response and can be a healthy thing, but it can be debilitating as well. Fear can make you stay put. Get in a rut. Deteriorate. Prevent you from doing something awesome.

Let’s be real, most of us won’t jump from the upper limits of the stratosphere. Most of us won’t skydive at all. And that’s OK.

But the sad thing is most of us won’t challenge ourselves, either. We won’t start that couch-to-5K program. We won’t actually use a gym membership. We won’t gun for that promotion, start our own business or go back to school to do something we really want to do. All because of fear.

In most cases, it’s not necessary to face your fears. You can go a long time by just keeping it at bay. But if that were the case for everyone, Everest would never have been climbed. The Marianas Trench would have never been seen. No one would have walked on the moon. Felix never would not have jumped.

Facing your fears and standing down self-doubt is a sure-fire path to growth, exploration and satisfaction. It’s nice to know that a daredevil like Felix Baumgartner has the same human fears and doubts as the rest of us. It’s also important to realize that it’s possible to claim victory over the very things that hold us back.

From doing something awesome.

You just have to step up to the platform and jump.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088