As I write these lines, vast wildfires are sweeping through my home state of Colorado and other areas of the American west. Last week, two of my employees had to leave work early to rush home to evacuate their families from imminent danger. Hundreds of houses have already been destroyed, and thousands of acres of trees incinerated, and unknown myriads of wild animals burned alive.
This disaster was predictable, and promises to get worse. Over the past decade, from British Columbia to New Mexico, the world’s most rapid deforestation has been underway in the North American west, with an average of nearly six million acres of forest lost per year — roughly double the three million acres per year rate in Brazil. The culprits here, however, have not been humans, but Western Pine Beetles, whose epidemic spread has turned over 60 million acres of formerly evergreen pine forests into dead red tinder, dry ammunition awaiting any spark to flare into catastrophe.