Among the thousands who have lost their homes to unprecedented West Coast wildfires in recent days is one of the notorious Oregon 11—the Republican state senators who twice staged a walkout to stop a Democratic majority from passing a climate change bill.
But despite an overwhelming scientific majority that ties the extent and ferocity of the wildfires at least in part to climate change, State Sen. Fred Girod’s personal encounter with the result has left him only more set in his views.
The 69-year-old dentist-turned-politician blames the loss of the house he called “my forever home” not on climate change, but on environmentalists.
“Climate change is not the problem,” he told The Daily Beast on Monday. “The environmentalists have loaded up the timber area with nothing but fuel. That cost me my house.”
He added, “I also lost my pets. We barely got out.”
Girod had lived there with his wife, Daphne, and their three cats. The fury that now filled his voice sounded more genuine than might be expected from somebody who was just trying to please contributors who are big-time polluters.
He seemed to be a bona fide non-believer.
“If you want to go blame it on climate change, go [ahead],” he said. “All the bellyaching is absolutely unconscionable.”
He said of environmentalists, “They make it so you can’t harvest any trees. It just loads up. A giant bomb of fire went off.”
Some experts believe that forest management can be a factor. But few knowledgeable people say climate change is not playing a big role. And Girod’s denial was all the more remarkable because he was standing seven miles away from where the same wildfire had killed 13-year-old Wyatt Tofte as he tried to drive his grandmother, Peggy Mosso, to safety. The road was so hot that the tires melted. The boy’s body was found with his pet, a dog named Duke, dead in his lap.
Back in 2017, when the U.S. moved to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, President Trump said he had been influenced by the work of a Heritage Foundation mathematician named Kevin Dayaratna.
The following year, Girod invited Dayaratna to testify before the Oregon legislature's Joint Interim Committee on Carbon Reduction.
“We’re told that fossil fuels are a serious problem because they emit carbon dioxide, which supposedly contributes significantly to anthropogenic global warming,” Dayaratna told the committee.
He said there had been continual climate change since the Earth “was born” billions of years ago, and dismissed “the so-called social cost of carbon.” He showed powerpoint slides of a “low carbon” horse-drawn ambulance and then a “higher carbon” modern ambulance and asked which one the legislators would rather have take them to the hospital. He also offered his evaluation of the climate change bill the Democratic majority was proposing.
“I don’t believe they will have any meaningful impact on the environment,” he said.
When it came time for questions, the first was from Girod, who asked where the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, got its financial backing.
“So we know you're not in the pocket of big oil,” Girod said.
Dayaratna replied that 80 percent of the funding came from individuals and only 3 percent from corporations. Dayaratna did not say that a big chunk of the money had come from Charles Koch of Koch Industries, a major source of pollution via everything from oil refining to chemical production.
The mathematician then did say something about climate change that made him sound exactly like somebody in the pocket of big oil.
“These are myths propagated by the mainstream media,” he said.
At the hearing’s end, Girod expressed his gratitude to his guest.
“He came from the East Coast and I really want to thank him for making that trek to give us a different perspective,” Girod said.
Democrats in the state Senate continued to share the perspective of scientists and pressed ahead the following year with a major climate-change bill. Giord and the 10 other GOP senators did not have the votes to prevent its passage, so they short-circuited democracy by simply walking out.
Girod and the others went into hiding when Gov. Kate Brown dispatched the state police to find them. The Democrats drew up a wanted poster featuring photos of all 11.
Girod’s picture was third from the right to the first row.
Brown imposed fines, but the legislative season ended with the Oregon 11 still refusing to come in for a vote.
In February of this year, the Democrats tried again with what they described as significant concessions. Girod briefly joined the negotiations, but soon dropped out, dismissing the proposal with one of Trump's very favorite words.
The Oregon 11 walked out again, and this time Brown did not bother threatening them with the state police.
The climate change bill had died again by the time the wildfires—unusually ferocious, perhaps the worst in Oregon history—struck.
The Beachie Creek fire hit Girod’s district, and the area around Mill Creek was evacuated last week. The roads were closed and he was initially unable to return and inspect the damage. He and a county official managed to circle around by car on Sunday.
On the way, Girod passed through Lyons, where 13-year-old Tofte and his grandmother and his dog had perished.
Girod continued on to Mill Creek and the single-story house his parents had built in 1968. He had lived there until graduating high school and leaving for college, followed by his dental training. He had acquired the house after his widowed mother died.
What he had come to call “my forever home” had now been burned to ashes. A reporter from the Oregonian videotaped him standing with a look of disbelief. He pointed to some scorched evergreens.
“I hope these trees still live,” he said.
He then pointed to what had been the deck where he often sat with his wife.
“That’s where we would see the bald eagles and osprey,” he said.
He uttered not a word on the video about who or what might be responsible. But when The Daily Beast spoke to him to him on Monday, the mere mention of climate change seemed to trigger him. He passionately declared that the environmentalists are to blame.
“Not just my house, whole cities have been destroyed,” he said.
Apparently, some folks at the extreme other end of the political spectrum blame the likes of Girod and the other Oregon 11. His wife told The Daily Beast that the couple has been receiving threats over the phone. She described her husband as someone who just says exactly what he thinks.
“Not an ounce of bullshit in him,” she said.
That may be so. Girod may be a true non-believer whose views just happen to align with the agenda of big-money polluters such as Koch.
Girod’s views also echoed what the Non-Believer-in Chief was saying on Monday down in the California fire zone. Trump likewise blamed vegetation in the forests and denied that climate change was a factor in the deadly blazes that had killed dozens in three states.
“I don't think science knows, actually," Trump said at one point.
Trump then flew off to continue his campaign with a second science-defying indoor event in two days with few masks and little social distancing. And one of the Oregon 11 stood with the ashes of his forever home.