The wildfire disaster in Colorado seems to be abating a bit as weather turns cooler and more humid, and may not reach the destructive levels experienced by Texas last summer. But the saga can and should call forth some reflections not only on the reality of global climate change, but on more specific problems associated with runaway development in dangerous areas, and the religious and economic viewpoints that encourage it.

At Religion Dispatches, University of Colorado historian Paul Harvey provides a close-up look at how ideology contributed to the Waldo Canyon fire disaster in Colorado Springs:

[T]he very emphasis on fire mitigation and maintenance, and reasonable regulation of development in natural fire zones—and in what they call the “wildland-urban interface”—meets resistance from a religious ethic of dominion over the earth that colludes with the libertarian free market enthusiasms of developers who skillfully sell to buyers seeking escape from the Gomorrah of urban America.

Nowhere is that more true than in Colorado Springs, which marries an activist grassroots religious conservatism, faith in (and reliance on) the military-industrial complex, and a historic western libertarian hatred of “big government”—combined with an economic reliance on big government. In a city sometimes referred to as the “Protestant Vatican” for its profusion of religiously conservative activist groups, unregulated housing developments into Wildland-Urban Interface zones have proliferated over the last generation, such that foothills and obvious fire zones boast some of the region’s most geographically attractive housing.

As Harvey notes, the same mix of religious and civic attitudes is likely to make rebuilding “bigger and better than ever” in the same fire zones a local priority. And so the cycle continues.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.