Blame Inept Bureaucrats And Environmentalists For California Wildfires, Not Global Warming

Blame Inept Bureaucrats And Environmentalists For California Wildfires, Not Global Warming

The fact that wildfires are no more frequent or severe during recent decades is remarkable considering anthropogenic changes that should make wildfires more prevalent.
James Taylor
By

Global warming activists are shamefully exploiting the tragic and deadly California wildfires by pushing a false narrative that global warming is causing more frequent and severe wildfires. President Donald Trump stood up against this propaganda by pointing out that environmental activists’ agendas and local government ineptitude are more to blame for the wildfires than global warming.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, the environmental left, and the establishment media are vilifying Trump for this response. The objective facts, however, clearly support the president.

Cliff Mass, a University of Washington climate scientist, studies wildfires and has focused specifically on those in California. Citing official state of California data, Mass points out in his Weather and Climate blog that, “the numbers of California wildfires over the past 30 years has declined––dropping roughly in half.” It is difficult to credibly assert that global warming is responsible for California wildfires when wildfires are currently much rarer than they were three decades ago.

Wildfires Aren’t Trending Upward at All

Mass further notes the total area burned has grown “slightly” during recent decades compared to the late twentieth century, with the trend too small to be significant. Moreover, the acreage burned “was as large or larger at the beginning of the 20th century as now.” At the beginning of the twentieth century, temperatures were lower than they are today, and there were no coal-fired power plants or SUVs.

“The bottom line of the real fire data produced by the State of California and in the peer-reviewed literature is clear: there has been no upward trend in the number of wildfires in California during the past decades,” Mass wrote. “In fact, the frequency of fires has declined. And in most of the state, there has not been an increasing trend in area burned during the past several decades.”

“The story can’t be simply that warming is increasing the numbers of wildfires in California because the number of fires is declining. And area burned has not been increasing either,” Mass added.

Mass observes that the cause of the Southern California wildfire is not certain. Regardless, objective, long-term data show no increase in the number or acres burned by California wildfires in recent decades, and it is especially difficult to credibly blame global warming when national wildfire data strongly agree with the California data.

National Interagency Fire Center data document there has been no increase in recent years in the number of U.S. wildfires. The total number of acres burned has been somewhat higher than normal the past few years, but the number was lower than normal during the middle of this decade. In total, there has been no increasing trend.

Wildfires Are Not More Frequent And Severe

The fact that wildfires are no more frequent or severe during recent decades is remarkable considering anthropogenic changes that should make wildfires more prevalent. Mass observes that wildfires are a natural historical part of the ecology of California. There is an increasing human population; humans are starting most of the fires; forest mismanagement has allowed tree- and debris-choked landscapes; plus, people have brought invasive and highly flammable non-native species like cheatgrass into California that accelerate fires.

Much of this information was summarized this September when Brown hosted his Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. Brown’s summit presented no scientific discussion, data, or evidence showing any link between global warming and wildfires. At the same time and at the same location, the Heartland Institute hosted and live-streamed a climate science rebuttal in which scientists summarized the evidence strongly contradicting the notion that global warming is causing more frequent and severe California wildfires. Brown would be well-served to watch the video and educate himself on what the science says.

So, if global warming is not to blame for the current California fires, what is? Mass observes that the likely cause of the Northern California wildfire (known as the “Camp Fire”) was strong winds causing a Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) power line to fail in the Feather River Canyon. At the site of the failed power line, high winds were forecast in advance.

“PG&E, even with very [high] winds forecast, decided not to de-energize their line––probably a big mistake,” notes Mass. “Our ability to forecast these wind events has become very, very good…The threat was clear. It is unfortunate that power lines appear[ed] to start the Camp Fire and that the lines were not de-energized before fire was initiated,” Mass wrote.

But there is more to the story than PG&E failing to de-energize a power line when very high winds were forecast. State and local government officials failed to provide aggressive warnings and responses when the fire began.

“Importantly, the winds were again highly predictable, poor warning were given to the communities,” Mass wrote. “And just as disturbing, local officials did not use the Amber Alert system to warn people of the exploding Camp Fire,” he added. People died when they were caught unaware and were unable to flee the fire. An Amber Alert from local officials could have saved lives.

This week, Trump issued an expedited approval of a major disaster declaration, unlocking federal resources and funding to aid California. He expressed sympathy with the victims and admiration for firefighters and first responders. Just as importantly, by threatening to withhold future grants if California officials do not come up with better land management practices, he served notice that he will not tolerate California government failing the people again.

James Taylor is senior fellow for environment policy and vice president for external relations at The Heartland Institute.

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