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View Diary: Global Warming didn't light California's Fires, but did fan the flames ... (41 comments)

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  •  Obsessive - me? (1+ / 0-)
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    Here's a quote I dug up tonight that basically says the same thing I said earlier. It's from Stephen Pyne, who is probably the foremost expert on fire history and the relationship of fire to culture, and a professor at Arizona State. (emphasis added)

    Anthropogenic fire practices [basically, how humans interact with fire] thus comprise the third component of the megafire triangle. It is not negligible, and it   compromises many of the studies that have sought to attribute the recent increase in burned area solely to global warming. The point of these programs has been to "restore" fire, which is to say, to increase the amount and type of burning on the land. They have succeeded. Be careful what you wish for.

    Recently, I had occasion to examine the history of fire on the Kaibab Plateau (and Grand Canyon National Park, USA) and could map the order-of-magnitude increase in burned area directly to reforms in policy, personnel, and practices The program committed significant amounts of money and administrative attention to increasing the amount of burning on the land. Instead of suppressing new fires immediately, they have granted more room for fire to roam. Twice, fires left to burn ("wildland fire use") have blown up, once to 50,000 acres and again to 58,000 acres. Two decades ago, they would have been hit and held immediately (since modern record-keeping the largest burn was 6,000 acres, and 300 acres was considered nearly a fire of record in the park). Similarly, two prescribed fires have escaped, and yielded big burns, one causing the park to be evacuated and closed.

    While the old strategy, aiming at fire exclusion, was by itself unsustainable, it is clear that choices about how to contain fire, and when and where to set fires, have altered the equations. They have done exactly what they were supposed to do. They boosted burned area. Of course, one case study is an anecdote, not a statistic, but until similar studies have examined the remaining public domain, it is impossible to blame global warming or extended fire seasons or a legacy of fuels buildup alone or together for the inflation of burned area.

    It's from Mulling Over Megafires, and if you read the entire thing, you'll find he gives a nod to climate, but I'd argue not in a sense that's contrary to what I've been saying all along. I'm kind of pleased I independently came to same conclusion as Pyne.

    He also discounts (very slightly) fuel buildup in the last emphasized sentence, however that's only in the context of acreage burned increases - if you read more of Pyne (Fire in America or Tending Fire being two good choices out of 20 books he's written about fire globally), you'll find he has a lot more to say that implicates fuel buildup as a culprit in the current situation - actually even earlier in the article the quote is from.

    I'll save this for the next time you want to discuss global warming and wildfire. :)

    I was hoping to find something from William Cronon too (he's a University of Wisconsin prof, sits on the board of governors of the Wilderness Society and chairs the National Land Trust, and wrote the excellent The Trouble with Wilderness. I couldn't find anything relevant, but I think this excerpt from someone else's blog  is worth thinking about:

    I made a point of going to see Bill Cronon at the Thursday morning plenary "Narrative of climate change" at the RGS conference. He suggested that narratives of climate change have been used as both prediction AND (secular) prophecy. This idea of a secular prophecy comes from recent intonations of Nature as a secular proxy for God. Prophecies are often told as stories of retribution that will be incurred if God's laws were broken. If Nature is a proxy for God then Climate Change is portrayed as a retribution for humans breaking the laws of Nature.

    Cronon suggests that Global Narratives are abstract, virtual, systemic, remote, vast, have a diffuse sense of agency, posses no individual characters (i.e. no heros/villains), and are repetitive (so boring). These characteristics make it difficult to emphasise and justify calls for human action to mitigate against the anthropic influence on the climate. Cronon suggests these types of prophetic narrative are 'unsustainable' because they do not offer the possibility of individual or group action to reverse or address global climate problems, and therefore are no use politically or socially.

    I'd note that most your diaries - nearly all of your work too - do in fact call for action unlike, say this quote from the oped you linked:

    For starters, it means gradually undoing the harm we have done in allowing vast accumulations of fuel to build up. We need, where feasible, to unleash the cleansing power of fire to clear and renew the land. It means seriously restricting residential growth in areas where the fuel loads can't be reduced -- no matter how badly people might want to live there or how much they might be willing to pay to do so. It means taking the kinds of sensible precautions around our homes that some homeowners already embrace but others ignore, to the peril and vastly increased insurance costs of all. And it means getting serious about climate change sooner rather than later.

    which does tend to viewing nature as an ersatz God and fire as retribution. It borders on moralism (certainly not science) in it's advocacy 'restricting residential growth' - there are good reasons for that, but fire probably isn't one.

    And that last (bolded) sentence just hangs there. By implication, the firefighter anecdote that follows is probably meant to support that sentence, but it really doesn't (as I've tried to detail). Where's the science to support the claim? Did global warming pile all that brush against million dollar mansions? Cause a plague of beetles (rather biblical, no?) How exactly does one go about "getting serious about climate change"? Flagellation? Sack cloth and ashes? Will God nature rain no more fire and plagues of beetles upon us if we're genuinely serious? I still haven't figured out how to 'get serious' about Iraq, as the Beltway pundits have advised I must.

    I must be a deeply unserious person. I repent, I repent.

    There is no more New Frontier - we have got to make it here - Henley/Frey

    by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:39:58 PM PDT

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    •  Okay ... less talking past each other ... (1+ / 0-)
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      and more convincing ...

      My diary/posting really was in reaction to the Fox/et al who are asserting that there is zero relationship with Global Warming.

      I agree with the vast majority of what you write. Forest fires are part of the natural cycle. Human activity has had a very direct impact on this cycle (forest management practices, housing/building).  Human activity has a slightly marginal impact (water use reducing, potentially, soil use).  And, human activity has had an indirect impact via Global Warming.

      Now, I am viewing the situation through the 'debating' point/issue of 'is Global Warming involved'.

      You are (legitimately) viewing this from the viewpoint of 'what should we be doing in terms of forest fire management'.

      I utterly agree that even drastic action on Global Warming is unlikely to have a real impact on the situation for forest fires for an extended period of time.  

      I think that you should be the one diarying on the subjects you raise, with me in a commentator position.

      •  Diarying it (2+ / 0-)
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        A Siegel, Justanothernyer

        It's a complex issue to explain - I've posted a few diaries on the subject and written a few more - one tracing environmentalism (wrt forests/wilderness) from Pinchot and Muir forward that would have set the record for diary length on dKos has I posted it.

        It's a fascinating subject, because up until around 1960, almost everybody was wrong (including a lot of my heroes - Muir, Leopold, even Thoreau) and consequently their errors have been carved in stone in legislation and worse - spread across the western landscape.

        But maybe I'll get around to a diary - it probably won't touch on climate change. I still have lots of notes and links from the ones I never published.

        There is no more New Frontier - we have got to make it here - Henley/Frey

        by badger on Fri Oct 26, 2007 at 12:03:27 PM PDT

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