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When discussing any particular disaster and its relationship to Global Warming, one needs to be cautious, to avoid saying "Global Warming caused X" as it is quite difficult to show a direct cause and effect relationship with a global trend to any particular activity. Thus, stronger storms are correlated with rising temperature which correlated with a storm like Katrina.  Did Global Warming cause Katrina?  Who knows?  Was Katrina's strength, differentiation from past storms, within what Global Warming analysis/modeling suggests could happen? Yes.

Well, be careful if anyone says that Global Warming "caused" the California fires.  On the other hand, it seems clear that Global Warming is a contributing factor to the conditions in which the storms have occurred.

The RWSM blame game; Global Warming not involved

The right wing sound machine is having a field day with screaming messages blaming loony "damned environmentalists" for creating the conditions for the wildfires while strongly denying the potential for Global Warming as a contributing factor.  No surprise that that stalwart of great journalism, Glenn Beck, provides a premiere example of this (also providing yet another reason why CNN should stop giving him a soap box).  

Now, by the way, as to enviromentalists impacting clearing brush and thus contributing to the fire, according to the Forest Fire's tracking website, there have been zero (ZERO) appeals of fuels reduction projects in the southern California national forests in the last ten years.  Appeals are a prerequisite to litigation, so the same goes for litigation.

As this suggests, Glenn Beck and others simply are spouting talking points disconnected with facts, truthiness rather than truth.  They are, sadly, given loudspeakers for disseminating their dangerous truthiness.  

Returning to Reality
The scientific analysis of US fire records clearly show changed patterns, with a strong correlation in terms of increased fires and Global Warming trends.

As per Daniel James Brown's OPED yesterday, Smarter ways to handle fire,

increased fuel loads in our wild lands are only one element of a converging series of fire-related threats that now challenge us in unprecedented ways. Our penchant for building homes in fire-prone areas is another obvious and much-discussed factor. And a third, now undeniable, one is the role that global warming plays in raising ambient temperatures, promoting drought in already drought-prone regions and lengthening our fire seasons.

Global Warming is not the cause of forest fires, but helps create the conditions, fan the flames for them.

Tom Setnam, a University of Arizona Professor and a leading 'fire ecologist', notesthat

"The fire season in the last 15 years or so has increased more than two months over the whole Western U.S. So actually 78 days of average longer fire season in the last 15 years compared to the previous 15 or 20 years ..."

Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Univ of Arizona combiend work looked at the forest fires from 11 Western states over a 34 year period "and found the number of fires increased in size and severity since 1987, the same year that spring and summer temperatures began to rise."  They examined every forest fire that burned at least 1000 acres from 1970 through 2003.  Of 1166 fires in that period, nearly 900 occurred after 1987 -- e.g, 80% after the mid-point in time.  And, well, "they also found that air temperatures from 1987 to 2003 were 1.6 degrees higher than during the previous 17 years; that 6.5 times more acreage burned during that warmer period."

Accordingto the head of the US Government's firefighting programs, "We got records going back to 1960 of the acres burned in America. So, that's 47 fire seasons. Seven of the 10 busiest fire seasons have been since 1999."

Very simply, from the National Wildlife Federation's analysis of Global Warming's likely impact on the American West, Fueling the Fire,

Another serious consequence of global warming in the West is an increase in the incidence andseverity of wildfires, a problem made even worse by decades of fire suppression, extensive grazing and other factors.  ... there has been a four-fold increase in the number of major fires each year and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned since 1986 compared to the period between 1970-1986.

One study, for example, projects that the overall area of acreage burned will double in size across 11 western states if the average summertime temperature increases 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit between 2070-2100.

Just yesterday, in a speech to the Society of American Foresters

U.S. Forest Service chief Gail Kimbell says the nation can expect more wildfires like the ones raging through Southern California as global climate change heats up the world's forests.

"Fires are burning hotter and bigger, becoming more damaging and dangerous to people and to property," Kimbell said Wednesday. "Each year the fire season comes earlier and lasts longer."

And, Kimball warned of other Global Warming impacts in the speech, such as greater vulnerability to invasive species.  (Guess Kimball's speech somehow slipped through the White House's continued proclivity to edit scientific fact and truth out of agency commentary.)

Cause and Effect?Again, it is impossible to state that Global Warming did or did not cause the California wildfires.

The flames that we see on television.  The burned homes. The billowing smoke clouds.  Global Warming is not the cause ... or at least not the sole cause.

Global Warming did, however, contribute to the conditions for these fires and, well, could be said to be fanning their flames.

It is time to stop fanning the flames.


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For other, excellent, looks at this issue, see Joe Romm at Climate Progress and Dave at Orcinus.

Originally posted to A Siegel on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 09:37 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips/Mojo: 25 Oct 07 (31+ / 0-)

    Running from the truth ...

    The tragedy in California has many roots ...

    Only a fool would say that "Global Warming caused these fires" and, well, only a truly ignorant fool or someone with malicious intentions would argue the reverse, that Global Warming has nothing to do with increased fires in the Western United States.

  •  Stating with certainty... (6+ / 0-)

    Part of the problem is... our side wants to be factual. So we make broad, factually correct statements like "one needs to be cautious, to avoid saying "Global Warming caused X" as it is quite difficult to show a direct cause and effect relationship with a global trend to any particular activity."

    Meanwhile, the other side is screaming at the top of their lungs, "Global warming didn't do it!"

    Guess which side wins with those who are only peripherally paying attention?

    •  And that is partially why ... (6+ / 0-)

      the title ... "Global Warming Fans the Flames" does not say that it is the cause, but creates the path for discussing it as one of the causes / fostering the conditions for blazes.

      But, at the core, you are right.  Addiction to Reality-Based policies and concepts has its problems.

      •  Very readable paper (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        here (PDF warning).  Some key points he makes

        -Global warming is a contributing factor

        -Anglo settlement mucked things up, both by introducing fire suppression into ecological regimes that had adapted to regular periodic fire, and by introducing grazing.

        -Invasive/nonnative species have added to the available fuel.

        The dominant nonnative grasses respond favorably
        to fire, which contributes to this positive feedback
        cycle among the presence of these grasses, accumulation
        of fuel, spread of fire, and spread of the grasses.

        -People's values have changed and are continuing to change, and thus what their expectations are from the wilderness.

        It's a complicated issue, and there are raging debates (not whether or not global warming exists, but to what extent the various causes contribute, and what an ecologically healthy fire cycle would be). I think that people need to recalibrate their expectations and realize that fire will inevitably play an increasing role in our lives, and that fire always has been part of the ecosystems, and always will be.

        NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed, but by lawful judgment of his Peers

        by aztecraingod on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 01:15:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  In the short term (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      you are right: those who sound most certain tend to win with those who are peripherally engaged.  

      Over the longer term though, those who come out for certainty about facts which are uncertain or debatable and stick with them tend to lose credibility.  For example, I don't think Sen. Inhofe has any credibility left on the issue at all.

      In addition, I think the fact that our side is careful to state when conclusions are tentative or relationships are indirect or causation is probabalistic, makes it more credible when we can, in fact, speak with certainty.  

      I have to confess a personal bias for truth and accuracy though, which may hinder my objectivity on the question of the efficacy of right-wing tactics.

  •  i pretty much said this (3+ / 0-)

    the other day and got beat up for it, so thanks for writing this.

  •  very wise, as usual, A Siegel (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, Justanothernyer

    There has been some hyperbole on our side (not to mention the other side...) about global warming and these fires, and it's very irresponsible, doesn't help our cause, doesn't help us move towards solutions or to educate people. (yeah, there AREN'T 1 million "refugees" from this fire...)

    Hyperbole kills....heh....

    My candidate was virgin-born out of an apple pie left to cool in the shade of an American flag. - Hunter

    by Buffalo Girl on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:07:42 AM PDT

    •  Okay, hyperbole is bad. I agree. And (3+ / 0-)

      one of the valuable things about this excellent diary is that it gives the factual basis for understanding GW's role in the California fires without slipping into inaccuracies.

      BUT!  It's also true that careful scientific statements can be bad.  At least, they can be bad in the sense that they can be unable to communicate to most people with the clarity and passion that is needed.  If the deniers say, "Alarmists and fanatics are lying about Global Warming causing these fires," and we reply: "It is quite difficult to show a direct cause and effect relationship between a global trend and any specific event; however, higher temperatures correlate with conditions that produce a higher incidence of severe forest fires and may well be implicated in this case"  -- then they are going to win.

      We need careful science. We also need to find ways to sum up the scientific facts clearly and forcefully.  So A Siegel gets a gold star, because he has the facts and he also has the sound byte:

      Global Warming is not the sole cause of these fires. But it is fanning the flames.

  •  Controlled Burns cost money (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, terrypinder, jqmilktoast

    And they never get done because of this.  We need proactive technigues to clear brush from hillsides covered by decades (40 years plus) of growth.  It's healthy for the soil, eliminates the fuel that allow these fires to rage.  

    "Constitutional Crisis Forthcoming"

    by egarratt on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:10:32 AM PDT

    •  that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      and STOP planting Eukaliptus(sp?) trees.

      they make the very air itself flammable when their oil gets vaporized when it's warm and dry. Plus, they're not native to the US.

      •  But then where would (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        we get our mentholated cough drops? </smartass mode off>

        Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. -Frederic Bastiat

        by jqmilktoast on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:38:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  heh true (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mataliandy, A Siegel

          but as I understand the history people bought them here during the Gold Rush, and because they grow fast without realizing how flammable they were. I read somewhere they can explode, like literally explode.

          I also remember a picture from the 2003 fires of a neighborhood completely burned---but the Eukalyptus trees were standing tall and green. They had done their job (I swore, at the time, the picture was photoshopped).

          •  People brought forth onto this continent (0+ / 0-)

            a new nation, and many non-native species of flora and fauna, intentionally and otherwise. It is necessary, but very difficult to mitigate the risks of introducing alien species.

            Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. -Frederic Bastiat

            by jqmilktoast on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:47:03 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Water is the key issue (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, A Siegel

    It's not just that global warming helps "fan the flames" - it also contributes to droughts that dry out the brush and leave fewer water supplies with which to fight the fires.

    More on this over at Calitics, where I try to make the argument that the fires, the drought, and global warming are part of an interconnected crisis.

    I'm not part of a redneck agenda - Green Day

    by eugene on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:15:42 AM PDT

  •  Flames Around the world (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    It would be interesting to compare the fires around the world over the course of 2007 (below) with the historical record, though I'm afraid that for many places in the world, the record will be sparse or nonexistent.

    Looking at this makes me wonder how much impact worldwide fires are having on atmospheric carbon - both in terms of the amount added by the fires and in terms of the amount of carbon sink (aka vegetation) removed by the fires.

    Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.

    by mataliandy on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:18:59 AM PDT

    •  That's a good question (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, A Siegel

      and one nobody seems to have an answer for - it's extremely difficult to find out how much CO2 is attributable to wildfire  and how much is attributable to other forms of open burning, like slash and burn agriculture, which is still widely practiced.

      If you want one data point for maginitude, I ran across a Canadian government site a few years ago that claimed that wildfires in Canada (usually #2 in the world in acres burned, after Russia) release as much energy as about 1/2 of Canada's total electricity consumption annually.

      Now if you consider that wildfire is somewhat less efficient combustion than a coal-fired generating plant in producing the same amount of energy, I'd assert that's quite a lot of CO2.

      The other figure I've seen (and seen misused a lot) comes from a study of wildfires in Indonesia, caused by escapes from slash and burn during drought. One particular fire that covered 25 million acres was thought to be responsible for as much as 40% of global CO2 emissions in that year.

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

      by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:35:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So it's probably a lot (0+ / 0-)

        I know that recent reports showed a surprising decrease in the amount of carbon sinking provided by the rain forests. I wonder if part of that reduction in carbon sequestration is a result of the trees not being there any more.

        Beware the everyday brutality of the averted gaze.

        by mataliandy on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:02:01 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  o/t (0+ / 0-)

          I just came across a wonderful, sensible statement that you made in the comment section of a weeks old diary condemming Andrew Meyer.  

          It's too late to give you mojo or reply, but I want to thank you for your protestation against needless tasering.  I made my way down reading the comments attached to that diary and you were the first not to join in on the group condemnation of the young student.

          I was really beginning to wonder about what I perceive as a hyper-authoritrian streak running through a number of people who post here.


  •  Don't Bet Against The Future (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Siegel

    That's because the future will always win - after all, it's the future. Of course, the rub is just what is the future..?

    Another way of saying this is to use the Casino analogy - the Gambling House should always come out with the surplus money, and the gamblers will, on average, get fleeced, as long as someone competent is running the Casino.

    It's in the probabilities, something that are the outputs of Global Warming models. One year may be less severe than the next, but over time, with given inputs, given outputs will tend to occur more and more often. Like droughts in the Southwest USA, and California/Arizona/Nevada in particular. Add in that to warmer temperatures, and there is less moisture in the soil, less water vapor being transpired, more trees under stress, etc. And as the tree cover gets diseased away/burned away, and average temperatures rise, moisture evaporation from the top layer of soils increases. And so it goes.

    Plus, if the hillsides get populated with homes (trophy homes or modest sized cabins), and they are not made completely fireproof, they just act like another dead tree/point of ignition. Human residents will soon dread having any vegetation near them, since when that gets dry, well, that increases the likelihood of toasting the residence.

    Odds are, people inhabiting the hills, many who moved there for the clean air, cooler temperatures and sweeping vistas, are not going to leave willingly. So, wait untill the insurance companies weigh in - living in torchable desrt-like areas will get really expensive, similar to living in the path of Supercanes and about as smart as living next to the present ocean coastline in a time of rising water levels in the oceans. Eventually, people may have to move next to where there is water, or near the ocean coastline, but up at least 20 meters. Because even if the ocean is saltly, with wind turbines and/or solar heating systems (not PV cells), ocean water can be turned into drinkable water via reverse osmosis or vacuum distillation. The kicker is, this is not going to be cheap water - on the contrary, very expensive water. But, water has immense value in the desert, and people can be remarkably frugal when it comes to water if they need to be.

    Welcome to that brave new world in the SW USA - land of EXPENSIVE water. And a land where the hills filled with drying vegetattion are anything but friendly. Maybe it might make some sense to irrigate the vegetation on the hills with sparing but noticeable amounts of distilled/deionized water, produced via renewable energy - in other words, share the water with our friends in the plant kingdom. Because we see that getting the plants pissed off at us via Global Warming is anything but sustainable.

    Or people could get smart and start moving away from the deserts, where the carrying capacity has long been exceeded with a vengence. Logical, but not yet likely till the cost of water skyrockets and the cost of insurance adjusts to the real risks that ARE a part of Global Warming, which should not take too long. This is where Global Warming and Insurance Companies meet on compatible terms. After all, if you are talking probabilities, you are talking the language of the insurance companies, entities who don't like going broke, and are designed to, either.


    •  It's unlikely that insurers will care (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel

      These are somewhat dated figures from the late 80s, but I doubt much has changed significantly (they're from Stephen Pyne's Tending Fire p 158).

      Annually, about 900 homes are destroyed in wildfires on average, compared to about 300,000 residential fires annually. Civilian fatalities in wildfires are less than 1% of fatalities in all residential fires. Annually (again this is 1987 or so), casualty losses due to all wildfires amounted to about $1.4 billion, about the same as the average tornado. The average hurricane yielded about $4.8 billion in casualty losses, and there are multiple hurricanes and tornadoes per year. Quoting Pyne: "Windy and dry is less expensive than windy and wet".

      And CA has building codes and property maintenance requirements in place now will probably drive those numbers lower over time. Even from the current fires, the number of homes lost is probably 1% or much less than the number of homes threatened, making the probability of a home surviving a wildfire better than 99%.

      Concerns about water use and other issues related to sprawl are serious and require some major changes in urban planning and probably population distribution. Fire is probably not a big concern with respect to these issues (or doesn't have to be), and the fires will occur and threaten the wildland-urban interface, no matter where you draw the line for that interface.

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

      by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:54:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Serious question, though. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, A Siegel

    The incentives for putting your house where fire is very likely to destroy it are pretty high. Such places are usually somewhat isolated from city hustle and bustle, they're often somewhat peaceful and scenic - it means some sort of suburbanized peace with the natural world if you live there, and high property values if you're just investing for the money.

    As for the very real risk of fire damage, well, we have our natural irrational optimism, plus the belief that insurance money will help us minimize our losses.

    So what policy changes can we propose that might actually reduce the likelihood that any given new house will be built in a dangerous area?

    I have two suggestions.

    One, step up inspections and enforcement of property clearing regulations that require property owners to keep their houses more than x distance away from trees, brush and woody plants in general.

    Two, allow (require?) insurers to deny fire insurance to owners of homes built in the path of danger after a certain time (say, July 4th, 2008).

    Socialism: Aspirin for your social-welfare headaches. (Use in moderation.)

    by Shaviv on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:36:06 AM PDT

    •  That's a pretty good start (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mataliandy, A Siegel

      But rather than denying insurance entirely what about making it very cost-prohibitive, perhaps giving discounts for building structures that are more fire resistant and for maintaining sufficient fire breaks between homes and wild areas?

      Frankly, insurance should be prohibitively expensive for homes in all areas prone to large-scale disasters.

      Also, what about limiting federal disaster relief money to one incident per household? So, if your house is burned from wildfire or razed by a hurricane you get one check from the government. You may choose to spend the money to rebuild or take the money and have your property condemned. But you only get the money once. Rebuild and get bitten again and your next move is on your own nickel.

      Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. -Frederic Bastiat

      by jqmilktoast on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:45:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I posted some comparative figures above (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      A Siegel, Justanothernyer

      but I'll add a couple of comments.

      First, California already has sufficient building code and property maintenance regulations in place. elfing covered some of it in a diary yesterday that's worth checking out if you're interested.

      Second, having lived through a couple of tornadoes (actually within about a mile of the actual funnel both times) and now living in a very high fire danger area, I'm a lot more comfortable with fire. You can be pro-active in preventing fire damage, while tornado/hurricane/flooding preparedness is much more difficult. In addition, you get much better warning (where I live anyway - not quite so much in CA) about approaching fire and it's much easier to get out the way of an advancing fire.

      Lastly, the idea behind insurance is to spread risk over a large pool, thereby reducing the cost of some caualty to all members of the pool (and there isn't anyplace on earth that's immune to all disaters). What you're advocating is the same as insuring only healthy people, which is an idea the insurance industry loves. They get to collect all of your money and never pay a claim.

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

      by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:03:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  But...but, A Siegel, did you not know that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, A Siegel

    there are wonderful benefits with the climate change?

    When directly questioned on the deletions (which included Gerberding's blanket conclusion, "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern"), Perino launched into a four paragraph dodge in which she claimed to not have seen the edits, touted the administrations "open book" policy on climate change, and orated a lengthy filibuster in praise of the CDC. Near the end of these remarks, however, Perino took a flying leap into the eternal sunshine, saying: "And so the decision on behalf of CDC was to focus that testimony on public health benefits -- there are public health benefits to climate change, as well, but both benefits and concerns that somebody like a Dr. Gerberding, who is the expert in the field, could address."

    The Democratic Congress is now divided into three parts: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary.

    by Asinus Asinum Fricat on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 10:41:47 AM PDT

  •  Fanning the flames (0+ / 0-)

     Let's face it. Global warming may have something to do with the current fires but that is only a small part of the problem. The geography and topography of SO Cal are probably the bigger culprits here. No mattter what else happens, droughts, floods, and fires are part of the natural cycle here. Water has to be imported and the water that comes with rain cycles is just allowed to flow out to sea in drains. Is that sensible in a highlly populated area with an unreliable water source? Anyone with money can build in the hills in So Cal and no one can tell them that certain guidelines must be maintained to live in the hills, such as clearing brush and using fire resistant home building materials. Too intrusive in the Age of Individualism. And an area like San Diego County that does not even have its own fire department? How responsible is that?
    It is true that fires are affected somewhat by the global climate changes but human arrrogance also plays a large part in this tragedy.

    What do we want? Universal health care! When do we want it? Now!

    by cagernant on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:14:55 AM PDT

  •  Saw this yesterday (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    when you linked it in an exchange we had in another diary, and wrote a response then but didn't post it.

    The linkages are pretty weak. First, temperature correlates more weakly with fire size or frequency than a more causitive set of measurements that include humidity, recent precipitation, soil moisture and wind, lightning frequency and type or even something like the Haines Index, which takes into account atmospheric stability and humidity.

    The Haines index runs from 2 to 6, and while it isn't a perfect indicator of fire spread/size, something like 75% of acreage burns when the Haines index is at 6, so it has both a causal basis and better correlation. It's computed for every fire weather forecast - it's at 3 today where I live, which is very good. I may go out and burn brush this afternoon. What's the relationship between climate change and the Haines index?

    It's likely that climate change will affect all of the factors that influence fire, but not necessarily negatively. The high fire danger area I live in is projected to be wetter in the future by most climate models I've seen.

    My bigger objection is that a few things have happened since the 1960s that would swamp out climate as a factor in the studies you cited. The first is that fuels continue to accumulate, both because of fire suppression and because of regrowth in areas burned previously (for example, the area around Tillamook, OR burned on a wide scale every six years in the '40s and '50s, and hasn't burned seriously since - but it will, and it'll be a big fire when it happens because of fuel accumulations). The large reduction in timber harvesting is another factor, but it's difficult to say whether that causes or prevents more/bigger fires on average.

    The availability of fuels is the single biggest factor in determining fire behavior or spread (it's hard to have a big fire without a lot of fuel).

    Second, there have been significant changes in fire-fighting policy and practice since the 1960s. One change is the willingness to 'let it burn' (bureaucratically called 'wildland fire used for resource benefit'). While there still aren't a lot burns classified as 'wildland fire use', it appears to me the concept has had an impact on how fire managers choose to fight a fire. There's more willingness now to let an area that's largely down or diseased timber burn than in the past, because it actually improves the forest.

    A companion factor is that increased concern for fire-fighter safety also encourages more indirect attack or in some places no attack.

    Another factor is that 'acres burned' is not a very meaningful number. For example, the Biscuit Fire in OR 'burned' 500,000 acres, except it didn't. 60% of that acreage was either not burned or burned at low intensity (generally a good thing - it means the brush burned but trees survived).

    In addition, since the '60s, we've theoretically fenced off large tracts as wilderness - meaning there are large areas where efforts to reduce fuel loads and fire hazards are now completely illegal. A lot of those areas burn very intensely in wildfires, and since fire policy now prioritizes fire-fighter safety followed by private property protection instead of saving timber, fire managers commit fewer resources to those areas.

    A lot of the increase in acreage burned is probably the result of the combination of forest condition and changes in fire-fighting policy.

    So yeah, maybe there's some link between global warming and fire, but nothing cited establishes it, it's not going to be established easily, and it isn't inevitable in the first place. We could manage forests and wildlands so that increased fire starts were a good thing and led to reduced fire intensities and acreages burned.

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

    by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 11:40:11 AM PDT

    •  Look ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      1.  There is nothing here that states (or suggests) that Global Warming is the sole (or even primary) driver re any fires.
      1.  Do you think that longer fire seasons, higher temperatures, insect damage are all irrelevant? And, well, aren't these from/related to Global Warming?
      1.  Soil moisture, for example, is something that can relate quite directly to Global Warming conditions.

      Etc ...

      I do not reject that there are complex causative factors ... but am highlighting that Global Warming affects them, fuels the fire (so to speak) of forest fires.

      •  No (0+ / 0-)

        I don't think any of those things you list in two is irrelevant. Yes, I do think some them have some relation to global warming.

        BUT, I do think that all of those problems (including unnaturally large and intense fires) will continue to be serious problems of essentially the same magnitude whether the concentration of atmospheric CO2 goes up 100 ppm or down 200 ppm. So I think the assertion that 'global warming fans the flames' is at best unsupported, or at least unmeasureable.

        And because they happen to be problems that I'd like to see solved, I get annoyed when people attach things that are scientifically irrelevant to solving the problems. So it annoys me when people say 'it's all the logger's fault' just as much as when people say 'it's because we don't log enough anymore'. And it annoys me when people make 'global warming killed my cat' kinds of claims, because I think it harms the discussions of both global warming and cat pathology.

        So, for example, the quote 'building homes in fire-prone areas' and what follows is an agenda-driven, not a science-driven statement.

        The quote about 'fire-season' length uses an imprecise metric (what's the precise definition of 'fire-season'?) and doesn't really go into what causes fire-seasons to be longer The 'fire-season' here was very short this year if you go by either when fires started, or when they burned out; last year it was even shorter by start date, but longer because several contained fires burned until snowfall. Many more acres and many more individual fires burned last year. 20 years ago they might have tried (and actually been able t0) put entire fires out rather than containing them, because of fuel conditions and a willingness to put fire-fighters into more hazardous terrain.

        Here's a additional quote from the National Wildlife Federation pdf you quoted:

        Although moderate fires are natural and beneficial in many of these areas, the increased intensity and frequency are changing these habitats. What’s more, catastrophic wildfires can release tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, further enhancing global warming.

        (emphasis added)
        How does global warming lead to increased intensity? It doesn't - that's a function of fuel load. Is it increased frequency that's "changing these habitats"? No - it's the increased intensity. But the increased fuel loads are "further enhancing global warming", as I noted above. Do you know that reducing fuel loads will also help the residual vegetation survive drought conditions and make it more fire resistant?

        So by misdirecting the discussion to 'global warming fanning the flames', the real problem - fuel loads - gets ignored. Environmental groups (maybe the NWF - don't know) increasingly use that kind of misdirection to pursue their agenda, whether it's anti-logging, anti-development or whatever. On the other side, advocates do the same thing. And in the middle is the major cause of fire problems (and contributor to global warming) - excessive fuel loads.

        As you state in your opening, environmental groups don't litigate over fuel load reduction - they just delay and/or block it by manipulating the ESA, air quality standards, NEPA, the Wilderness Act and other measures. On the other side, loggers and mining interests lobby against practices that would ameliorate the damage they cause.

        If you want to talk about sea ice, glaciers melting, sea levels rising, and lots of other topics - those are caused by global warming. Solving climate change will solve those. But if you want to talk about wildfire, then I'd appreciate it if you'd address the real issues that make it a problem with or without climate change, and maybe even look into how those problems are actually helping drive climate change. This is an area where solutions are actually both feasible and synergistic, and just adding one more thing to the list of 'bad things about global warming' isn't providing anything useful IMO.

        It smacks of a 'Giuliani - 9/11' kind of opportunism.

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

        by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 12:56:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Tallking past each other ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          it seems, with potentially mounting frustrations on both sides.

          I don't think any of those things you list in two is irrelevant. Yes, I do think some them have some relation to global warming.

          BUT, I do think that all of those problems (including unnaturally large and intense fires) will continue to be serious problems of essentially the same magnitude whether the concentration of atmospheric CO2 goes up 100 ppm or down 200 ppm. So I think the assertion that 'global warming fans the flames' is at best unsupported, or at least unmeasureable.

          * Every item in that section two has real relationship to Global Warming.

          * If CO2 goes up or down 100+ ppm, then that impacts global warming, which impacts those items listed in 2.

          There are many factors (including clearing brush, fire fighting practices, building habits, building code, arson, temperatures, rainfall) that impact on  wild fires and the damage caused by them.  Some of these have little/no relationship to Global Warming (e.g., fire-fighting practices) while others (temperature patterns, rainfall patterns, soil moisture, insect infestations) clearly have a relationship with Global Warming.  Global Warming contributes to the conditions in which we are more likely to see more fires.  

          I have, nowhere, said that Global Warming is somehow the sole (or even primary) cause of forest fires.  But, I think it senseless (abandoning reality) to suggest that (all things being equal) a warming globe will see more forest fires.

          PS:  I am not a resident nor expert, but from what I understand, 'environmental' groups have not been some form of major obstacle for brush clear-outs in the areas affected by these fires.

          •  But the assumption (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            A Siegel, Justanothernyer

            that 'more forest fires' is a negative is completely incorrect. We need more fires in wildlands - the exclusion of fire is the problem (or using fire surrogates, like thinning - but fire is more cost effective). What matters is the kind of fires - and global warming doesn't affect that.

            On a forest time scale (a fire ecologist I know plans projects on an 80 year time scale, and thinks that's too short), it doesn't make a lot of difference if a tract burns 2 years from now or 5 years from now. It's going to burn, and it's going to burn too intensely.

            If you read between the lines on the NWF document, you'll find they're saying that too. The Wilderness Society says it more explicitly. The Nature Conservancy doesn't just say it, they run the premier program - globally - that actually starts fires, and are acknowledged by just about every fire professional I've talked to.

            Virtually every somewhat in tact ecosystem on the continent evolved with frequent, widespread, usually human-initiated burning. The humans were there before the forests were - where I live, the environment prior to human intervention was an ice sheet 2 miles thick. The exclusion of fire - human caused or natural -  is a gigantic experiment in creating ecosystems that never were, and it's not working out too well for humans or the rest of the ecosystem. I'm not making this up.

            I'm not arguing that global warming is a good thing because it leads to more fires. I'm just saying global warming is largely irrelevant to the major problems that face forests. Yeah, you get more pine beetles because they don't winter kill now in some places. But when you have 15,000 trees/hectare (as in a BC Forestry study) you're going to get dead pines regardless (again, all dead in 2 years or 5 years - makes little difference).

            You get dwarf mistletoe or laminated root rot epidemics because trees are too close together. You get intense fires because there's too much fuel.

            And all of that is going into the atmosphere as CO2 real soon now - at a much higher rate than if forests and fire co-existed in something closer to their pre-European settlement state. And healthy forests sequester more CO2 net than what we have in a lot of places right now.

            I think the probability  is very real that people will believe "Well, it's all global warming" and just shrug their shoulders and not look any farther. And I think some environmental groups foster that attitude because the solutions (primarily human intervention) are contrary to what they've been advocating the last 50 years (if I was more cynical, I'd say the problems make fund-raising easier than the solutions). Somebody might cut down a tree.

            I'm also not in the camp of some fire ecologists and environmental groups who advocate just letting it all burn and sort itself out. That's not how forests function, and not how they've developed as ecosystems over the last 10,000 years. Frequent fire was applied at least somewhat intelligently and intentionally in pre-European settlement times.

            So I don't think we're talking past each other. I think you're talking past the real problems in this instance. Global warming is certainly a real problem, but it isn't what's wrong with forests or forest fires, even remotely. Maybe it accelerates things, but they're things that are inevitable if the current state continues.

            In this instance you're worried about the mosquito buzzing around your head and not noticing that Godzilla's foot is about to drop on you. I'm just pointing out that Godzilla might be a slightly more serious problem in this context and the one that demands more attention in this case. And if you shift a little to one side, Godzilla might just squash the bug instead of squashing you.

            If you want to talk about wildfire and global warming, what's more important is how wildfire contributes to global warming - you haven't addressed that at all (and I couldn't do more than speculate). Or how US trade and forestry policy contributes to global deforestation ...

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

            by badger on Thu Oct 25, 2007 at 04:24:01 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Obsessive - me? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            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

            [ Parent ]

            •  Okay ... less talking past each other ... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              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-)
                Recommended by:
                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

                [ Parent ]

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