Scenes of Californians fleeing their homes and Greeks swimming out to sea have fueled alarm about climate change fueling deadly wildfires, but recent studies show that such destructive blazes are on the decline worldwide.
An extensive study found that global burned areas actually dropped by about 25 percent over the previous 18 years, shows a finding in May 2016 paper published by the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
“[G]lobal area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago,” said the study by British researchers at Swansea University.
Even in California, which for years has wrestled with fire devastation, a study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire found that the number of wildfires burning more than 300 acres per year has been tailing off since a peak in 1980.
“The claim commonly made in research papers and the media that fire activity is increasing throughout the western USA is certainly an over-statement,” the authors, Jon E. Keeley and Alexandra D. Syphard, said in The Orange County Register.
Mr. Keeley is a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and Ms. Syphard is with the Conservation Biology Institute.
Such findings appear to fly in the face of widespread reports that human-caused global warming is increasing the severity and frequency of wildfires by fueling drought and higher temperatures.
“Extreme heat and wildfires made worse by climate change, say scientists,” an Associated Press article proclaimed this week on NBC News.
“We now have very strong evidence that global warming has already put a thumb on the scales, upping the odds of extremes like severe heat and heavy rainfall,” Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh told the AP.
Yale Environment 360 declared in an Oct. 2 article, “Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires,” and concluded that “the fires being seen today … are man-made, or at least man-worsened.”
This year’s U.S. wildfire season was forecast to be worse than average, and so far it has kept with predictions, with 98 wildfires blackening 4.6 million acres as of Monday, more than the 10-year average of 3.7 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
California has been hit hardest, but firefighters made progress Monday. They lifted some evacuation orders on the Carr fire in Shasta County about 150 miles north of Sacramento, the deadliest and most destructive of the blazes, and reached 30 percent containment on the Ferguson fire near Yosemite National Park.
Six people have been killed so far in the California wildfires, including two firefighters, a great-grandmother and two of her great-grandchildren. About 410,000 acres have burned across the state amid unpredictable winds and high temperatures.
The death toll in Greece rose to 91 on Sunday as wildfires swept through seaside communities, at one point sending dozens of people out to sea to escape the flames engulfing the resort town of Mati, as shown on a dramatic video.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, cited global warming last week as a factor in his proposal to reduce the legal liability of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the utility company whose equipment was found to have sparked 15 of the state’s 2017 wildfires.
Mr. Brown and legislative leaders announced amended legislation July 2 to heighten California’s wildfire response, saying the effort “will help prepare the state to deal with the increasingly extreme weather and natural disasters caused by climate change.”
In a May report, “Indicators of Climate Change in California,” state Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriguez said extreme weather events like wildfires are “not isolated incidents.”
“They are suggestive of the significant and increasingly discernible impacts of climate change in California,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “The most dramatic impacts include wildfires that are larger and more frequent, and the most severe drought since recordkeeping began.”
Others have argued that news coverage of fire disasters has contributed to the perception that wildfires driven by increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are raging out of control, despite evidence to the contrary.
“[M]any consider wildfire an accelerating problem, with widely held perceptions both in the media and scientific papers of increasing fire occurrence, severity and resulting losses,” said the Royal Society paper. “However, important exceptions aside, the quantitative evidence available does not support these perceived trends.”
In the Western United States, the study found that the limited data on fire severity “indicate little change overall, and also that area burned at high severity has overall declined compared to pre-European settlement.”
What’s responsible for the drop-off? The Science article pointed to an expansion of agriculture production in savannas and grasslands, resulting in a roughly 25 percent decrease in global burned area “despite the influence of climate.”
The discrepancy was not lost on climate skeptics such as Australia’s JoNova, who concluded Monday, “Global warming means a global fall in wildfires.”
Anthony Watts, who runs the Watts Up With That website, added: “Remember when we were told that wildfires would increase due to global warming? Never mind.”
University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor Clifford Mass said a host of factors may have contributed to this year’s California wildfires, including a modest temperature increase over the past several decades.
Add to that the drought, an increase of non-native invasive species, a huge influx of homeowners in fire-prone areas and aggressive fire suppression in the first half of the 20th century that left some forests overgrown and ripe for ignition.
“So there is a lot of talk of climate change ‘supercharging’ fires, but really no proof of it,” Mr. Mass said in an email. “And some fires are clearly NOT associated with climate change, like the wine country fires of last October.”
His conclusion? “I suspect climate change is a minor element in the CA wildfires, while fire suppression and human population growth into the wildlands are the dominant elements.”
Of course, anyone who has been paying any attention knows that the notion of mad-made climate change is a hoax. In fact, if you believe in man-made climate change & global warming, you have been believing in a lie. Literally all of the data that has not been doctored to show that global warming is happening has been doctored to achieve the desired results.
Countless studies with legitimate data have proven that the Sun, and not humanity is the driving force behind the temperatures on planet Earth.
James E. Hansen wiped sweat from his brow. Outside it was a record-high 98 degrees on June 23, 1988, as the NASA scientist testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources during a prolonged heat wave, which he decided to cast as a climate event of cosmic significance. He expressed to the senators his “high degree of confidence” in “a cause-and-effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming.”
With that testimony and an accompanying paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Mr. Hansen lit the bonfire of the greenhouse vanities, igniting a world-wide debate that continues today about the energy structure of the entire planet. President Obama’s environmental policies were predicated on similar models of rapid, high-cost warming. But the 30th anniversary of Mr. Hansen’s predictions affords an opportunity to see how well his forecasts have done—and to reconsider environmental policy accordingly.
Mr. Hansen’s testimony described three possible scenarios for the future of carbon dioxide emissions. He called Scenario A “business as usual,” as it maintained the accelerating emissions growth typical of the 1970s and ’80s. This scenario predicted the earth would warm 1 degree Celsius by 2018. Scenario B set emissions lower, rising at the same rate today as in 1988. Mr. Hansen called this outcome the “most plausible,” and predicted it would lead to about 0.7 degree of warming by this year. He added a final projection, Scenario C, which he deemed highly unlikely: constant emissions beginning in 2000. In that forecast, temperatures would rise a few tenths of a degree before flatlining after 2000.
Thirty years of data have been collected since Mr. Hansen outlined his scenarios—enough to determine which was closest to reality. And the winner is Scenario C. Global surface temperature has not increased significantly since 2000, discounting the larger-than-usual El Niño of 2015-16.
Assessed by Mr. Hansen’s model, surface temperatures are behaving as if we had capped 18 years ago the carbon-dioxide emissions responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect. But we didn’t. And it isn’t just Mr. Hansen who got it wrong.
Models devised by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have, on average, predicted about twice as much warming as has been observed since global satellite temperature monitoring began 40 years ago.
What about Mr. Hansen’s other claims? Outside the warming models, his only explicit claim in the testimony was that the late ’80s and ’90s would see “greater than average warming in the southeast U.S. and the Midwest.” No such spike has been measured in these regions.
As observed temperatures diverged over the years from his predictions, Mr. Hansen doubled down.
In a 2007 case on auto emissions, he stated in his deposition that most of Greenland’s ice would soon melt, raising sea levels 23 feet over the course of 100 years. Subsequent research published in Nature magazine on the history of Greenland’s ice cap demonstrated this to be impossible.
Much of Greenland’s surface melts every summer, meaning rapid melting might reasonably be expected to occur in a dramatically warming world. But not in the one we live in. The Nature study found only modest ice loss after 6,000 years of much warmer temperatures than human activity could ever sustain.
Several more of Mr. Hansen’s predictions can now be judged by history. Have hurricanes gotten stronger, as Mr. Hansen predicted in a 2016 study? No. Satellite data from 1970 onward shows no evidence of this in relation to global surface temperature. Have storms caused increasing amounts of damage in the U.S.?
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show no such increase in damage, measured as a percentage of gross domestic product. How about stronger tornadoes? The opposite may be true, as NOAA data offers some evidence of a decline. The list of what didn’t happen is long and tedious.
The problem with Mr. Hansen’s models—and the U.N.’s—is that they don’t consider more-precise measures of how aerosol emissions counter warming caused by greenhouse gases. Several newer climate models account for this trend and routinely project about half the warming predicted by U.N. models, placing their numbers much closer to observed temperatures. The most recent of these was published in April by Nic Lewis and Judith Curry in the Journal of Climate, a reliably mainstream journal.
These corrected climate predictions raise a crucial question: Why should people world-wide pay drastic costs to cut emissions when the global temperature is acting as if those cuts have already been made?
On the 30th anniversary of Mr. Hansen’s galvanizing testimony, it’s time to acknowledge that the rapid warming he predicted isn’t happening. Climate researchers and policy makers should adopt the more modest forecasts that are consistent with observed temperatures.
That would be a lukewarm policy, consistent with a lukewarming planet.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
July 31st, 2018