Climate Change and Forest Fire Fact Check

The Charge: Timothy White, California State University Chancellor

“Nearly everyone agrees that climate change is the biggest environmental challenge facing California and the world. Communities across California are experiencing firsthand the effects of devastating wildfires, persistent droughts, agricultural anomalies and public health crises because of our changing climate.

The Facts: Climatologist Dr. John Christy ‘Our most serious heatwaves were in the 1930’s. We have not matched those at all”

What about the fires and heat waves?

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires were burning in fifteen states as of Tuesday, August 14.

Alaska reported seventeen fires, Arizona reported eleven, both Oregon and Colorado reported ten, and California reported nine.

Much of the news media’s discussion about these fires over the past few weeks has established a correlation between the many fires and anthropogenic climate change, a correlation that Dr. Christy rejects.
Christy argues that exacerbating fires out west, particularly in California, results from human mismanagement. Such states have enacted strict management practices that disallow low-level fires from burning, he said.

“If you don’t let the low-intensity fires burn, that fuel builds up year after year,” Christy said. “Now once a fire gets going and it gets going enough, it has so much fuel that we can’t put it out.”

“In that sense, you could say that fires today are more intense, but it’s because of human management practices, not because mother nature has done something,” Christy said.

Data from the Fire Center indicates that the number of wildfires have been decreasing since the 1970s overall, though acreage burned has increased significantly.

As for the heat, Christy said there’s nothing abnormal going on in the United States.

“Heat waves have always happened,” he said. “Our most serious heatwaves were in the 1930’s. We have not matched those at all.”

Christy continued, “It is only a perception that is being built by the media that these are dramatic worst-ever heat wave kind of things but when we look at the numbers, and all science is numbers, we find that there were periods that were hotter, hotter for longer periods in the past, so it’s very hard to say that this was influenced by human effects when you go back before there could have been human effects and there’s the same or worse kind of events.”

Though Christy didn’t deny that the last three years have been the hottest ever recorded globally, he doesn’t concede that the changes are attributable to anything other than climate’s usual and historical erraticism.

More on heat waves, including in Nevada City HERE.

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About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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