Saturday, June 23, 2018

How Climate Change Exaggeration Can Hurt People and the Environment

As readers of this blog know, I believe that communicating hype, exaggeration, and false information about human-caused climate change is a bad idea, if not highly counterproductive. 

On one hand, there are those who don't believe in the potential for human-caused climate change, mistakenly believing that an increase of a few hundred parts per million of CO2 could not be important. They are wrong.  Increasing CO2 will substantially change the climate of our planet during this century.

And then there are those who propose that virtually every severe weather event is the result of anthropogenic climate.   Also problematic.

In recent months we have seen a great example of how hyping global warming impacts can have a very negative impact, with potentially severe consequences for those suffering from a real environmental disaster. 

 The wine country wildfires north of San Francisco during October 2017.

The effects of the fires were catastrophic:  44 people lost their lives, 9000 buildings destroyed, 21,000 damaged,  hundreds of thousands of acres burned over, and Beijing-like air pollution affecting the health of millions of people in the Bay area.

The fires began after a normal dry summer that followed a wet winter, one that produced a lush crop of flammable grasses.  But the key to the fire initiation and spread were powerful "Diablo" easterly winds, gusting to 50-90 mph.  Winds that not only started many fires, but then caused then to explode and rapidly move into populated regions. 

As noted in my previous blogs,  there is no reason to suspect that anthropogenic  (human caused) global warming contributed to this event.   The previous wet winter was important, strong winds were essential (and they might even decrease under global warming), and in a normal year the fuels are dry enough to burn, with or without warming.   Importantly, there have been huge increases in population in regions that have burned for millennia, and fire suppression and the invasion of flammable invasive species (e.g., Eucalyptus trees) have made the region a dangerous tinderbox.

Recently, official investigations by California's official investigative agency (CalFire) have found that many of fires were caused by trees and branches falling on power lines managed by the local utility (PG&E).  PG&E is responsible for clearing the area around the lines to prevent such fires--it appears that they did not do a very good job at it and according to CA law should be responsible for the fire damage.  In fact, CalFire has communicating their concerns about PG&E to local law enforcement personnel.

But what are some major politicians saying?   They blame the fires on human-caused climate change and the "new normal", thus potentially giving PG&E a way to escape liability.

For example, when CA Governor Brown was asked about the wine country fires he stated "“That’s the way it is with a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture.” He also noted that climate change has produced a new normal of wildfires in the region.

And climate "advocacy" groups are with the governor.   For example, a local Pacific Northwest advocacy group (Grist) has produced a number of articles (like this one) pointing to climate change as the origin of the wine-country fires.

And then there is the media, with several jumping on the climate change as cause bandwagon ( such as Scientific American below)

PG&E is being sued for billions of dollars by those who have lost their homes, businesses, or loved ones. 

And what do you think they are doing?   They are attempting to use the climate excuse provide by the Governor, some climate advocates, and the sloppy media to get out of their responsibilities---blaming the fires on climate change and not their lack of maintenance of the power lines.

Blaming climate change is also an excuse for politicians not to do their jobs in protecting the environment and the population.   An excuse not to make hard decisions.   Like restricting people from living in fire-prone hills,  requiring homes to be fire resistant, or that power lines be buried.

Environmental stewardship goes well beyond dealing with  increasing CO2, but unfortunately many politicians and activist groups have become fixated on one issue, increasing greenhouse gases, and neglect important environmental threats and challenges.

Want a local, Puget Sound example?  That is easy... the quality of Puget Sound and our coastal waters.

Local environmental activists, regional politicians (like our Governor), and some local media (like the Seattle Times) have been fixated on the impacts of increasing CO2 on oyster production.    They have claimed that  increasing CO2 has caused the failure of oyster larvae to flourish in factory nurseries.

A detailed analysis reveals that none of this is true and that the factory nurseries made mistake in their intake of upwelled water at the wrong time of the day.  An error that has been remedied (thanks to the advice of the University of Washington!), with oyster production flourishing today.

But this fixation on the wrong problem (CO2 increases) has given the shellfish industry a pass on some very bad practices, such as spraying herbicides and pesticides over our State's waters, polluting our coastal zone with lot of plastic, and churning up our tide beds.    Politicians, wishing to show their environmental credibility, have been loud about CO2, but have neglected the issues of sewage run-off and the quality of our sewage treatment facilities. 

Remember the overflow of the massive overflow of the West Point treatment plant after a minor rainstorm,with huge amounts of sewage hitting Puget Sound?  It was due to some amazingly poor maintenance, lack of redundancy, and poor training.  Not as sexy as increasing greenhouse gases, but very important.

Another Washington State example?  

 So many politicians in our state blame climate change for the wildfires of late, rather than the real culprit:  the mismanagement of our state forests...forests that are overgrown and radically different than their natural state.   Or the fact they have allowed folks to live in regions that have traditionally burned.

Simplistic environmental activism can be highly destructive to the environment and we see this played out time and time again.

One final example:  the carbon tax saga.  Washington State had the opportunity to pass I-732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would encourage reduced emission of CO2 by our state, but not taking any money out of the pockets of state residents.  It even would have made our state tax system less regressive and would have been the first carbon tax in the nation and a bi-partisan beacon of what was possible if we worked together.

But many "environmental activists" worked against it, because of a false and divisive political narrative that climate change efforts must address "climate justice" by funding various interest groups (e.g., labor, tribes, minority groups),  without any evidence to support their contention that climate change preferentially hurts such groups IN WASHINGTON STATE.

The result:  the failure of I-732 and the pushing of a poorly designed carbon fee this year (I-1631) that will surely fail.

In summary, climate hype and misinformation hurts the environment and our citizens, no matter which side is doing it.  Facts matter and environmental issues go far beyond the concentration of one gas in the atmosphere.


Lee Bruch said...

Too often people exaggerate when promoting their own cause - including climate change - not realizing that often backfires and destroys their credibility. It takes effort (and knowledge) to winnow the truth from the chaff. What is your opinion of this article:

TW B said...

I do take one issue with your post. You state that the N California fires occurred after a "normal dry summer". NOAA data for central California coast indicates spring/summer April-October temperatures well above average ( 2.7 degrees) with precipitation well below average ( .34" vs 1.75" admittedly not a lot but every little bit helps in CA ).
In addition there is a clear upward trend in temperature (.3 degree/ decade 1950-2017). Your statement strengthened your argument but reduces perceptions of your objectivity.

Cliff Mass said...

TWB...the precipitation was normal. The palmer drought index was normal. Temperatures were above normal...but that had little impact...the fuel were plenty dry could be 5-10F warmer and it would not have made a difference...hope that clarifies things..cliff

Placeholder said...

AGW was a hypothesis, nothing more. It was embraced prematurely, contrary to the warning by T.C. Chamberlain, the eminent geologist who wrote about multiple working hypotheses and the danger of rushing to elevate one of them too soon.

The academic establishment, ever in search of agrandizement and grant money, coalesced around it. They elevated AGW to the status of revealed truth, aka "settled science," in direct contradiction to the scientific method.

The AGW group thinkers made a series of predictions. They didn't come true.

Abandon the hypothesis? Not when so much money is riding on it.

Instead, they brazened it out, and became increasingly desperate and brittle to the point where they became self-contradctory about the difference between climate and weather. The media and "progressive" politicians in search of new tax sources jumped on the bandwagon. So-called "climate scientists" obliged by falsifying the historic temperature data.

Bit by bit, the truth has trickled out. The trickle has become a stream, and now it's a major river. Surprised? I'm not. People can lie for only so long until they are unmasked. "Oh what a tangled web we weave/When we first practice to deceive."

Cliff, you're an excellent weatherman. I think you genuinely believe the AGW story, but I'm sorry, I'm not buying it.

TW B said...

Thanks for the clairification. Fuel, wind, negligence with enough temperature to dry the fuel out were sufficient if I understand correctly.

Pine said...

Cliff, how fortunate you are that you are able to live and work in the relatively moist Puget Sound area and can add those of us who live in fire prone areas - which is most of the intermountain west - to your lists of things to blame for catastrophic wild fires ( which, by the way, spread by wind into towns - hardly the wild land interface). Instead of blaming people who happen to live in a dry, fire prone area why not encourage more support and use of fire wise practices and advocate for those gov't agencies that are thinning overstocked forests and doing controlled burns. Many of them have had their budgets slashed by the current administration's short sighted and anti-science stance.

Unknown said...

Placeholder.... As a meteorologist who has studied this issue for nearly 20 years. I ain't buying it either. I have seen nothing to convince me that CO2 is the control knob for our ever changing climate.

Eric Blair said...

Cliff, I can't find the link right now, but there was an announcement of a bi - partisan group of former top politicos from both parties. Their goal was something like " working towards a carbon - free world." So that could be a way forward on this issue. Both sides talking to each other, what a concept.

Jim Steele said...

Great Article Cliff,

Indeed the obsession that everything is due to CO2 climate change has resulted in horrible environmental analyses and bad remedies. Most of the actions we need to take to be good environmental stewards are overlooked, as politicians and scientists blame CO2 willy nilly, or cover their butts for bad policy. Three years ago Governor Brown vetoed a bipartisan bill to secure power lines to prevent human ignited fires. The science shows that human ignitions have caused fire season to expand 3 times that of natural fires, yet Brown has blamed climate change. Human ignitions cause more fires and cause fires when fuel loads are less dry. CO2 mania is THE biggest threat to wise environmental stewardship!

RLL said...

res tree trimming: Lewis County PUD started trimming trees IIRC in the late 70s and early 80s. As a result ice storms and wind storms no longer crippled the electric supply. It was controversial because it costs a lot (not comparatively, but still lots) of money to do it. The sort of tree trimming that California needs will cost a lot more, particularly in rural, lightly served areas. Are those areas willing to pay the price?

Bruce Kay said...

Jim Steele -

As with the cited Scientific America article in Cliffs Blog post, one simply needs to read beyond the hysterical headlines to see something much more nuanced and far less "alarmist" ( to borrow a term) than your insinuations about Governor Brown being negligent in any vetoing of any bills.

Maybe you should write a book about it. Start your investigative research here:

Larry Seaquist said...

Dr. Mass, are you saying that there is no acidification in the Sound or Pacific waters? Surely you know that there is a huge observational data base and a world of research confirming both the increased acidification of our waters and the impact, inter alia, on shellfish growth.

Steve Speidel said...

I like your comment, but I believe the majority think anthropogenic global warming is settled science.
Not that the majority opinion makes it true!
I don’t join these comments often, so I was a little perplexed by your acronym AGW. It would be clearer if you spelled it out the first time you used it.

JeffB said...

There are a lot of more immediate and important conservation/ environmental issues that do not get enough attention because climate hype sucks all the um ... CO2 out of the room. Better forest management is one issue, air and water quality far more important. It’s very sad that first world politicians obsess over a hypothesis that may yield danger decades hence while third world inhabitants suffer from terrible air quality and unsafe drinking water today.

Evelyn Sherr said...

I got some insight about this blog post from the article in the Environment section of HuffPost: ' Can You Be A Scientist And A Climate Advocate?, that documents the ongoing debate between you and Dr. Sarah Myhre, a research associate at the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography. The article suggests that: " Mass believes it’s irresponsible to make a connection between climate change and extreme weather events without acknowledging the scientific uncertainties in that relationship. As a result, he is loathe to do so.'
Dr, Myhre is concerned that your skepticism of warming claims can deter society from being pro-active to mitigate or adjust to changing conditions caused by global warming. From the article: “This is why communication about climate change is not about science inasmuch as it is about public service and public safety,” she wrote. “It’s about the lives of people and the places we call home. It’s about mitigating the risks of this planetary-scale self-inflicted wound.”
I agree with Dr. Myhre that the public should be apprised of the best scientific knowledge currently available so that individuals can make informed decisions.
A case in point: Before we retired, my husband and I were professors of Oceanography at OSU in Corvallis, OE. One of our colleagues was Dr. Chris Goldfinger, who has been warning about the probability of a Great Cascadia Earthquake in the coming decades. We learned that not just coastal Oregon would be devastated in such an earthquake, but that public utilities (power, gas, water) could be greatly damaged in the Willamette Valley. The fact that our house in Corvallis was sited directly over a local fault-line also made us nervous. We are glad we had the scientists' current research insights on the probability and likely impacts of a major earthquake in Oregon. Based on the geophysicists' predictions, we made an informed decision to move to Central Oregon, near Bend, where a Cascadia Fault earthquake would cause much less disruption.
Those living in fire-prone areas, or on coasts or flood-prone regions, should also have available to them current predictions, based on on-going research, about changes in weather patterns and sea-level rise that would allow them to make informed decisions about whether they should take precautions or move away from places that will be impacted as global warming proceeds in the coming decades.

Evelyn Sherr said...

For conservative solutions to global warming, check out Bob Inglis's group RepublicEn

their message: We are 4831 Americans educating the country about free-enterprise solutions to climate change.

Members of republicEn are conservatives, libertarians, and pragmatists of diverse political opinion. We stand together because we believe in American free enterprise. We believe that with a true level playing field, free enterprise can deliver the innovation to solve climate change. But America's climate policy needs to change. Change requires that conservative leaders step-up and lead.

Climate change is real and we believe it's our duty and our opportunity to reduce the risks. But to make a difference, we have to fight climate change with free enterprise instead of ineffective subsidies and regulations.

JeffB said...

And why is there so much surprise about why the general public has not bought in to Climate Alarm? Perhaps because there is so much empirical evidence that readily refutes the claims from climate alarmists over the past 30 years.

Rebecca Timson said...

Interesting article on acidification of coastal waters:

sunsnow12 said...

The most overlooked fact about forest fires today is the almost 180 degree difference in how they are managed now vs. the 20th century. Government agencies tirelessly worked to jump on them fast and put them out 30 years ago (I know because I participated). Today fires are managed to burn, and continuously "backburned" (that is a very loose term for anyone who has lived through one of these; see the book "Burned Out").

The entire process has become an industry, in every way the term industry is defined, and once a fire in wilderness is on, expect it to burn to the fall (see: Wolverine Fire of 2015).

Comparisons of "acres burned" or "square miles burned" to decades in the previous century are 100% irrelevant due to these changes, and appear to be, at times, intentionally used to create fear and boost political agendas.

It reaches levels of cynicism that makes my head spin. Truth is not easy to find in this. We desperately need comprehensive change in the way our forests are managed.

Bruce Kay said...

Evelyn Sherr - I think your kind suggestion for "Conservatives concerned about climate change" is barking up the wrong tree if you think they will explore your link in any serious numbers.

You should remember that Bob Inglis, once a well liked and supported member of congress was immediately sacked by his republican base for having the extreme disloyalty and temerity to simply state that climate change was real and largely man caused. Thats all it took to end his political career as a Republican.

The same thing happened to John Huntsman, he being the very first to be swiftly struck from the Republican leadership primaries (the last of course being Donald Trump) for exactly the same sin.

10 years ago Newt Gingrich sat with Nancy Pelosi on National TV and declared a bi partisan willingness to act on climate change. That was before Bob Inglis was sacked and unlike Bob, Newt - the scheming machevelian that he is - listened alertly to the riot act that was read for his own disloyalty and gross naivety and smoothly reversed course 180 degrees and of course to this day maintains a status as elder statesman in the Trump Republican party.

Not at all like Bob Inglis and his well intended but go nowhere

And Cliff Mass thinks the worst thing happening is some run of the mill hyperbole in some run of the mill headlines.

Eric Blair said...

I google'd Dr. Mass yesterday, and this was #2 on the search list:

So this comes up right after the correct address, and of course I'm sure Google's algorithm is entirely unbiased. Just more of that alleged tolerance from our tech overlords. Good grief.

Tim Burris said...

sunsnow12 - 20th century fire management was a 180degree difference from the way that forest ecosystems managed themselves in the 19th century and for eons before that. Fire is an important part of the forest lifecycle. When you put out the fire as soon as possible, all the fuel that would have burned remains in place. The next fire is more difficult to put out, and the next and the next, until one day the fire can no longer be managed at all and burns people out of their homes.

Some species of pine _require_ the high heat of a forest fire in order for their seeds to germinate. One benefit of this strategy: the tree species continues after the parasitic insects infesting the adults die off.

You're correct that size comparisons spanning different fire management methodologies are pretty meaningless.

I'm not sure what is your point. Are you suggesting that folks are profiteering off of forest fires? I can't speak to that.

Jim Steele said...

Indeed Evelyn, people should get all the facts in order to make informed decisions. But the hype that climate change is causing wildfires has done just the opposite! It has obscured how humans are causing fires and how they can be minimized. Lowering CO2 will have absolutely no impact. Driving a hybrid will only create the false illusion that you have remedied the wildfire problem.

In my essay I detail the main factors that promoted the wine country fires. Climate change had absolutely nothing to do with it.


People should be informed about how vulnerable a region is to fire. People in Santa Rosa built in an area long known by even the native Americans to be a fire prone wind tunnel, long before CO2 levels rose. Much of the devastated Santa Rosa had built on the ashes of a 1960s fire.

Researchers tell us human ignitions have lengthened fire season 3 times longer than natural fires had. So people should no how vulnerable their power lines are to high winds.

Researchers have long warned that fire suppression will build fuel loads that will inevitably lead to hotter more devastating fires. People should know the extent of fire suppression in their region.

Telling people CO2 is at unprecedented high levels would have done absolutely nothing to save them from the death and destruction of those fires!

Evelyn Sherr said...

Global warming is happening. Effects of warming are real and apparent.

Opinions have no effect on physical processes. The fact that Bob Inglis was defeated in his S.C. bid does not mean he is wrong about climate change.

Climate scientists don't claim that individual events: fires, storms, etc. are 100% caused by anthropogenic global warming, but that AGW contributes to those events - makes them more likely to occur and more intense. For example, the fire season in California is now year-round, while it used to be only in the summer and early fall months.

The danger of minimizing or even denying the contribution of AGW to weather disasters: droughts, heatwaves, fires, floods, storms,is that this encourages the public, and politicians, to delay needed steps to mitigate the current and future effects of warming.

here are some headlines I ran across just today:
In Raw Story:'
'Warmer waters cut Alaska’s prized salmon harvest

‘America’s got to up its game in the Arctic’: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis'
'Warming in the Arctic has raised the prospect of a new rush for resources.'

In USA Today:
'Former Starbucks CEO: Climate change threatens your cup of coffee'

In Daily Kos:'
'Warmer waters cut Alaska’s prized salmon harvest

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Mass,
It is not true that the steady rise in temperature in California since the 1950's would contribute to a greater fuel load of dead and weakened woody vegetation in fire-prone areas? That fuel load would not be influenced by the fact that there was one wet winter. Mortality of woody vegetation from prolonged drought and consistent above average temperatures over decades would prime the ecosystem for catastrophic fire. Even if rainfall remains consistent, higher temperatures cause higher evapotranspiration rates in plants, and that means they need more moisture to sustain themselves. For a plant, higher temperature has the same effect as lower precipitation in their overall moisture content. This is where I see the connection between climate change effects (higher average temperatures) and the fuel load present that enhanced the catastrophic level of the California fires.

In Oregon last summer we also saw extreme fire behavior, often fueled by Easterly winds like the Santa Rosa fires, in both the Angel fire in the Columbia Gorge as well as the Chetco Bar fire near Brookings, as well as others. From a climate perspective, Western Oregon is mostly classed in the "Warm Summer Mediterranean" climate class (Csb). In August we saw average temperatures in many parts of Western Oregon that would put it in the next climate class warmer, the "Hot Summer Mediterranean" climate class (Csa), which is the same climate class as the Central Valley in California. Those classifications are determined over a 30 year average, so one summer does not change a climate class. However, those higher temperatures coincided with a vicious fire season in Oregon and Northern California. In Oregon it was a lot of Douglas Fir forest burning.

The Douglas Fir forest is projected by the US Forest Service to migrate northward as climate changes over the the next century, and actually be mostly absent from Western Oregon by 2090:
The agent of that change in species distribution will be fire, unless checked by intensive forest management.

So knowing that 1) temperature has risen and is projected to rise more, 2) this causes tree and shrub mortality in woody perennial species, 3) projections for tree distribution over the next century is a general northern shift along with temperature rise, 4) the agent of this ecosystem shift will mostly be fire.....all makes it really hard to believe that there is not a connection between climate change, rising temperatures, and the wildfires that occurred in Northern California and Oregon last summer.

From the forest health perspective, I just don't see where rising average temperatures are not increasing the magnitude of any wildfire that starts.

sunsnow12 said...

Tim -

Right. I am not justifying or advocating for the "extinguish at all costs" standard that existed for the majority of the 20th century. I agree with your forest health and fire comments, in fact have made similar comments here on the subject.

My points are made in the context of this blog post (AGW and wildfire): comparing geographical area burned today to previous decades, where a diametrically opposed fire management was the standard, is not just folly, it is often done with an intentional effort to deceive the public into the false idea that "records" are being set due to AGW.

Re: the industry; google "the wildfire suppression industry" or just "wildfire contracting". Those are two off the top of my head that got results, I am sure there are more. Here is an article on the increase in costs - Draw your own conclusions. Or just ask someone in the Methow or Chelan Valleys about the radical changes they have witnessed in the last twenty years.

We desperately need new forest management practices (particularly controlled burns)... which btw, have been resisted by environmentalists for decades, the same ones using the fake statistics. It really needs to be out in the open, and I appreciate Cliff being one of the only scientists I know willing to shine some light on it.

Cliff Mass said...

Andrew is not correct. Rising temperatures are not producing more fuels for those fires. The key driver if increased fuel are human intervention, either by suppressing fires (so fuels build up) or the large increase in invasive species that burn (such as Eucalyptus trees and "grassoline."...cliff

Jim Steele said...


It is hard to take you serious when you confuse weather and climate. Such climate blindness is exactly why the CO2 obsession causes such bad analyses and bad environmental remedies.

To exemplify your climate climate claims you referenced the "Daily Kos:' 'Warmer waters cut Alaska’s prized salmon harvest

Reading that story, it reveal's this year's total commercial harvest for Alaska’s marquee Copper River salmon was about 32,000 fish, after fishing ws halted at the end of May, compared to an average annual harvest of over 1.4 million fish in the prior decade.

Why would blaming CO2 inform anybody about why the numbers crashed between one year to the next? Climate change does not happen in just one year. No serious scientist would ever misconstrue that.

Jim Steele said...


Most of California's vegetation has evolved to deal with fires - long before CO2 climate change was ever an issue.

No matter how dry, if no ignition then no fires. The increase in the number of fires and the length of the fire season is totally due to human ignitions.

You say" From the forest health perspective, I just don't see where rising average temperatures are not increasing the magnitude of any wildfire that starts."

First you need to break the "Average" temperature into maximum and minimum temperatures. Working monitoring wildlife in Northern California, our pants would soaking wet during the early morning due to the dew when minimum temperatures are recorded. A rising minimum temp usually does nothing to dry out the land. But high insolation and high maximum temperatures will indeed dry out the vegetation, But maximum temperatures in two thirds of California have not risen higher than the 1930s. So it is hard to blame climate change when you really look at the data.

Lastly the grasses and brushy twigs that spread last year's fires dry out within a day when exposed to the dry Diablo or Santa Anna winds. Theoretically even if there were record temperatures 20C higher than average for the summer, it woudnt have made the vegetation any more combustible than one day of the Diablo winds. Don't confuse weather with climate.

There was absolutely no climate connection with those wildfires, other than connections fabricated from twisted irrelevant theoretical scenarios .

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Mass,
I agree with you that fire suppression, fire-prone exotic species, and an abundant grass year all contributed to greater volatility of the ecosystem to carry a large fire. However, it is a basic fact that the health of forests, shrub lands, and the distribution of species is dependent on temperature and moisture. When temperatures are higher, it is equivalent to less moisture because of increased evapotranspiration in plants. This makes them more susceptible to insect infestation and mortality. Higher average temperatures over time are equivalent to greater tree / shrub mortality and hence a higher amount of volatile woody fuels. This is basic ecology. Biotic communities and the species within them are determined in a large part by temperature and moisture ranges. When temperature and moisture levels change, species die and new ones move in.

I travelled through many of the areas that burned in Northern California in the last few years, and as a horticulturist and ecologist I could see that the ecosystem was stressed and was ripe for catastrophic level wildfire. Dead trees and shrubs abounded. Let us not forget that Northern California experienced record heat preceding the start of these fires:

So I agree with your facts about the wind direction and speed not being abnormal, and about the aforementioned causes of fire volatility, but I can't get behind the assertion that higher temperatures did not "prime the pump" of the ecosystem to react so dramatically to these natural conditions.


Eric Blair said...

Andrew Millison - you conveniently left out the most important fact about the Columbia River Gorge fire; that a teenager hell - bent on starting a fire threw dozens of lit matches into a ravine, and despite passing hiker's pleas to stop, continued until a blaze was initiated. Regardless of the vegetation being too dry or not, he was going to cause havoc no matter what. Bottom line - human behavior directly caused that fire, not anything else.

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Steele,
You make a good point with your map image that overall in California the temperature rise tends to be in the minimum temperatures and that would not affect the dehydration of fuel like the maximums would.

However the image that you linked to here [ ] to support your claim has a couple of issues:

1) The area around Santa Rosa and Napa Valley actually do show the highest level of annual maximum temperature rise on the entire map, at 2.29 degrees celsius. Other areas of the state show a lowering of maximum temperatures, but not the area we are discussing that suffered the worst fires.
2) This image is only for 2014. I don't know where to find a similar map that covers the last 20 years but that would offer a much more robust set of data to support your claim.

If in fact you and Mr. Mass are correct and higher average temperatures did not in any way affect the fuel load and fire volatility of the ecosystems of the Santa Rosa and Napa regions, then this would really be a story about an anomaly in the Western US. The data speaks to the fact that there is definitely a higher instance of wildfires due to rising temperatures:

Without speaking with a fire ecologist, forester, or other expert specifically versed in the ecology of the areas we are discussing, I can not refute your claims. But I am going to reach out to some of my colleagues that are located in that region and check your assertions with someone on the ground that knows in detail the specific conditions and can back them up with data. I will respond here when I get what I consider a conclusive answer. I am not afraid of being wrong, and I only ask for the same openness in the spirit of inquiry and truth seeking.

Andrew Millison

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Blair,
The ignition source of the fire is completely irrelevant to my point. Almost all of the wildfires we are talking about are ignited by humans.

The point about the Angel Fire in the Columbia Gorge is that the Douglas Fir ecosystem was able to carry a large canopy fire. That fire moved incredibly quickly and nearly swept through the Bull Run Watershed, a major water supply source for the city of Portland.

At the same time, the August temperatures in Western Oregon were high enough to put us in the same climate classification as the Central Valley in California. If summer temperatures like we saw last year in Oregon are foreshadowing a new normal, then we can expect more instances of the Douglas Fir forest reaching the level of dehydration where it can carry catastrophic massive wildfires in areas not previously considered at risk.

Here's another article related to forest health in California by the USDA that directly attributes the record-breaking tree die-off partly to a rise in temperatures and supports my previous statements directed to Mr. Mass and Mr. Steele:

Here's the relevant quote:
"Though California received record-breaking rains in the winter of 2016-2017, the effects of five consecutive
years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and rising temperatures have led
to historic levels of tree die-off."

I'd call the USDA a pretty reputable information source. Are they exaggerating and expressing climate change hysteria? They do state that most of the dead trees in their survey are in the Sierra Nevadas, so this is a trend in the wider region, and not specific to the Santa Rosa / Napa area.

Here's an animated graphic of tree mortality in the Sierra's between 2014-2017. Frightening:

Thanks for the civil conversation,

Jim Steele said...


It is common sense to accept that warmer and drier conditions are more fire prone. But that theoretical consideration should not be applied willy-nilly to every event.

Here's a description of Dead Fuel Moistures from NOAA.

"When the fuel moisture content is low, fires start easily and will spread rapidly - all of the heat energy goes directly into the burning flame itself. When the fuel moisture content is less than 30 percent, that fuel is essentially considered to be dead.

Dead fuels respond solely to current environmental conditions and are critical in determining fire potential. The dead fuel moisture threshold (10–hour, 100–hour, or 1,000–hour), called a time lag, is based upon how long it would take for 2/3 of the dead fuel to respond to atmospheric moisture. "

"Small fuels (less than 1/4 inch in diameter), such as grass, leaves, and mulch respond more quickly to changes in the atmospheric moisture content, and take 10 hours to adjust to moist/dry conditions"

The 3 Remote Automatic weather Stations around the Santa Rosa area reported 10 hour dead fuel moisture percents of 12.8%, 3.8%, 5.4%.

In Southern California the 10 hour fuel moisture at 3 weather stations between December 3 and 19 went from 1) 0-0%, 55.4%-22.2%, 46.0%-12.7%.

Placeholder said...

As a meteorologist who has studied this issue for nearly 20 years. I ain't buying it either. I have seen nothing to convince me that CO2 is the control knob for our ever changing climate.

I have considerable respect for consensus opinion. The conventional wisdom is usually correct, yet not always. I started out as a believer in AGW but didn't examine that belief closely. You can't examine everything. No one has the time, and that included me.

What started me in the other direction was a little thing. I grew up in Wisconsin, and Canadian cold fronts were a regular feature of winter. It can get damn cold back there, and it's always Canada's fault. Well, a few years ago, the global warming people decided they'd rename those cold fronts "polar votexes," as if they were something new or different, and say they were caused by global warming.

This was a really bad idea. Not only did they get ~100 million people laughing over the new name, but they violated their own distinction between climate and weather. To top it off, this happened as the Green Bay Packers were heading into a playoff. The global warming people said it would be the coldest playoff game ever, and that this was because of global warming.

So happens that I grew up during the Packers "glory years," when Vince Lombardi led the greatest team ever to three straight championships, something that has still never been repeated. Part of the Lombardi saga was the 1967 "Ice Bowl," in which the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys on a frigid day in Green Bay. I was a Packers fanatic as a kid, so it all got my attention,

I decided that I'd investigate global warming. In doing so, I came across a series of scandals and failed predictions. I am retired from two careers, one as a journalist and one as an investment analyst. Facts really counted, especially in the investment position. I became a very good, and strictly objective researcher. It's what you must be if you don't want your head handed to you in either of those jobs, but especially on the investment side.

AGW is a failed hypothesis. It never rose to a theory, because the hypothetical case has fallen apart. The predictions have not come true. Period. The data is questionable, to put it mildly, which might be why the global warming group felt a need to falsify the historical temperature records and ignore other measurement issues. The statistical basis for the IPCC reports is faulty. Look further, and T.C. Chamberlain's caution about rushing to a single hypothesis too soon was ignored.

Then there is idea that AGW is "settled science," which is what we have been told. That is not only a colloquial lie, but anyone who approaches it with any rigor knows that the entire concept of "settled science" is directly contradictory to the scientific method itself. The AGW proponents are deeply unscientific, yet through their media megaphones they spread the insulting lie that anyone who disagrees with them is an idiot who "denies" science.

Fortunately, there have been some intrepid and courageous people who pushed back. The global warming story lies in tatters, and the public has not bought into it, thank God. The question now is whether academia and the media will ever pay a price for continuing to push this set of lies.

Jim Steele said...

The ignition source of wild fires is very relevant. Human ignited fires occur, on average, when fuel moisture is higher relative to natural ignitions.

Eric Blair said...

Mr. Millison - you make some salient points and I'm inclined to agree with some of them, but another factor left out from the Columbia Gorge fire discussion is that the extreme fire suppression efforts over the past six decades had led to an unnatural abundance of fuel sources. This is a widespread problem that has been a plague on the West Coast and Inter - Mountain West areas for many years now, and is only recently being noticed. Until advocates for AGW begin to address the other relevant factors inherent in forest fires we're never going to come to any kind of consensus on the issue. Additionally, stating that human - caused fires are irrelevant to the discussion is yet another attempt to avoid mitigating factors, something that won't help persuade those not in agreement with your POV.

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Steele,
That's really interesting about the fuel ignition. The main point of the USFS story I posted about the record tree mortality that they are attributing partly to temperature is to point out that there is more dead fuel out there due to rising temperatures, according to the USDA.

I had a chance to speak with a colleague in the Santa Rosa area and he said that the main effect of rising temperatures in relation to wildfire is that fire season is now longer. It sounds like you could probably provide a good scientific explanation of why higher minimum temps would extend the fire season. He said this last year they had fires into December.

Mr. Blair,
I did not mean to negate the importance of how fires start, but it just was not related to the point I was attempting to convey about the capacity of the Douglas Fir to carry large wildfires. I'm totally with you on the build up of fuels due to fire suppression for the last century. The truth is forests in the West are super ripe to burn because of fuel build up and mismanagement. No one is saying that rising temperatures are the sole cause of extreme fire behavior. But that rising temperatures exacerbate the existing problems with the forests through greater dehydration of soils and vegetation and increased tree mortality.

Another really interesting point that a colleague of mine brought up about the recent fires in Douglas Fir forest in Oregon is the difference of how they moved through industrial monoculture forest versus more natural, mixed species forests. Apparently the fire behavior was way more extreme when they hit the continuous canopy of the industrial forests.

Jim Steele said...


Many "officials" whether they be politicians or climate scients have carelessly blamed global warming for a longer fire season. Such attribution is meaningless unless their analyses ave factored out the increase in human ignitions, as well as natural decades of drought and accompanying higher temperatures associated with the natural Pacific Decadal Oscillation. I suggest you college has made the same mistake. Please supply the evidence to support his dubious attribution.

Furthermore any increase in dead trees is irrelevant regards last years fires that were spread by grasses and brush, not trees.

I suggest everyone read ennifer Balch's 2017 research paper "Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States"

full paper here:

From the abstract

"Humans have vastly expanded the spatial and seasonal “fire niche” in the coterminous United States, accounting for 84% of all wildfires and 44% of total area burned. During the 21-y time period, the human-caused fire season was three times longer than the lightning-caused fire season and added an average of 40,000 wildfires per year across the United States. Human-started wildfires disproportionally occurred where fuel moisture was higher than lightning-started fires, thereby helping expand the geographic and seasonal niche of wildfire. Human-started wildfires were dom- inant (>80% of ignitions) in over 5.1 million km2, the vast majority of the United States, whereas lightning-started fires were dominant in only 0.7 million km2, primarily in sparsely populated areas of the mountainous western United States. Ignitions caused by human activities are a substantial driver of overall fire risk to ecosystems and economies. Actions to raise awareness and increase manage- ment in regions prone to human-started wildfires should be a focus"

Andrew Millison said...

Mr. Steele,
At this point, from what you have expressed as well as my own research, I agree with the spirit of the article in relation to the Santa Rosa area wildfires; that it is not apparent that they were exacerbated by high temperatures specifically, although you still did not address the fact that the graphic that you used to show that minimum temperatures are what are rising actually shows that the maximum temps were higher in the Santa Rosa / Napa area:

Even if you and Mr Mass are correct about these particular fires being primarily fed by grasses from the wet winter and the spring preceding them, that does not negate the fact that there is record tree mortality in California and it is partly attributed to higher temperatures by the USDA:

I will concede the fact that calling the Santa Rosa area fires climate caused is jumping on the bandwagon and doesn't have clear support. But to call an increase in dead trees irrelevant to the spread of wildfire in general really doesn't make sense, and I'm not sure if that is your position here.

Also, the expansion of the fire weather season worldwide is clearly a product of global warming, and is articulated pretty clearly in this article, again, on a US Federal government website. This is a more macro global view of the expansion of fire season, regardless of whether or not the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is responsible solely for higher temps in the US West, which is of course debatable:

So I'm not sure if you are just against the concept entirely that human-induced global warming can possibly increase the threat of wildfire, or if your stand is really just about this particular instance that the article highlights in the Santa Rosa area. I'm beginning to suspect that you are against the concept of anthropogenic warming at all and that anything I bring up will be debated regardless of it's validity and truth. If that's the case, then there is no point in continuing this conversation, as it is not an inquiry into truth, but an expression of inflexible opinions.

Placeholder said...

Also, the expansion of the fire weather season worldwide is clearly a product of global warming

Actually, it's clearly a product of Seattle "progressive" arrogance. You people know nothing, and you are proud of your ignorance. This is why you make it up, and then go back and falsify the historical temperature records to "prove" what's actually just your latest scheme to raise taxes.

Jim Steele said...


Why on earth would you say "But to call an increase in dead trees irrelevant to the spread of wildfire in general really doesn't make sense." You now call into question your integrity because I never said "in general". That is your fabrication. Please read again! I said "any increase in dead trees is irrelevant regards last years fires that were spread by grasses and brush, not trees." which was in context of the Winds Country and Southern California fires. There was a lot of dishonest media hype blaming dead trees, even though they were never the issue for the fires in question.

You then descend into snarky psychobabble regards my intentions saying "I'm beginning to suspect that you are against the concept of anthropogenic warming at all and that anything I bring up will be debated regardless of it's validity and truth. If that's the case, then there is no point in continuing this conversation, as it is not an inquiry into truth, but an expression of inflexible opinions."

In fact it is you who is demonstrating an obsession with blaming global warming. I am an ecologist and I know from decades of research its a fools game to blame on variable. I am trained to have multiple working hypotheses. So what you can bank on is that I will examine all the other confounding factors before I attribute any phenomenon to CO2 warming. That is what all good scientists should do, disentangle all the other factors. That's why scientists must publish, so a diverse audience can provide diverse perspectives.

It is your obsession that is revealed by your sweeping statement that "the expansion of the fire weather season worldwide is clearly a product of global warming"

Fire weather as defined in the paper you linked to is not a measure of actual fires but a algorithm based primarily on temperatures and moisture. Their model only simulated an increase in fire weather in about 25% of the vegetated world. Certainly not strong support for global warming. The question you must ask first is, how much of the drier conditions, conditions which also cause warmer temperatures, were due to natural ocean oscillations, a factor all researchers agree drive patterns of moisture transport. A Dai and Trenberth CO2 driven model simulated drying in western North America during during the 80s and 90s, when in reality the region got wetter. The model's failure was due to they inability to simulate ENSO driven moisture transport and assume rising CO2 would warm and dry the land

In addition to natural ocean oscillations, humans have been drying out the land. The 2010 Russian heat wave and fires were connected to a natural blocking high pressure system then exacerbated by humans purposefully drying to of the peatlands .

When you provide analyses that correctly disentangle natural oscillations and direct human effects, then we will have greater agreement on the contribution from global warming.