California Wildfires

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES….Joel Achenbach says we focus too much on global warming as an explanation for natural disasters even though there are plenty of other ways we’re destroying our environment too:

Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade and so on. You don’t need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico — an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts — isn’t caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

….Last week, we saw reports of more wildfires in California. Sure as night follows day, people will lay some of the blame on climate change. But there’s also the minor matter of people building homes in wildfire-susceptible forests, overgrown with vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. That’s like pitching a tent on the railroad tracks.

The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: “Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you’re nuts.”

Well, Achenbach ought to be delighted with “Big Burn,” the LA Times’ just completed 5-part series on the growth of wildfires in California, which barely even mentions climate change as a factor. And that’s a mighty odd thing since, contra Achenbach, “some of the blame” is unquestionably due to global warming, which has been partly responsible for rising temperatures in California’s most fire-prone areas, reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas, and a longer and drier fire season. This review of the data in Science suggests, very roughly, that climate change may be responsible for one-third to one-half of the increase in California wildfire activity over the past several decades. True, land use and cyclic weather changes are probably responsible for the bulk of the increase, but climate change certainly deserves its proper share of the blame — a share that’s likely to grow as the years march by.

So here’s your reading assignment for the day: read Achenbach’s piece, which correctly points out that there are lots of ecological disasters out there for us to worry about, not just global warming. Then go to the Sacramento Bee and read Tom Knudson, the anti-Achenbach, who today begins a series of stories about the impact of climate change on California’s Sierra region. Between the two of them, they cover most of the bases.