Somebody named Adam Corner wrote an article at The Guardian yesterday, titled “Who cares about climate change consensus?“. I’ve made my views on the whole 97% consensus “study” very clear here and elsewhere already, and I’m not going to get into that right now. Which is not to say I might not come out with both barrels blazing at some future point. The point of this post is instead the editorial hypocrisy I’ve seen at The Guardian in the last week or so on this topic.
Corner’s main point is (apparently) that the controversy around the Cook et al “consensus” study is just bickering over a few percentage points, which is irrelevant relative to the bigger issue/objective of finding some hypothesized credible messenger that people will just once and for all listen to.
What’s ironic here is that the article leads with a picture of a crown fire and a burning building (have a look), captioned with “Wildfires have become more prevalent in the US because of climate change.” Yeah, well that’s nice and scary and all…but it’s a flat out wrong statement. I did my dissertation on the effects of decades of fire suppression policies on the vegetation structure of forests in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, and am quite familiar with the literature on the general topic in the western USA generally. The entire fire-prone western U.S. landscape has been greatly altered by this interruption of the nature fire regime of frequent burning that existed up until about 1850, but which declined precipitously with the demise of Native Americans, leading to large to extreme increases in surface and ladder fuels since then. Climate change? It’s most certainly not helping the situation, but its quantitative effects on current fire regimes are much more tenuous and difficult to isolate than are those of fuel load increases, which are definite and well-documented (by various means) in many different locations. There’s no way you can make such a blanket statement like that–nobody who really knows about the issue will accept it, I can guarantee that.
The point being that in an article that argues that it’s all just a big communication problem, they give a first class example of why, no, it ain’t just a communication problem, outside of the fact that yeah, misrepresenting the actual state of what is known about a scientific issue to the public, is indeed a big f***ing communication problem.
So, I broke my own rule of not wasting time commenting on such things, and submitted a brief comment. It was up briefly, got a couple of responses, then got deleted by somebody later. I have no idea why I’m listed as “ID1686610”, since I gave my full name when registering, but whatever, here’s the comment:
“Wildfires have become more prevalent in the US because of climate change.”
Wildfires have become more “prevalent” (frequent?, larger?, more intense?…and with reference to what baseline period, exactly?…what *exactly* do you mean?) …due to a combination of factors, the principal one being the very large increase in available fuels that have arisen due to a century or more of fire reduction activities, especially in fire prone ecosystems. There is a wealth of scientific information on this, it is MUCH more certain than is the effect of climate changes to date. There are also other factors, such as the frequency of human ignitions and the availability and effectiveness of fire fighting resources as f(time, money, political entity).
So, bottom line is your statement is over-simplified and you embellish this effect with a picture of a high intensity fire burning down a structure.
Some of us do notice this stuff, just so you know.
The Guardian has it’s moderation policies described here and here. Maybe someone can enlighten me as to exactly what I violated with my comment, especially in the context of those made by one Dana Nuccitelli, one of the co-authors of the Cook et al study, (a blogger at The Guardian, and apparently the chief attack dog against those who criticize the study publically), in response to Dr. Richard Tol’s piece describing the study Tol published recently criticizing their study. You can see further evidence of Nuccitelli’s objectivity and humor on this issue here, should you need more.