Yeah, who cares about climate change consensus anyway?

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.

13 thoughts on “Yeah, who cares about climate change consensus anyway?

  1. In today’s WSJ …
    Fighting Western Fires With Economics

    Good science combined with the right incentives will allow humans to live in harmony with ever-changing nature.
    [ … ]
    Dynamic ecology and dynamic economics go hand in hand if we combine good science with the right incentives. More firefighting budget alone without accompanying funding for prescribed burning and other fuel-removing actions, will only promulgate Kodachrome-moment management. By better linking human action to our dynamic natural world, we can find ways for nature to sustain biodiversity and people to prosper both materially and aesthetically.

  2. Hi Jim,
    I think you clearly violated Community Standard #3 ‘…we will consider removing any content that others might find extremely offensive or threatening” by implying that natural causes were more important in wildfire frequency in the US than climate change. Essentially, you were calling people who makes this claim charlatans or fools (or both). People who believe that anthropogenic CO2 is causing a catastrophic increase in the prevalence of wildfire hold that view as an article of faith and casting aspersions on their faith must be both offensive and, considering how divergent that belief is from the facts, threatening.

    • The issue here, and frequently as I see it, is the exaggeration of real, existing causes/effects. Clearly, you don’t want to dry the western USA climate more than it naturally is–that’s going to increase the risk/hazard from wildfires. There’s no need to embellish this fact with simplistic claims that ignore the complete system dynamic. So, I’m not implying that Corner is a fool or a charlatan–but I am saying that he’s making false claims. However, I’ll also add that Corner likely has no idea who I am, i.e. that I actually studied this topic in fair details for my PhD, and therefore he, or whoever was moderating, feels free to treat me as some random internet poster.

      Keep in mind also, that the build-up of fuels over the last 1-1.5 centuries is not natural, it’s entirely anthropogenic.

    • Thanks DaveW for drawing our attention to Guardian Community Standard #3 ‘…we will consider removing any content that others might find extremely offensive or threatening”.
      For years I used to comment at the Guardian, and wondered why my comments, which regularly got the most approvals, would just as regularly get removed by moderators. Presumably the people I was arguing against, and whose opinions were getting less approvals, found this offensive or threatening, and told the Guardian so.

  3. Similar problems here in Australia and greenies are arguing that fuel reduction and sanitation are useless and our only hope is to concentrate on mitigating CAGW. Same encroachment of human habitation in the bush, desire to be part of nature by mostly ignorant city people, and refusal to learn about fire ecology. The loss of life and property is horrific enough, but the loss of wildlife in the resulting massive fires is appalling.
    Giving Corner and the like the benefit of the doubt, their intentions may be good (after all the previous fire suppression regime in the WUS was well meant), but they are not critical thinkers: they are true believers and cannot afford to consider data that goes against their beliefs. So, if your points were too well made to ridicule, then the only option was to delete.

    • Dave, if anyone is actually making that argument there in Oz, then they need to be countered big-time, and ignored by those making the decisions, because make no mistake about it, such a policy greatly endangers the landscape and anything residing in it. It is just a flat out stupid argument. So far, nobody with any influence is that extreme over here.

      There is very arguably no bigger screw-up of a natural environmental force/driver, than our mismanagement of fire in fire-prone landscapes over the last 150 years or so. Completely messed up, and now we are paying the price, and will be for a long time to come.

  4. My guess is that the excuse might be that your comment was off-topic. The piece was about the consensus stuff, not about wildfires. Of course, by this argument, they should delete their own picture of the fire and caption!

    I had a bizarre discussion on this on twitter with the usually rational Richard Betts-
    Me: I think @AJCorner wins the prize for most alarmist climate scare photograph
    Betts: Why is it “alarmist”? Quite a bit of literature on climate change & fire, see IPCC WG2

    • “Excuse” would be the exactly correct term Paul. Moreover, perhaps the main theme I have in this whole public (and sci. lit.) CC “debate” is the frequent exaggerations that occur. “Let’s just slip in a picture of a crown fire with a ff looking on helplessly (where?… well how about at the very top…) and make a blanket statement about the effect of cc thereupon, you know, to set the mood here and show how extreme this whole situation is”

      Note also that I asked Corner directly on Twitter why the comment was deleted: no response, zip.
      And somebody pointed me to some comments by Nuccitelli on the matter and his response shows exactly why he doesn’t understand what science is really all about and why he thinks their paper is useful. I laughed out loud, really I did. These people are imposters.

  5. “Somebody named Adam Corner…”
    He’s a psychology lecturer at Cardiff University, and used to publish frequently at Guardian Environment. Nowadays he tends to publish at Guardian Business, where the money is, but still pushing the green line.
    His main claims to fame are:
    – He was the first to push the findings of cognitive psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky (in an article in the Guardian in July 2012) that climate sceptics were more likely to be conspiracy theorists, believing e.g. that NASA faked the moon landings (in a paper based on a sample of ten respondents)
    – He has established himself as a key player in the government funded project to manipulate public opinion on climate change in Great Britain via his government funded website and his association with COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network) an organisation which may or may not still exist (Wikipaedia isn’t sure).
    – He and I had a brief moment of fame when we conducted a couple of discussions between a climate change “believer” and a sceptic – an event so rare that it attracted the attention of websites such as BishopHill and Judith Curry”s Climate Etc.
    (Professor Lewandowsky, formerly of the University of Western Australia, has recently settled in Bristol, England, not far from Corner at Cardiff, Wales, a fact that Corner, to his credit.has failed to publicise).

  6. When I mentioned the picture on twitter, someone said that the pictures are often selected by the editors, not the authors, and Adam Corner said yes that was the case (“yes of course, authors dont choose pics!”). It seems like a crazy system since the picture is the first thing you notice as a reader.

    “the main theme I have in this whole public (and sci. lit.) CC “debate” is the frequent exaggerations that occur”
    I’m sure you are aware that this is one of the main drivers of climate scepticism.
    There is a constant stream of enthusiastic young activists who can perhaps be forgiven for not getting this, but there’s no excuse for more experienced people not appreciating that their efforts are counter-productive.

    • “of course”?–like he thinks this is some kind of common knowledge or something? And anyway, I would imagine authors can object to or veto editorial changes if they want, or better yet, make photo suggestions of their own. I mean, really, why are they putting a wildfire picture up there–is the article about wildfire hazard?

      The public media are all about impressions created, that’s why they lead with pictures like that. I doubt they even think twice about it.

      Very much agree with your point about the counter-productive effect of exaggeration, and is probably the main reason why I harp on various topics. The whole concept seems not to even occur to them.

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