More Climate Cognitive Dissonance: Wildfires

Scientific American reports “Scientists and forest agency officials yesterday said they see a link between climate change and the record-breaking 2015 wildfire season.

“Parsing the exact role a changing climate played in the historic burns can be challenging, especially in Western forests overstocked with woody kindling due to decades of fire suppression and a relatively hands-off forest management policy. But, experts agreed, there is clear evidence that a warmer, drier climate played a central role.

“…More than 10.1 million acres of U.S. forests — private, state and federal — were scorched last year, marking 2015 as the most extensive and expensive fire season on record, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Forest Service.”

In sharp response, Tony Heller over at the skeptic blog Real Climate Science writes, “Their claim is flagrantly false. In 1937, more than twice that many acres burned.” He offers this shot of an article in The New York Times for October 9, 1938:

ny times wildfires 1938

You’ll note in the article that 1937’s total was lower than 1936.

This presents me with a dilemma. Scientific American is a respected media outlet (although I am less than thrilled with their overly-accepting editorial stance on climate change and I won’t soon forget their despicable hatchet job on Bjorn Lomborg). Tony Heller, like me, is ‘just a blogger’ and a skeptical blogger at that. But Heller shows an article from another respected media outlet, The New York Times, that clearly contradicts Scientific American.

Who should I believe? If scientists claim to discern a climate change influence on 10 million acres burnt in 2015, what do they discern from 21 million acres burnt in 1937, years before humans began their mass emissions of CO2?

I am willing to believe that both figures are correct and that humans contributed to both–that’s why Smokey the Bear became a cultural icon.

But could Scientific American be so careless in their fact checking? Indeed, could Penelope Morgan, a professor and fire ecologist at the University of Idaho, who said there “is no doubt” changes in climate are contributing to an uptick in fires, especially across the West…” be equally as ignorant?

By not looking carefully at the historical record and rushing to blame human emissions of greenhouse gases for wildfires caused by lightning strikes, cigarettes and engine backfires, it seems that once again science is reaching for straws–or perhaps grasping at them.

Smokey the Bear says, “Buy Tom Fuller’s book The Lukewarmer’s Way and you can stroll through parks in our nation’s capital with Girl Scouts!”


That should help sales.

This probably won’t, but some readers are surely waiting for it:




6 responses to “More Climate Cognitive Dissonance: Wildfires

  1. “Scientific American” is hardly a credible or honorable source of science for quite some time.
    Historical illiteracy, which is one of the important under pinnings of the climate consensus is hardly new.
    Your example is particularly insulting to anyone who has cared about forest and timber issues enough to be even mildly well informed.
    My family has been involved in timber and forestry for over two hundred years in America
    The larger question is why should a movement that is caught out time and time again to falsify history, relies on false claims, use doctored data, makes failed predictions, and refuses to honestly debate, given any credibility at all?

  2. Tom, the Catholic Church has dealt with this issue for centuries. Whenever a statue in Mexico weeps blood or a Croatian shepherdess hears voices, the Vatican dispatches the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a sort of theological hit-squad.

    The church, being a church, cannot simply claim that it is impossible for a porcelain statue to weep blood, nor can they simply refer hysterical Croatian farm girls to therapists – they must at least entertain the notion of miracles to protect their theological legacy. On the other hand, too many weeping statues and to many whispering breezes undermines the entire enterprise – so they have a process that places reason above belief.

    Odd notion that…. placing reason above belief.

  3. Climate is often defined in terms of 30 year averages. If you adopt that view, then natural cycles like the PDO and AMO produce climate change and the recent uptick in wildfires may well be due to climate change, as was the uptick in the 1930’s. The real problem here is the conflation of “climate change” with anthropogenic climate change.

    “wildfires caused by lightning strikes, cigarettes and engine backfires”
    Actually, these are things that trigger fires, not the ultimate cause of the fires (for example, see In the western U.S., forest fires are caused by forests. Wildfires are caused, at least in part, by bad forest management; that likely accounts for 1937 being so much worse than 2015.

  4. Check this two meter plot from the university of Maine climate reanalysis

    I stuck it in my Twitter, which is mostly in Spanish as I try to weigh into the Venezuelan debates (it’s about to get violent)

    • Fernando, the implications of the still unresolved issues regarding the basics of data is this: if we were in fact facing a dramatic, dangerous climate crisis we would not have to dig through such subtle and indecisive data. As for Venezuela, my heart breaks. I have beloved family members and friends whose lives are in peril from the coming revelation of the true heart of the Bolivarian thugocracy. May Chavez soon be joined in hell by Maduro and the rest of the tyranny that Chavez foisted on the Venezuelan people.

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