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:
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: