Friday, October 26, 2007

Warming scares and wildfires.

Columnist Paul Simons, at the London Times, is blaming global warming for the fires in southern California. He says that “much of the western US has been in drought for almost a decade. That has helped to stoke up the wildfires and much worse. Forget talk of what global warming might do in 50 years’ time -- large swaths of the West are parched dry as temperatures grow warmer....” Democratic Senator Harry Reid made similar claims: "One reason why we have the fires in California is global warming."

Of course the American west has been dry, very dry for centuries -- in fact it has been dry for as long as any humans have lived there and long before warming became an issue. Water has to be piped into the west and this has been happening for decades. The water system that pumps the water into the region is not a recent feature. As the Los Angeles Times reported scientists say it would be difficult to make the very case that Mr. Simons has tried to make, “given the dangerous mix of drought and wind that has plagued the regions for centuries or more.” Their headline was to the point: "Global warming not a factor in wildfires."

Scientists do say that long term a warmer climate, with any cause, will make the problem worse but that what we’ve seen so far is inside the norm. And while it has been drier than normal since 2000 “tree-ring records show there have been far drier periods during the last millennium.”

The American West has always suffered droughts and that includes the periods prior to the release of most greenhouse gases. This shows a drought map for the US for the mid 1950s and you can see the West was in trouble then.

And this one is for the late 1930s and again the West is very, very dry.Note both periods are before the major increase in greenhouse gases.

The problems in the West are a bit more mundane and the real issues are not nearly as dramatic as global catastrophe. California is now heavily populated with homes everywhere. People move their because, as the song from the 60s goes, “it never rains in southern California”. The region attracts people because it is warm and dry. When the area was not populated there were frequent smaller fires which burned away lots of brush. But as people move in those fires are controlled so the brush accumulates adding more fuel to the fires -- literally. When the normal heat and normal Santa Ana winds combine with this accumulated fuel the fires we’ve seen are the result.

And at least one study of wildfires in the West, published in Science, recently found no increase in wildfires in southern California.

In addition here are the actual raw precipitation rates for Fairmont, California as provided by the U.S. Historical Climate Network. I don’t see a pattern of increased dryness over earlier years in the last century.And in Brawley, California the statistics from USHCN show the driest period in recent history was from around 1940 to 1975 and that the last 25 years were actually wetter. And both these stations were picked precisely because they are in the midst of the fire regions.The reality is that, once again, any event that is tragic or unfortunate is being exploited to push warming alarmism. Media pundits and environmental activists do this routinely. And what science they may have on their side of the debate is discredited because of it. No doubt they will next trot out Al Gore to preach to the sinners about the evils of consumption and other such vices.

In closing I will note that Mr. Simons also argues that “nature didn’t intend” for people to build cities in deserts. True, nor did nature intend for humans to build cities anywhere. Nature has no intentions whatsoever. It just is. It didn’t intend for people to wear eye glasses, read silly newspaper columnists or fly. It didn’t intend for people to have houses or clothes or for children to be vaccinated against small pox or, well, you get the point. This worship of nature is absurd and deadly and just plain silly.