Calvin on Climate
Published in

Calvin on Climate

Anything but climate action

President Donald Trump, arriving in Sacramento for a briefing on Western wildfires, continued to downplay the role of climate change in California’s horrific fire season, claimed the earth will soon begin cooling — and told California and other states to solve the problem by managing their forests more wisely.

Here we go again. Cooling soon? That’s news to scientists.

Better management, as in clearing undergrowth? That too is deliberately misleading. Everything, including wildfires, has multiple causes. People have a tendency to forget this, and so may not be sufficiently suspicious of those who seek to mislead them.

Fortunately, we can consult NOAA’s data on the subject of wildfire numbers and the annual numbers of really big wildfire episodes: those causing more than a billion dollars in damage. Here is the history since 1985, corrected for inflation.

Guess what! The annual number of wildfires hasn’t changed much (decreased, if anything), but the number of big billion-dollar fires is up 250% (3.5X). Washington Governor Jay Inslee has taken to calling these outsize wildfires “climate fires.”

We can’t blame lots more big ones on more careless campers or more arsonists because the total annual numbers didn’t increase. What seems to have happened is that fire weather (the combination of hot-dry-windy) lasts longer and burns more acres.



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William H. Calvin

President, Professor emeritus, University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. Author, many books on brains, human evolution, climate