Michael Shellenberger and the organisation he runs, Public, have questioned why the US government, corporate news media and Hollywood have been helping climate scientist Michael Mann spread false information about fires and global warming.
NASA data suggests that the amount of area burned annually by fire has declined over the last 25 years, and the emissions from wildfires have also declined globally since 2003. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has not detected any direct causal relationship between fire occurrence and area burned to human-caused climate change.
Scientists suggest selective logging and prescribed burning to reduce wood fuel load, as well as putting out fires before they spread, as a way to prevent uncontrollable forest fires. However, governments, scientists and journalists have been misattributing fires in Canada, Hawaii, and Europe to climate change.
Shellenberger and Public have questioned the motives behind the US government, major news media corporations, and entertainment media financing Michael Mann to spread disinformation about climate change.
Why is the U.S. government, the corporate news media, and Hollywood helping climate scientist Michael Mann spread false information about fires and global warming?
Climate change is causing devastating fires around the world, say top government officials, influential scientists, and the world’s largest newspapers. Greece’s civil protection minister said climate change was causing the fires in Greece, Hawaii, and Canada. Climate change is increasing average temperatures that dry out wood and create fire weather. “The only way to prevent these events from becoming more frequent and more intense,” said climate scientist Michael Mann, “is to prevent the continued warming of the planet.”
And yet the amount of area burned annually by fire has declined over the last quarter-century. The area burned declined by an astonishing 25% between 2003 and 2019, according to NASA. That trend has continued since, noted Bjorn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal. Last year, there was a record-low area burned. There is little doubt about the trend because the emissions from wildfires have also declined globally since 2003.
What’s more, the best science does not attribute fires to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), notes the climate change and disasters expert, Roger Pielke, Jr. “has not detected or attributed fire occurrence or area burned to human-caused climate change.” According to the IPCC, the most important factor in fire is not the weather but rather “human activities,” both land management and the starting of fires by humans.
Few leaders, experts, and journalists, including us at Public, doubt climate change has some influence. All else being equal, warmer weather will dry out wood fuel more. The problem is that all else is never equal, and other factors matter much more, as fires in Greece, California, and Hawaii all show.
In a recent and comprehensive scientific review of the literature, eight scientists concluded that there was an increase in area burned in Greece. But, they stressed, scientists “could not attribute a direct causal relationship to climate change, citing various factors such as changes in fire causes due to social, economic and land management changes, as well as fuel accumulation due to the abandonment of the countryside.”
In the most comprehensive scientific study of how to prevent uncontrollable forest fires in Greece, scientists emphasize the need for better forest management in the form of selective logging and prescribed burning to reduce wood fuel load. Six scientists from around the world concluded that “since increasing fuel loads and continuity represent the main factor responsible for the recent catastrophic wind-driven fire events in Greece… our results can…reduce fire spread to the wildland-urban interface and protected areas.”
And putting out fires before they spread can also prevent uncontrollable forest fires. On this account, the governments of Greece, Canada, and Hawaii all failed not only to prevent fires but also to properly respond to fires once they started.
All of this should be obvious to the government officials, climate scientists, and journalists who have spent all summer misattributing fires in Canada, Hawaii, and Europe to climate change. It took me under 30 minutes to find and read the best-available, free-to-read scientific papers on the fires in Greece on Google Scholar. It was a simple task for Pielke to summarize the IPCC. And it wasn’t hard for Lomborg to update the NASA data.
Why, then, do governments, scientists, and journalists constantly get forest fires so wrong?