And George Will will.
Apparently George Will didn’t like president Obama mentioning climate change in his inauguration address, pointing to the threat of “raging fires,” “crippling drought” and “more powerful storms” (the “scare quotes” are Will’s). And how, you wonder, will Will dismiss these threats? In his editorial in the Washington Post, he starts with “raging fires” by saying:
Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.)
Here’s a clue for those who want to know the truth of the matter rather than George Will’s “spin.” When you hear a phrase like “a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006,” you know you’re being played for a sucker.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), there were 96,385 wildland fires in 2006 but only 67,315 in 2012 (through Dec. 20th). The 2012 count is less by 30.1%, which is close enough to a third, I’ve got no complaint about that.
But I do have two complaints. First, which is worse: 10 fires that destroy 1 home each, or a single fire that consumes 100 homes? You know the answer. The number of fires is a poor indicator of fire trouble, it’s the total acres burned that tells the story.
Second, comparing this year to a single year from the past — and a cherry-picked one at that — is either dishonest, amazingly stupid, or both. You make the call.
Let’s look at acres burned. Let’s look at all the data available from NIFC:
All of a sudden George Will’s “a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006” seems like a blatantly misleading indicator. That’s because it is a blatantly misleading indicator. The 2012 tally of acres burned is one of the highest on record. And even if it weren’t there is still an evident trend. Remember trend?
The trend is up — average acres burned by wildfire has more than doubled in the U.S. in just a few decades. But George Will will have you believe that there isn’t any problem at all.
And if there is, will Will admit it’s anything to do with climate change? Will will not. He adds this for
good bad measure:
Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices?
First of all, Georgy boy, you must think we’re idiots if you believe we’ll buy into that either/or dichotomy. Second, and most important, climate change is a huge factor in the change in wildfire risk here in the U.S. At least that’s what the actual science says. When Westerling et al. studied the question quite specifically, they concluded what I reported a while ago:
They make it quite clear that their study indicates it’s not just land-use changes, ecological factors, and fuels management that have led to what they call the “sudden” and “marked” increase in wildfire activity. In fact, they note the greatest increases in their data are in regions which are not greatly affected by these factors. They point to the culprit as increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt. And the cause for these is clear: global warming.
Perhaps George Will doesn’t know the truth of the matter. I’ll lay odds that he doesn’t care to know the truth. That won’t stop him from pretending to, so he can push his agenda. Even if he does know the truth, he doesn’t care to admit it.