It’s Global Warming, Stupid

Here (shown as black dots) is the total acres burned by wildfire in Washington state each year, together with a blue dashed line showing the yearly average, since 2002:


The red dashed line is the acres burned by wildfires that are burning in Washington state RIGHT NOW. That’s not the yearly total, like the black dots show. It doesn’t include the fires that have burned this year but were already extinguised. And it doesn’t include the acres yet to burn. Many people are wondering, “why is the wildfire season so horrible?”

It’s global warming, stupid.

But Matt Pearce just had to write an article for the LA Times pushing the idea that it’s not unusual. And Cliff Mass updated his blog post to say “we are finally at normal…and according to their projections, we should stay that way…”

What they don’t get is that there’s a very clear reason this kind of event has become so much more likely than it used to be. It’s not going to happen every year or even most years, but it will happen far more often than it used to. The very first year when it doesn’t, I’ll wager they go into full “I told you so” mode. Full “it’s a hoax” mode, or “there’s nothing we can do about it,” or “the science isn’t settled,” or “burn more natural gas,” or “drill baby drill,” or “economy! jobs! freedom!” mode.

When this kind of thing changes from a once-in-a-thousand-years event to a once-in-twenty-years or once-in-ten-years event, that’s what ruins the economy, destroys jobs, undermines freedom. It costs. Misery, property, income, even human life.

It’s global warming, stupid.


36 responses to “It’s Global Warming, Stupid

  1. Extreme cases of scientific reticence often displays as cognitive contortionism.

  2. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.

  3. Climate Central had a good report on this three years ago. It’s all the more relevant:
    Also the University of Idaho, among others, has a very active climate change program, which among other findings predicts a dramatic increase in the number of days with highest fire danger.

    It is global warming and this is what it looks like, smoke throughout the northwest.

    [Response: Their full report (available through that post) suggests that wildfire increased in 10 of 11 western states, the only exception being Washington! But I think I managed to show that they were wrong about Washington, its wildfires had increased too. See here.]

  4. michael sweet

    Doesn’t Hansen’s paper Increasing climate extremes show that the increasing 3 sigma extremes, like the one currently in Washington, are 95-99% due to climate change? It is just that different places take turns getting burnt. Since 0.1-0.2% of Earth is expected to be 3 sigma higher than normal, if 13% of the Earth is 3 sigma hotter that is the climate signal. Hansen has not made a graph for this year yet, but since it is record hot I expect there to be record amounts of 3 sigma heat.

  5. From IPCC AR4 (2007) re future impacts, North America:

    “Warming in western mountains is projected to cause decreased snowpack, more winter flooding, and reduced summer flows, exacerbating competition for over-allocated water resources. *** D [14.4, B14.2]

    Disturbances from pests, diseases and fire are projected to have increasing impacts on forests, with an extended period of high fire risk and large increases in area burned. *** N [14.4, B14.1] …”

  6. Washington has just asked for volunteers to fight fires for the first time ever – I wonder if Cliff also considers this “normal”?

    And this Onion article seems apt:

  7. Moira and I live about twelve blocks east of Pike Place Market where the market is in downtown commercial district and overlooks Elliot Bay. I was a little surprised to find that I could smell smoke in the morning against the olfactory “noise” of the background. It was weak but there all day.

    You can get the current map of Washington and Oregon fire here:

    The map on the left is something from March of 2003 and appears to show no fire, but to the right you will find the links PDF Plot, JPEG Image and Map Archive.

    This is the current JPEG as of 8/23/2015 at 7:00 AM Pacific:

    [edit: image removed because of excessive size]

    The key to the colors is in the legend at the bottom. Yellow is since the beginning of the year, orange is detection in the last 24 hours, light red in the last 12, deep red in the last 6.

    About the closest active fires shown on the map are east northeast of Seattle, about 90 km (56 miles) away, just east of Wolverine. We have nothing to worry about, but people in Spokane (370 km or 230 miles to the east) are being told to stay inside on account of air conditions. Most of the burned and burning acreage is between and perhaps a little to the north of Wolverine and Spokane.

    • ” I was a little surprised to find that I could smell smoke in the morning against the olfactory “noise” of the background. It was weak but there all day.”

      Once conditioned to it – yep. And eventually you’ll know whether the smoke is “dry” or “wet”. The latter is good, it means someone’s onto it. I reckon I can tell for fires more than 100 miles (not Ks) away.

      And even if I’m not consciously observing it, if there’s a faint pinkness in the sunlight – part of me knows and I get a frisson.

      I wish there was a way of assessing this embedding of experiential knowledge over the population as a whole because to me the last two decades in Australia have given rise to never before narratives.

    • Rattus Norvegicus

      I live in Bozeman and we’ve had horrible air here for a while. Last week several days were rated “very unhealthy” and mostly they just been “unhealthy”. Today we got some monsoonal flow and it helped, now only “unhealthy for sensitive groups”. We’ve had worse smoke seasons, mostly because we’ve had local fires. Right now we are dodging the bullet on that one.

  8. Tamino WordPress tries to load the graphic I linked to. People map want the detail, which they can get from the linked page, but apparently the graphic itself is too large. My apologies.

    [Response: I removed the link to the image, because of its excessive size.]

  9. So we put a load of additional soot in the air and in a few months it lands on Greenland… and we have dark snow. Again. This is a positive feedback mechanism as well. Oh good!

  10. The WA and Federal governments are enlisting fire fighters from around the globe. A large contingent from Australia arrives today

  11. NIFC present-status for Washington is at ~637,000 acres, so just north of a hundred thousand more than just a day ago apparently.

  12. What I am currently getting for Washington is:

    32940Carpenter Road8/14/201515
    87412Chelan Complex8/14/201535
    29000Cougar Creek8/11/201515
    2293First Creek8/14/20152
    557Gold Hill8/14/201570
    4651Graves Mountain8/14/201510
    61150Grizzly Ber Complex8/13/20150
    9606Kaniksu Complex8/18/20152
    59321Kettle Complex8/11/201515
    3087Marble Valley8/14/201585
    140000North Star8/13/20152
    227206Okanogan Complex8/14/201510
    3675Upper Skagit Complex8/10/20150

    … or 710,468 acres for the Washington State as a whole.

    Please see:

    Incident Information — Northwest Large Fire Information Summary
    Updated: Sunday, 23rd August 2015 at 03:29:22 PM

  13. Tamino!

    I’m following a Norwegian climate denier blog –, The Climate Realists, who posted a link to a statistics paper claiming to show that recent temperature trends are not significantly dissimilar from stationary temperature trends with modeled noise.

    Click to access TemperaturePaper.pdf

    They say they use NASA data, but it seems a bit strange as they make plots for certain European cities. Something seems fishy, but I am not familiar with the statistical tools they use and cannot really dig into the paper myself.

    Care to have a look?

    • See comments on realclimate open thread starting at comment #150. . Doubt much more time needs be spent on it. Alternatively you could do a Mann-Kendall while controlling for autocorrelation (as any hydrologist would) and find that even with minimal distribution assumptions, the increasing trend is pretty damned statistically solid.

      Among other things they are doing, they are saying that autocorrelation in the residuals negates valid regression. They spend a lot of time on recapitulating derivations as well.

    • I had a look and it seems to be a game deniers often play – ignore the physics of the greenhouse effect, make mathematical assumptions, fit your function or whatever, it’s an elegant fit, and and hey presto! you have proved temperature change is not linked to greenhouse gases. It’s circular reasoning, or question-begging, because they are assuming what they want to prove.

  14. Quick question… When calculating the acres of fire for a state, would one simply add up the acres for each fire that is currently burning, or would you “weight” the acres for each fire by one minus the percent contained prior to summing? The latter makes sense, I believe, in part because the fires fall of the radar once their out, but I simply don’t know and hadn’t been weighting.

    For Washington State without the weighting I get 717,800. With weighting I get 623,347. What I have is dated Monday, 24th August 2015 at 07:16:12 AM.

    Anyway, winds have shifted. Seattle air is clear but you should wear a mask if out in Spokane.

    • Fire agencies add up what’s currently burning. Note that “contained” isn’t necessarily a static property, with a large shift in wind direction and/or intensity possibly causing a jump over the lines or flanking of the line. x% contained implicitly references the prevailing conditions.

      • I found this:

        They used to refer to the percentage of the perimeter on which a fireline was constructed. Now, they are more of a control percentage. A nebulous, subjective, judgement call.

        Contained or Controlled? | Wildfire Today

        I took it to refer to the percentage of perimeter under control, which is why I have some difficulty understanding why you would weight area by either percent contained or percent not contained — and dismissed the possibility until I saw the numbers were roughly in the right ballpark.

        If “percent contained” referred to a percent of area such weighting would make more sense. But that isn’t how you fight fires. You are concerned with the perimeter, trying to prevent the fire from growing to include new areas. I suppose any approach one might take will have a certain degree of arbitrariness. This likely has less than the next in line — whatever that would be.

      • There is certainly a judgement element to the numbers. Fire causes its own winds over relatively large areas when they blow up. Prevailing conditons can change, rapidly.

        The figure, while released to the press to give some sort of picture of the success of supression effort, doesn’t impact fire fighting decision making.

    • “controlled” is a much stronger word than “contained”, in this context.

  15. It isn’t *just* global warming. Elevated tropospheric ozone levels worldwide are wreaking havoc with forests, killing trees before their time and turning them into kindling.

  16. ‘Elevated tropospheric ozone levels worldwide’? Have the holes over the 2 polar zones suddenly gone too? Source please.

    Confused maybe by ground-level ozone [pollution].

  17. Oops, had the stratosphere in mind. The Troposphere starts at the ground ;0

  18. Wildfire statistics for the U.S. West, 26 August 2015

    Here’s an update to last week’s post on wildfire data from the Western United States. Data from the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center show that Northwest wildfires continue to rage, with 200,000 acres (80,937 hectares) burned again this week – the Okanagan complex “remains the No. 1 priority fire in the United States”. The Okanagan fires grew by 2.6 square miles on Monday night and have now burned 403 square miles.

  19. And here:

    Acreage burned to date is currently largest in the table (which goes back to ’05)–7,697,292 acres, compared to 7,573,076 in ’06. Third place by a couple of hundred thou is 2012.

  20. Tropospheric ozone at ground level is up due to reactions to automobile pollution. It’s technically a different problem from ozone depletion in the stratosphere, even though the same chemical is involved.

    • Quite a few years since I read this couplet, but let’s see if I can reproduce it, more or less:

      ‘O’ is for ozone. Why can’t we cajole
      What’s here on the ground up there, in the hole?

  21. David B. Benson

    Smoke forecast for Washington and neighbors:

  22. As of now (1:30 EST, 9-3-15) the Washington burn acreage is at 909,474 acres.