This is how it hits the fan: Michael Tobis on superfires and climate change attribution

Courtesy Planet 3.0

Michael Tobis over at Planet 3.0 has written a brilliant post on the spate of recent “heat” disasters we’ve witnessed these past few years. Michael and the guys over at Planet 3.0 are putting out some good content.

Go read, comment or debate:

In the last few years a phenomenon of intense and persistent medium-scale heat anomalies has clearly emerged. In the past decade, notable events have occurred centered in France, eastern Australia, central Russia and Texas. WHile most of these occur in summer, this spring we had an astonishing warm anomaly centered in WIsconsin and Minnesota.

It’s fair to say that this phenomenon was not clearly predicted in climate models. Consequently, it is fair to say that it is not fully understood, and whether it will remain a persistent feature of the climate is speculative. Strictly speaking, formal attribution will be difficult. But it being a global response, a global cause is to be sought and identification of a prime suspect doesn;t require much imagination. Global warming appears to be manifesting in large part as extreme regional anomalies, rather than as the gentle trend that some people are so eager to presume. And this leads, among other things, to stress on forests.

But, every forest that is with us is a forest on a crowded world. Few are in anything resembling a natural state. In particular, natural forests are susceptible to fires, fires which people living in forested regions are eager to suppress. Consequently, over trhe years, the combustible fuel in the forests (and to a lesser extent in grasslands) accumulates to an extent that would not occur in nature. Consequently, fires become hotter, larger, and more devastating when they do occur. This risk was well understood vefore anthropogenic climate change became a palpable part of our daily lives. The connection between the one and the other was not really considered.

Consequently, the extreme damage we saw in Moscow, in Bastrop Texas just a few months ago, and potentially in Colorado this week, was a Perrow-like interaction of two separate and disconnected unheeded warnings, just as the mortality from Katrina was.

The twenty years we have thrown away on the climate change issue since Rio has amounted to a wandering cosmic heat lamp, heating now one forest, now another, to the point of ignition. How much damage that ignition does comes down to local forest management practice. The building of wealthy suburbs in forested places like Boulder and Bastrop, with a strategy not of forest clearing but of fire suppression, has provided a great supply of tinder.


The pervasive nature of climate change exacerbates many other risks. Failure to account for those other risks occurs for similar reasons to the increasingly obvious failure to account for climate risks. Combined disasters combine worse than additively.

This is how it hits the fan.

One thought on “This is how it hits the fan: Michael Tobis on superfires and climate change attribution

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: