Category Archives: Wildfires

The continuing Lomborg deception: the “skeptical” environmentalist latest cherry picked wall street journal article

When is a sceptic not a sceptic, but someone denying climate change?

When they’re Bjorn Lomborg writing for the Wall Street Journal. 

Lomborg, for those not familiar with the  name, has made quite a nice career casting doubt on the seriousness of climate change will tentatively agreeing climate change is real. According to Lomborg: “Global warming is real – it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world.”

Lomborg embodies what is called the “luke-warm” position””. Luke-warmers such as Lomborg argue the problem is overstated, thus on a cost-benefit analysis there is no need to do anything.

For this reason he’s long been a favorite of politicians and conservative commentators who are dismissive of the science but who still wish to pay lip service to the problem.  Opposition leader Tony Abbott cites Lomborg approvingly in his book Battlelines:

 “It doesn’t make sense, though, to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future  As Bjorn Lomborg has said: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.” (Battlelines, pg. 170-171)

The Lomborg Deception

Howard Friel in the book The Lomborg Deception examined the many claims made by Lomborg and found he’d engaged in numerous fabrications and distortions:

In this major assessment of leading climate-change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, Howard Friel meticulously deconstructs the Danish statistician’s claim that global warming is “no catastrophe” by exposing the systematic misrepresentations and partial accounting that are at the core of climate skepticism.

As Friel discusses in his work, Lomborg’s modus operandi is to cherry pick the scientific literature in order to downplay the risks of climate change.

And yet despite having been caught out misrepresenting the science time-and-time-again, Lomborg persists in cherry picking facts to suit his needs.

Case in point, his latest article in the Wall Street Journal.

Wildfires? No need to worry!

In the article Climate change misdirection (23/1/13) Lomborg makes a number of claims, noting that since the 1950s the wildfire activity has decreased since the middle of last century and will continue to do so:

Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won’t resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century.

Therefore in Lomborg’s mind we shouldn’t be worried. Clearly, the problem of global warming has been overstated – right?

However, true to form Lomborg has cherry picked the data, completely misrepresenting the research.

While I can’t say definitively, I suspect Lomborg is referencing the 2010 PNAS paper Driving forces of global wildfires over the past millennium and the forthcoming century.

The paper notes:

Around 1900 there is a sharp downturn in global fire activity, both in the model- and the charcoal-based records, despite increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation.

Oh look, a sceptic money quote! However, the paper also contains the following graph:


So what’s going on here?

The continuing Lomborg deception

Lomborg is correct – since the 1950s there has been decreased activity in wildfires. However, Lomborg fails to mention what the paper makes explicitly clear in its conclusions – as temperatures increase, so will the incidents of wildfires:

Overall, the model captures historical trends influenced by a variety of natural and anthropogenic factors remarkably well, inspiring some confidence in the model’s projection of future fires. GISS GCM climate simulations (19), like other models, predict a significant warming over the forthcoming century (Fig. 2B). Rapidly rising temperatures and regional drying reverse the recent fire activity decline, driving a rapid increase after ∼2050 in all three scenarios examined here, described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Emissions Scenarios…

The downward trend will (most likely) reverse due to climate change. They very opposite of what Lomborg hopes to imply.

Lomborg has no doubt cherry picked this 2012 paper because wild fires have been in the news – thanks to Australia’s summer of extreme heat and fire. Like all good deniers, he is fishing for factoids that will cast doubt on the obvious links between climate change and present weather extremes.

One should not be surprised by tactics such as these – Lomborg’s article embodies the deceptive manner in which sceptics such as Lomborg seek to deceive.

Scepticism or denial?

I think its easy to spot the difference.

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Welcome to the anthropocene: the best (or is that worst?) is yet to come

A recent paper in Science is worth noting for its ominous implications: future warming is predicted on the “high side”:

BOULDER—Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature are likely to prove more accurate than those showing a lesser rise, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings, published in this week’s issue of Science, could provide a breakthrough in the longstanding quest to narrow the range of global warming expected in coming decades and beyond.

The paper appeared in Science here:

An observable constraint on climate sensitivity, based on variations in mid-tropospheric relative humidity (RH) and their impact on clouds, is proposed. We show that the tropics and subtropics are linked by teleconnections that induce seasonal RH variations that relate strongly to albedo (via clouds), and that this covariability is mimicked in a warming climate. A present-day analog for future trends is thus identified whereby the intensity of subtropical dry zones in models associated with the boreal monsoon is strongly linked to projected cloud trends, reflected solar radiation, and model sensitivity. Many models, particularly those with low climate sensitivity, fail to adequately resolve these teleconnections and hence are identifiably biased. Improving model fidelity in matching observed variations provides a viable path forward for better predicting future climate.

The Sydney Morning Herald also reports:

Climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied,  according to a study which ratchets up the possible temperature rises and  subsequent climatic impacts. Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature were  likely to be more accurate than those showing a smaller rise, an analysis by the  US National Centre for Atmospheric Research found. This means not only a higher level of warming, but also that the resulting  problems – including floods, droughts, sea level rise and fiercer storms and  other extreme weather – would be correspondingly more severe and would come  sooner than expected.

Scientists at the centre published their study last Thursday in the leading  peer-reviewed journal Science. It is based on an analysis of how well  computer models estimating the future climate reproduce the humidity in the  tropics and subtropics that has been observed in recent years. They found that  the most accurate models were most likely to best reproduce cloud cover, which  is a major influence on warming. These models were also those that showed the  highest global temperature rises in the future if emissions of greenhouse gases  continue to increase.

Rather than leave you the impression that “We’re doomed! Doomed!” I do believe it is vital we discuss the implications of this paper (and the voluminous other evidence) and begin examining how our civilisation can remain viable in the anthropocene.

Personally, I believe it is possible: but we need to look at the world in a new way. We live on what is essentially a different planet – very different to the one our species and civilisation witnessed as they came into being.

Even at this stage we have choices: to scale back greenhouse emissions; to implement renewable sources of energy; to better manage resource use; and to curb our growth fetish.

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The new normal (part 21): “This feels like failure” or the age of mega fires and the rapidly changing nature of US forests

From Nature, compelling evidence that climate change is making its impact well and truly felt. Firstly, this graph showing the trend for areas burnt by wildfires since 1984:

And while climate change alone cannot be blamed, it is not helping:

Across the American west, the area burned each year has increased significantly over the past several decades (see ‘Bigger blazes’), a trend that scientists attribute both to warming and drying and to a century of wildfire suppression and other human activities. Allen suggests that the intertwined forces of fire and climate change will take ecosystems into new territory, not only in the American west but also elsewhere around the world. In the Jemez, for example, it could transform much of the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest into shrub land. “We’re losing forests as we’ve known them for a very long time,” says Allen. “We’re on a different trajectory, and we’re not yet sure where we’re going.”

A combination of poor policy, drought and parasitic beetles aren’t helping:

Over the past century, however, the policy of quickly dousing fires has allowed brush and spindly young trees to build up in many western forests, so they tend to burn hotter and less patchily than before. And over the past decade, a severe drought across the southwest has weakened trees and made them vulnerable to widespread attack by beetles, leading to a die-off of more than one million hectares of piñon pines (Pinus edulis)1. Many of the dead trees are still standing, and can serve as ladder fuels that transform relatively cool surface fires into hot, fast-moving crown fires that leap from treetop to treetop.

Can the forests be saved? Perhaps – but they will never be as they were:

Given the uncertainties in how climate change, insect outbreaks and other stresses will affect forests in coming decades, Allen thinks that it is necessary to hedge bets after a fire by planting a range of species. He suggests building a “bridge to the future”, by mixing some of the original tree types with species from lower elevations or warmer slopes, which could do well as conditions change. 

That approach would help to make the ecosystems more resilient. But it will not restore the past, says Allen, who is saddened by the dramatic changes in the Jemez Mountains and beyond. At the end of a long, dry and fiercely hot hike through the Las Conchas burn, he surveys the bare hillsides and recalls what they were like just over a year ago — forested, cool and full of life. “For so many of us who have worked here for so long,” he says, “this feels like a failure.”

The new normal (part 20): 4,000 acre wildfire in California

Yes, that is an entire hill on fire.

The US wildfire season is not over:

A wildfire burning in the Angeles National Forest has grown by another 500 acres and fire officials have stepped up the response to fighting the blaze.

U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Angie Lavell said Monday that an incident management team was set up early in the morning to map out a long-term strategy to contain the 4,000-acre fire and to request additional firefighting resources.

The fire is currently five percent contained and is heading deeper into a wilderness area away from any structures.

But let’s not mention climate change eh?

Image of the day: fire and smoke cover most of North America

Because this is normal and nothing to worry about:

Fire and smoke map for August 20. Red dots = active fires. White = smoke. (Click for larger live version.) NOAA | OSDPD

The new normal (part 15): Spain burns

Spain is burning:

Source: MSN


Finally: news report on the connection between climate change and extreme weather

Hat tip to Think Progress and Michael Mann.

Quote “While there have been over 380 news reports on the wildfires, only 3% have mentioned climate change”:

Selective amnesia? More likely denial.

To actually contemplate the connection between climate change and these events – and that they’ll happen with increasing frequency – is terrifying for most people. 

Too many questions flow from that thought: how did this happen? Who is to blame? How can it be stopped?

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