Issues & Insights

Two Charts Destroy Big Lie About ‘Climate Change’ And Wildfires

Wildfire threatens Santa Clarita, California. Photo: Jeff Turner, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en).

It’s that time of year again, the season of headlines routinely screaming about “record” amounts of acreage burned from out-of-control wildfires caused by, of course, “climate change.” But is it true? Is global warming driving a surge in wildfires? The answer is no.

The media started again this week with the release of the United Nation’s latest dire climate change report, based on the same faulty models and filled with more apocalyptic predictions that won’t come true.

Recent screaming headlines tell the tale:

Wildfires rage across the world as U.N. releases damning climate change report — Yahoo News

Why the Dixie Fire won’t stop burning — Mashable

Dry, hot, windy: Explosive wildfires in Northern California could burn until winter — USA Today

Greek wildfires are the ‘harsh reality of climate change,’ experts warn — NBC News

We could go on. It’s become an annual summer mantra from the media, this time driven by large wildfires that happen to coincide with the release of the U.N. report.

The truth is, in the U.S. we are not at a “record” for wildfire burning by a longshot. As the charts below show, wildfire burns were far worse in the early- to mid-20th century, with massive amounts of acreage charred before there was any significant global warming to speak of.

So based on 20th century history, the most recent fires are way below the levels in the 1920s and 1930s, when more than 50 million acres burned in some years. (The chart ends at 2017; more recent data show that from 2018 through 2020, wildfires averaged just under 7.9 million acres burned each year).

Further underscoring the spurious correlation between wildfires and climate change is a related chart presented to Congress several years back during testimony by David B. South, an emeritus professor of forestry at Auburn University. It too is enlightening, because it’s one you’ll never see in the mainstream media. It shows the same wildfire data charted above against CO2 increases back to 1926.

Again, no correlation whatsoever.

Or as South noted in his 2014 testimony to Congress:

Untrue claims about the underlying cause of wildfires can spread like ‘wildfire.’ … For example, the false idea that ‘Wildfires in 2012 burned a record 9.2 million acres in the U.S.’ is cited in numerous articles and is found on more than 2,000 web sites across the internet. In truth … in 1930, wildfires burned more than four times that amount. Wildfire in 2012 was certainly an issue of concern, but did those who push an agenda really need to make exaggerated claims to fool the public?

That doesn’t mean that wildfires don’t matter. Over the last 20 years, there has been a small uptick in their size and intensity. But why is that, if it’s not due to climate change?

Once upon a time, Americans managed their forest resources. They logged for lumber. They used controlled burns to get rid of highly combustible brushy areas. They cleared deadwood.

Starting in the mid-1990s, at the behest of the politically powerful and increasingly radical environmental movement, President Bill Clinton sharply curbed western forest management, largely to save the endangered Spotted Owl.

California, which has had some of the worst wildfires of all, passed rules that curtailed logging and forest clearing operations. Meanwhile, successive governors, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jerry Brown to current Gov. Gavin Newsom, have all blamed global warming for the fires.

Better that than take responsibility for your own poor policies.

“Every year about 3.8 billion board feet of new timber grows in the Golden State, capturing almost one metric ton of CO2 per acre in the productive timberland areas,” wrote former California State Assemblyman Chuck Devore, now a resident of Texas. “Trees grow until they die, burn, or get harvested. If harvesting declines, tree mortality and fires increase. It’s the tyranny of math.”

Unfortunately, the federal regulations didn’t help. Spotted Owl populations continue to decline, with the major reasons now cited as competition from the Barred Owl, an invasive species, and “high-severity wildfire,” ironically a result of the very regulations the government put in place to protect the birds.

That’s not to say that warmer temperatures don’t affect fires; they do. And “climate change” is a fact, because the climate is always changing. But “global warming” is not implicated because there’s been little or no change in the rate of warming since 1998.

So why are more fires happening? Many reasons. More people live in remote areas, and all it takes is one moment’s carelessness with a match and thousands of acres can burn.

But other reasons loom larger. The 2018 Paradise Fire destroyed 10,000 homes and killed 85 people, one the worst wildfires ever. Its cause: faulty equipment managed by PG&E, California’s largest utility. The equipment in question dated back to 1921.

This wasn’t simple incompetence. PG&E, like other utilities, has been hard-pressed to perform maintenance and rebuild its aging infrastructure, given the new focus on “green energy,” now mandated by both the federal and state governments.

California radio talk show host John Kobylt, in a recent video for Prager University, noted that in 2018, the year of the big fire, PG&E spent $2.4 billion on “renewable energy.” The year before, it spent just $1.4 billion on existing infrastructure.

“It’s not that the power company didn’t know there was a problem,” Kobylt said. “They knew. But they were focused on more pressing political priorities. Like green energy.”

This leads to a further irony: Despite have some of the biggest forests in the nation, California’s fire-prone timberland is now a net generator of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Given such priorities and the clear mismanagement of our nation’s forests, particularly in California, the recent increase in wildfires should come as no surprise. Those who blithely blame “climate change” for “record wildfires” are simply wrong.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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19 comments

  • There’s a lot of deceptive half-truth and spin in this article. Here’s one bit:
    “But “global warming” is not implicated because there’s been little or no change in the rate of warming since 1998.”

    Interesting. Deniers for years used the cherry-picked record warm year of 1998 as a baseline, to claim that there had been no warming since then. Now that that has become not only false but ridiculous, they say no there’s change in the rate since then. So, it’s warming like never before, but as long as it’s a constant rate it’s not a problem?

    • Is there any truth in this comment?

      Are you saying this article is wrong about wildfires? Are you saying wildfires are getting worse than the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s? Is this graph wrong? Can you at least post some information to back up your claim against this article?

    • What warming? Stop cherry-picking data by looking at only anthropocene-scale trends and you’ll see this “warming” for what it really is: mild random fluctuation having nothing to do with existence of humanity.

      • Nonsense. Climate change on this scale doesn’t happen without a reason. Even much smaller and shorter-term variations have reasons, such as solar cycles.
        Scientists know enough about the reasons that it is clear that the primary cause of the warming trend is increased CO2, amplified by increased water vapor.

    • So…that makes it okay for California to stop managing their forests to prevent forest fires?

    • And that makes it okay for California to prevent further forest fires with forest management?

    • “So, it’s warming like never before, but as long as it’s a constant rate it’s not a problem?”

      Well, first off that statement is untrue even in RECENT (past millennia) times. There HAVE been periods in history which warmed a bit faster, or at least as fast. But, while interesting, that is irrelevant to your bigger supposition.

      Second, the answer to your “question” is that no, it is NOT a problem. Oh, it might be if it were going to go on for another 80 years. However, it won’t – and that is demonstrable.

      Solar energy has been declining in price exponentially for over 60 years. It shows no signs of hitting limits which would prevent it from continuing for about another 20 years. We only need 10. By then, daytime immediate use utility scale solar will be so cheap that it will cost less to manufacture cleaner burning carbon-neutral synthetic substitutes for gas, diesel, jet fuel. Although the process has existed since the 1930s, it never made sense before because until now the cheapest way to create electricity was to burn oil – and it required burning about 2 barrels of oil to make 1 barrel of synthetic. Now, however, solar just needs to get a little bit cheaper and petroleum is toast because it will cost more to drill, pump, and refine petroleum than to manufacture cleaner fuels for our legacy equipment. https://phys.org/news/2020-07-low-cost-catalyst-seawater-fuel-scale.html

      So, you can breathe easy now. Armageddon is cancelled, and we don’t even have to wreck the economy to stop it.

      • “we don’t even have to wreck the economy to stop it.”
        but that is the true reason for the fake climate crisis and the soylent green deal
        if the economy works we do not need statism to ‘fix’ it

    • So which reference year would you like to determine the warming trend? A very cold winter during the last ice age?

      • No, that won’t work. That warming trend ended about 8,000 years ago, and then it started a long cooling trend. The recent warming started around 1970, a much shorter, so far, but much faster warming trend.

  • Actually the second graph (CO2 vs area burned) _does_ show a strong correlation – a negative one. More CO2, less fires.

    But, as any real scientist (and not an “academic”… I don’t think there are any real scientists left there) would know correlation does not imply causation.

  • The “real problem” is population growth, especially in California, and into these beautiful areas prone to forest fire adtivity.

    • Nah, the real problem is that politicians caved to people who “didn’t like the smokey smell” of controlled burns, and so stopped using good forestry practices. Pay me now, or pay me later says mother nature…

  • Fossil fuels are toast by 2040. Why? Because for what legacy equipment still remains by then nobody will want to pay MORE for “real fossil fuels” when they can buy cleaner burning, carbon-neutral synthetics for less.

    The process (Fischer-Tropsch) has been around since the 1930s, but since the cheapest way to generate electricity historically has always been to burn oil, it could NEVER be economical (burn 2 barrels of oil to make 1? Dumb.). Solar is turning that on its head. If the 60 year trend of solar energy continues for just 10 more years, making these synthetics will be cheaper than drilling, pumping, and refining oil. https://phys.org/news/2020-07-low-cost-catalyst-seawater-fuel-scale.html

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