The same scientist who attributes the back-to-back big fire seasons in Idaho and the Northern Rockies as signs of human-induced climate change says the fires in California are not.
Anthony Westerling, who co-authored the Science article that documented the shifting climate that has made fire seasons in most of the West longer and with bigger fires, told the Los Angeles Times drought and the seasonal Santa Ana winds, are normal in southern California.
But global warming could make California’s droughts worse, Westerling and the team of scientists’ study suggested. Still, its different to predict future effects than to document the effects already taking place in our part of the West.
That hasn’t stopped environmental groups from using the fires to push their agenda to get action on global warming now. The Friends of the Earth press release is typical:
“President George Bush is playing the hero again as he tours fire-ravaged California this week. Yet his expressions of concern are not likely to be taken well, since he has stood in the way of that state's effort to fight global warming emissions for the last two years,” said Danielle Fugere, of the Friends of the Earth California Office.
Like most of the releases, Fugere points to Westerling’s Science article as proof. Of course, Westerling’s paper wasn’t the only work that linked climate change and forest fires. I referred to the work of U.S. Forest Service scientists at Oregon State University in my book “Scorched Earth: How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America.” One of those scientists countered Westerling in a press release this week.
“This is exactly what we’ve been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change,” said Ronald Neilson, a professor at Oregon State University and bioclimatologist with the USDA Forest Service.
“You can’t look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate,” said Neilson, who was also a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a co-recipient earlier this month of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
“But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows,” Neilson said, “and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects.”
But Brent Butler, of the group NewsBusters, which aims at “exposing and combating liberal bias blasted CBS and NBC for linking the fires to climate change.
So what should readers bring away from this?
For those of us in the Northern Rockies who have solid evidence that climate conditions are indeed changing we have no choice but adapt. The larger issue, how to address and perhaps reverse global warming, even if like many scientists’ suggest, we are at crisis point, remains a major political debate at the state, national and global levels.
Carbon tax? Cap and trade? Nuclear power? Renewable energy? Biofuels? Carbon sequestration?
Once again, science and economics are important tools of the debate. But in the end values will decide the outcome.
Each one of use must be responsible participants in the debate by educating ourselves, speaking out and by our own personal actions.