Alarmists have been quick to blame climate change for the recent, horrific fires in Australia and California. Although human actions do bear a large share of the blame for the scale of this ongoing tragedy, the cause is primarily bad management policies, not dreaded climate change. Governmental decisions, made under pressure from environmental groups, have made what would normally be big fires into hellish conflagrations.
The similarities between Australian and Californian politics, vegetation, and climate have always been striking. Both places are drop-dead beautiful, far-left, and politically green. In both places, people like living around vegetation that every year dries out enough to burn sky high — with or without climate change.
This is thanks to relatively short rainy seasons surrounded by perfect beach weather. It is spectacularly green when it rains and tinder-dry brown when it stops. When rainfall is high, as it was for recent years in Australia, vegetation grows even thicker, only to provide even more fuel for wildfires.
At the same time, our culture of vegetation worship militates against purposefully burning things down. In California, these “prescribed” fires are now largely prohibited (because burning releases dreaded carbon dioxide), ensuring that disaster is always just around the corner. Ditto for Australia, where some burning is allowed but nowhere near enough.
Range managers, as well as the native inhabitants, have long known that unless we burn it on purpose before the vegetation overgrows, it will burn us, our homes, and, tragically, our towns. You can see this in the terrifying video of a family’s escape from the 2018 Camp Fire in California, where the tremendous amount of fuel lying on the ground is painfully obvious.
Australia has been ready to explode for years. David Packham, the former researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, warned in a 2015 article in the Age that fire fuel levels had climbed to their most dangerous levels in thousands of years. He noted this was the result of “misguided green ideology.”
Further, any systematic climate change signal in Australian (and Californian) precipitation will be very hard to detect thanks to huge year-to-year variation. This is obvious in a 120-year record of Australian rainfall depicted in a stunning graphic posted recently by Jim Steele, who used to direct the Sierra Nevada Field Campus of San Francisco State University.
Ditto for California rainfall, all the way back to 1895, where data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows no systematic change whatsoever. There’s one super dry year, 2013. Such a singularity is obviously weather and not climate.
In Australia, there was a huge fire in the province of Western Australia in 1962, which led to a decades-long campaign of intense prescribed burning. At its height, from 1963 to around 1985, very little was burned by wildfires, but as more and more pressure mounted to suppress this practice, more and more of Western Australia was burned over, as shown dramatically in this graphic.
Decades of intentional policies led to the tragic Camp Fire in California and other catastrophes. These policies include drastic reductions of timber harvests in national forests (California is more than 45% federal land), the aforementioned fire suppression policies, and significant reductions of livestock grazing on federal lands. An additional similarity is that California chaparral and Australian eucalyptus forests burn extremely hot due to the aromatic hydrocarbons exuded by both. Hint: If it smells good, it’s going to burn hellishly.
Further, vast swaths of California’s native vegetation has been replaced by, wait for it, Australian eucalyptus, which greatly enhanced the 1991 East Bay firestorm that killed 25 and, according to State Radio, burned thousands out of their homes.
All of this goes to show that human (mis)management practices dwarf any effects of climate change on wildfires. And with regard to California, the University of Washington’s Clifford Mass has convincingly demonstrated that global warming should actually reduce, rather than enhance, the frequency of conditions that lead to wildfire disasters.
It’s very convenient for alarmist greens to blame the fires of Australia and California on global warming. In reality, the policies they themselves advocate are the culprits.
Originally published at The Washington Examiner.