Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

August 3, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES....Joel Achenbach says we focus too much on global warming as an explanation for natural disasters even though there are plenty of other ways we're destroying our environment too:

Global warming threatens to suck all the oxygen out of any discussion of the environment. We wind up giving too little attention to habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species tagging along with global trade and so on. You don't need a climate model to detect that big oil spill in the Mississippi. That "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico — an oxygen-starved region the size of Massachusetts — isn't caused by global warming, but by all that fertilizer spread on Midwest cornfields.

....Last week, we saw reports of more wildfires in California. Sure as night follows day, people will lay some of the blame on climate change. But there's also the minor matter of people building homes in wildfire-susceptible forests, overgrown with vegetation due to decades of fire suppression. That's like pitching a tent on the railroad tracks.

The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: "Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you're nuts."

Well, Achenbach ought to be delighted with "Big Burn," the LA Times' just completed 5-part series on the growth of wildfires in California, which barely even mentions climate change as a factor. And that's a mighty odd thing since, contra Achenbach, "some of the blame" is unquestionably due to global warming, which has been partly responsible for rising temperatures in California's most fire-prone areas, reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas, and a longer and drier fire season. This review of the data in Science suggests, very roughly, that climate change may be responsible for one-third to one-half of the increase in California wildfire activity over the past several decades. True, land use and cyclic weather changes are probably responsible for the bulk of the increase, but climate change certainly deserves its proper share of the blame — a share that's likely to grow as the years march by.

So here's your reading assignment for the day: read Achenbach's piece, which correctly points out that there are lots of ecological disasters out there for us to worry about, not just global warming. Then go to the Sacramento Bee and read Tom Knudson, the anti-Achenbach, who today begins a series of stories about the impact of climate change on California's Sierra region. Between the two of them, they cover most of the bases.

Kevin Drum 12:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

There's also the problem of right wing dildos like Jonah Goldberg who repeat, "Al Gore blamed Hurricane Katrina on Global Warming," when Gore essentially said the opposite. One worries a bit about Achenbach playing into the Goldberg Ilk's hands a smidge here.

Posted by: ed on August 3, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on August 3, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

"
The message that needs to be communicated to these people is: "Your problem is not global warming. Your problem is that you're nuts."
"

Uh no. The message that needs to be communicated is that THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE. You notice what all these problems have in common? They all stem from over-population.

And you know what? Technology isn't going to magically save us. We've already been through the most recent round of this --- turns out that biofuels aren't a panacea after all. But we still get out-of-touchers incapable of elementary arithmetic insisting, no, once we switch to electric cars, or hydrogen, all our problems will go away and we'll be able to happily increase our numbers on to 9 billion and beyond. Meanwhile, let's continue to subsidize reproduction because, you know, that'll make everything better.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 3, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Uh no. The message that needs to be communicated is that THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE. You notice what all these problems have in common? They all stem from over-population.Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 3, 2008 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Shame on you. We're a nation of corrupt politicians and PC liberals bringing in millions upon millions of fecund chamberpot immigrants and illegal aliens to double the population in 20 years. That's what makes America grate...on your nerves.

Posted by: Luther on August 3, 2008 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, maybe we focus so much on global warming because it's so potentially devastating and hard to reverse?

Posted by: Swan on August 3, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Make rational arguments and forget the adolescent name calling.

Sooooo, did Al Gore blame Hurricane Katrina, as Mr. Jonah Goldberg claimed, or did Mr. Gore not do so? Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this issue.

Posted by: ed on August 3, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The issue is ascertaining the truth and not playing up or down a particular political stance.

Indeed. So what did I get wrong besides using a word you don't like? Or were you merely trying to change the subject, as many weak-minded right wing trolls will so often do. (I don't mean to imply that you are a weak-minded right wing troll, unless you indeed are one. I'm just trying to ascertain Teh Truth.)

Posted by: ed on August 3, 2008 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Forget trees! The Cal football team needs a training center!

Because while those pesky trees would have died anyway, the Cal football team will remain on top forever...

Posted by: wilder on August 3, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

I am glad to learn that you are reading Science.

Curiously, June 2008, worldwide, was the coolest June in two decades. Sorry, I lost the source on that. Have you noticed that the Arctic ice melt is not in the news this summer? Another curiosity.

The solar scientists are predicting more cooling, maybe for decades, and the GHG scientists are predicting more warming. Stay tuned: we should know in a few years who's right.

Meanwhile, don't forget to buy your carbon offsets. It's something that you can do right away, whereas cutting your CO2 emissions will probably take a while. And you can buy CO2 offsets without waiting for Congress to enact the exactly right laws about energy and environment. I cut my CO2 by getting a job closer to home, but not everyone can do that easily.

Cheers

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on August 3, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

And you know what? Technology isn't going to magically save us.

We can not tell now exactly how much good new technology will do, but it will do a lot of good. There are no panaceas, but nobody says that there are.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on August 3, 2008 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Knudson is right. I made a "pilgrimage" to Glacier NP three years ago, in part to see the glaciers there before they disappear.

MatthewRMarler ... past performance of technology, even if it's been as good as you think, is no gurantee of future results.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 3, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Quoting the Science story, contra Achenbach:

The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt. (Emphasis added.)

It's global warming, on the fires, Joel. Yes, that's not helped by stupid people living next to national forest.

But, what would stop that?

The next president, by executive order, changing U.S. Forest Service (or BLM, where appropriate), firefighting policy in a way that says "we ain't gonna protect your homes no more."

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 3, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

At the first opportunity...

In this period,
and in its true
light, the sound
of a picture forgets
and emotion in
the care of a faith;
a candle reappears,
a delicate silence
remembers a river
and then, at the
first opportunity,
I'll love you my
darling.....

Francesco Sinibaldi

Posted by: Francesco Sinibaldi on August 3, 2008 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, other skeptical ppl from last week should also note that Knudson is reinforcing what I said here: your hydropower is disappearing with global warming, too. Many of you Southlanders might (unfortunately) have to find another place to live.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 3, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler ... past performance of technology, even if it's been as good as you think, is no gurantee of future results.

Quite true, but I wrote that technology was likely to help and not guaranteed to fail, as was asserted in the comment that I commented upon. Wind, solar, biofuels, nuclear and CO2 sequestration technologies are likely to help if they are widely deployed, even as they are. Improvements in the technologies are likely to help even more.

Posted by: on August 3, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

consider this item on new membranes for desalination by by filtration.

http://www.technologyreview.com/Nanotech/21146/?a=f

The article notes that there are 250 desalination plants already operating in the U.S. Here in San Diego county a rather large one is being built in Carlsbad, to be powered by the waste heat from an electricity generating plant.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on August 3, 2008 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

MaynardHandley nails it, as does Achenbach. Thomas Malthus wasn't wrong, just a wee bit early. I was startled to actually find an article that focused the blame for resource depletion and all kinds of pollution, including atmospheric CO2, on the burgeoning population.

The right has cowered politicians from even raising the subject of family planning, which is where the most effort is needed.

Posted by: DevilDog on August 3, 2008 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

There was another interesting point in the LA Times series (I think it was Saturday's) where they said that the number of non-native plants has increased hugely, pushing out the native plants. The problem with this, of course, is that the native plants evolved to be more water-efficient and fire-resistant than the invaders, so we're getting loads more flammable scrub than we used to.

It's a both/and problem, not an either/or.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on August 3, 2008 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Achenbach makes some decent points. The point behind global climate change (that the right-wing deniers don't seem to get) is that we are polluting ourselves to death. Whether some areas of the planet get warmer or colder isn't really the point.

The point is we are going to die in our own sewage if we don't start using our fucking brains and stop being greedy and self-centered (are you listening you fucking retards with your Drill Now-Drill Here-Pay Less bumper stickers?).

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on August 3, 2008 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

Aren't the Chandlers infamous right-wingers like the Brens?? Don't they still own the LA Times??

Posted by: Anon on August 3, 2008 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget about direct effects of CO2 on vegetation. CO2 fertilization increases growth rates in vegetation, especially during drought years. More fuel for the fire. Some desert scrub and tree species are increasing growth rates by up to 30% over 50 years ago.

Posted by: B on August 4, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Marler, if you're supplying URLs for tech-touting, why not one for your "coolest June in two decades"?

Maybe because there isn't one. Google Newsing that exact phrase returned exactly zero hits.

Beyond that, desalinization, while it will help the Southland when the Colorado goes belly up, doesn't offer any hope for global warming.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on August 4, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

If it weren't for the fires in areas with trees that went fifty, hundred years between fire=scars... I might believe the build out reasoning.

But these aren't brush fires, and the ones that are come faster, hotter, and more frequent.

The areas burning are not the ones 'saved' by years of over zealous fire suppression.

Posted by: Crissa on August 4, 2008 at 4:19 AM | PERMALINK

Arctic melt this summer isn't in the news because it isn't worse than last year's record melt, but it is worse than the long term trendline. Last year's record probably wasn't due to global warming, directly. It was probably due to a dramatic shift in Arctic wind patterns. The shift in winds was probably caused by global warming, but since it isn't temperature that means it gets over-looked in the media.

So, what gets in the news is often irrelevant to its seriousness due to the stupidity, fickleness, and (often) corruptness of the media.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on August 4, 2008 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

CO2 fertilization increases growth rates in vegetation

Within limits. There's plenty of CO2 in the atmosphere for plant growth. Plant growth wouldn't double if you doubled CO2 in the atmosphere.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on August 4, 2008 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, the Science report states that "the broad-scale increase in wildfire frequency across the western United States has been driven primarily by sensitivity of fire regimes to recent changes in climate over a relatively large area."

I'll repeat: The increase is primarily due to climate change.

The saddest part of Achenbach’s tirade against “iffy claims” of global warming is that he seemingly comprehends the scope of the crisis, writing “Somehow we’ve got to embed environmental effects into the cost of energy sources, consumer goods and so on. The market approach by itself has let us down.” He connects the issues of a growing population, industrial agriculture, sprawl, unfettered free markets, and unsustainable civil engineering practices, saying that “humans are a species out of control.”

What he fails to see is that the solution to global warming is inextricably linked to the solutions to all of these problems. Global warming — with its related consequences of increased floods, strong hurricanes, drought, heat waves, extinction, coral bleaching, infestation, disease outbreaks, severe storms, sea level rise, shoreline erosion, glacial retreat, arctic sea ice decline, permafrost thaws, desertification, and shifts in plant and animal ranges — is just one symptom of ignoring the true costs of “cheap” fossil fuels and resource depletion. A sustainable approach to, for example, flood control policy, reduces the carbon footprint, restores habitat, lessens economic risk, and encourages healthier, safer agriculture.

Posted by: Brad Johnson on August 4, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Test

Posted by: Kevin Drum on August 5, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

qyBC5e cwchjkzjtmrv, [url=http://tkldzzfckwdd.com/]tkldzzfckwdd[/url], [link=http://etpdfhpcffml.com/]etpdfhpcffml[/link], http://ywuzpjlnjtlp.com/

Posted by: xbakoidgm on September 16, 2008 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Sirs,

Just take a look at this:

http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/forum/pdfs/2003/summary_03.pdf

http://commonhorizon.blogspot.com

Thanks,

Gonzalo

Posted by: Gonzalo on October 14, 2008 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Sirs,

Just take a look at this:

http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/forum/pdfs/2003/summary_03.pdf

http://commonhorizon.blogspot.com

Thanks,

Gonzalo

Posted by: Gonzalo on October 14, 2008 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly