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Governor Pinocchio’s Nose Grows Over California Wildfire Claims

December 15, 2017

Climate Change Weekly #271

Few governors have done more than California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to reduce their state’s economic performance, energy security, and economic mobility for the poor in the vain quest to counteract climate change. The climate and environmental efforts undertaken by Brown and the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature have raised energy prices (making electricity and fuel prices in California among the highest in the nation), made housing even more unaffordable than it already was, and limited job creation.

Along the way, Brown has told numerous fibs about the job creation potential of green energy, the harm fossil fuels are doing to the environment – both in absolute terms and when compared to green energy sources – and humanity’s impact on, and ability to control, the climate.

Recently, Brown told another whopper. In a 60 Minutes interview on December 10 and an earlier interview with The Orange County Register, Brown claimed anthropogenic climate change was causing California’s wildfires to become more frequent and severe: in his words, “unprecedented” and “the new normal.”

Normal, yes; new, not at all.

A survey of literature examining extreme drought and wildfires in North America and globally, published as part of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change’s peer- reviewed book, Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, finds no evidence Earth has experienced worsened drought conditions or wildfires in greater number or size, either in North America or worldwide, during the past century and a half, when humans have purportedly been contributing to dangerous climate change.

Locally, California has unique conditions that make it prone to wildfires. California is arid, with much of it being high-mountain and lowland-scrub desert. Historically it has had limited freshwater supplies, which is one reason it was one of the least populated (and lowest population density) regions of the country before European colonizers spread across the continent. Throughout its history, California has been prone to wildfires driven by the Santa Ana winds. Research shows us droughts in the region have on occasion lasted a hundred years or more. And there is historical evidence massive wildfires periodically swept through the region.

Government policies have exacerbated the size and costs of California’s wildfires in the past century. Federal efforts to deliver water to the state for agriculture and urban settlement – “to make the desert bloom like a rose” – were successful, helping make the state habitable for millions of people. Without water diverted from western rivers to California much of the state would not have been habitable for the number of people presently living there. More people and associated buildings and property means more people and property are at risk, and higher costs when wildfires do occur.

In addition, U.S. Forest Service policies actively suppressed natural wildfires for much of the century, and later policies reduced logging, producing forests where too many trees crowd public acreage. The unnatural tree density allowed what were formerly isolated pockets of insect infestations killing small groves of trees to morph into massive infestations killing large swaths of forests. These factors combined to create tinderbox conditions in many California forests.

Also, California only recently came out of a multiyear, but not historically unusual, drought. In December 2016, 82.53 percent of the state ranged from “Abnormally Dry” to “Exceptional Drought,” with more than 40 percent of the state experiencing “Extreme Drought” or worse. The situation has improved dramatically; as of September 2017, just 22 percent of the state was “Abnormally Dry,” the lowest level of aridity rating, and none of the state suffered from Extreme Drought. The area currently experiencing the horrific blazes corresponds to the region still considered abnormally dry. This spring’s plant growth quickly died off as summer waxed, leaving more fuel for the current fire season.

Scientists cite two other natural factors as contributing to the severity of California’s ongoing fires: the Santa Ana winds and La Niña conditions. A weak La Niña system in the Pacific Ocean has kept storms, which normally hit the state in autumn, from making landfall in Southern California. Normally, California’s wet season would have started by now, suppressing fires, but this year the La Niña has kept the rains away.

The Santa Ana winds blow from the desert to the coast, usually peaking in September or late October. John Abatzoglou, an associate professor of geography and climate at the University of Idaho, explained to The Atlantic, Santa Ana winds increase the availability of fuel for fires by drying out vegetation, and of course they help fires spread once they start.

“These fires are not immediately emblematic of climate change,” Abatzoglou said in an e-mail to The Atlantic. “[T]he big anomaly here is the delay in the onset of precipitation [La Niña related] for the southland that has kept the vegetation dry and fire-prone.”

“All December fires in the southland since 1948 have been associated with Santa Ana wind,” said Abatzoglou.

Abatzoglou says there is no evidence Santa Ana winds are becoming more prevalent or arriving later in the year on average. “At least in Southern California right now, we are largely seeing textbook wildfires,” concludes Abatzoglou.

In short, contra Gov. Brown, nature – not humankind – still rules the roost with regards to the frequency and severity of wildfires in California. Brown’s fake news statements don’t change that fact.

— H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: The Atlantic; Scientific American; Washington Times; Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate ChangeBreitbart; and The Washington Examiner


IN THIS ISSUE …

Agricultural yields set records, again! Groundwater depletion contributing to carbon dioxide emissionsUnited States leads world in emissions reductionArizona court tells university to release Climategate emails


AGRICULTURAL YIELDS SET RECORDS, AGAIN!

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has revised its outlook for food production upwards for the 2017/2018 calendar year.

FAO estimates world cereal supplies in the 2017/18 season will rise to an all-time high of nearly 3.33 billion tons, resulting in world cereal inventories (stored stocks) being projected to climb for the fifth consecutive season, rising to a record high level of almost 726 million tons. FAO’s forecast for global cereal production in 2017 is expected to top 2016 production levels by 16.8 million tons, an increase of 0.6 percent.

FAO’s estimates for the production of coarse grains increased by 24 million tons from 2016, 1.8 percent, mostly driven by higher estimates for maize production in the United States and Indonesia.

Global stocks of wheat, coarse grains, and rice are each forecast to set new records in 2017. Though FAO doesn’t address the cause of the persistent year-over-year record-setting cereal grain production, numerous studies, many of which have been summarized at co2science.org, indicate at least part of the credit for the food bounty is due to the fertilization effect of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which increases growth and improves crop water use efficiency.

SOURCES: UN Food and Agriculture Organization and CO2Science.org


GROUNDWATER DEPLETION CONTRIBUTING TO CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS

A new study in the journal Earth’s Future has found a previously unaccounted for source of human carbon dioxide emissions: groundwater withdrawals and use. As people withdraw groundwater faster than it is replenished, known as groundwater depletion, they are releasing a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that has until now been overlooked, according to the new study.

Rainfall contains the same amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. By contrast, the soil’s carbon dioxide levels are up to 100 times greater than atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. As rainwater percolates through the soil, it captures or collects some of the carbon dioxide stored there, carrying it to underground aquifers. Absent human aquifer withdrawals, this carbon-rich water remains below ground for hundreds to thousands of years. As humans have begun to withdraw waster from aquifers at increasing rates – far faster than many aquifers are being recharged – large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released.

The authors estimate groundwater depletion in the United States could be responsible for releasing 1.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, ranking among the top 20 sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They also estimate global groundwater depletion releases approximately 9.7 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.

SOURCES: American Geophysical Union and Earth’s Future


U.S. LEADS WORLD IN EMISSIONS REDUCTION

If one believes humans are causing dangerous climate change, primarily via fossil fuel use, then reducing emissions – not signing non-binding treaties – should be the hallmark when judging any country’s commitment to fighting climate change.

On that basis, despite the fact President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States should be praised as the leader in saving the planet. The United States has dramatically lowered its carbon emissions in the past year and over the past decade, largely without government mandates. (See accompanying figure.) Since 2006, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 11 percent, falling 2 percent in 2016 alone.

Most of this decline is due to the fracking boom, which brought about much lower gas prices resulting in much of America’s electricity generation shifting from coal to natural gas.

By comparison, China – the source of more than a quarter of all global carbon dioxide emissions, with double the emissions of the United States – increased its emissions by 4 percent. India, the third largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, increased its emissions by 6 percent.

For the many European Union countries, which have backslid on emissions since the Paris agreement was signed, and fast-growing developing countries like China and India, the Paris agreement is as philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote concerning all covenants lacking enforcement mechanisms: “Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”

SOURCE: Inside Sources


ARIZONA COURT TELLS UNIVERSITY TO RELEASE CLIMATEGATE EMAILS

After years of regulatory and court battles, Arizona Superior Court Justice James Marner ordered the University of Arizona (UA) to release emails by university researchers tied to the Climategate email scandal.

The Climategate emails released so far show researchers at universities around the world discussed suppressing data, raising questions about the evidence used to support the claim humans are causing climate change. They also pressured science journals not to publish articles by climate realists. The London Telegraph’s Christopher Booker called Climategate “the worst scientific scandal of our generation.”

For more than six years, Energy & Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) has been fighting UA’s Board of Regents for release of emails from several UA professors.

E&E Legal initially tried obtaining the emails through a public records request. The professors involved objected, and UA released only a subset of the requested emails. Subsequently E&E Legal sued to force the release of all the requested emails. E&E Legal successfully argued the university improperly allowed the professors to decide what emails were responsive to the request and which ones they would allow the university to produce.

Since all the emails requested were work-related, produced using taxpayer resources, the court ruled all remaining requested emails should be released, making them part of the public record.

SOURCES: E&E Legal Institute Press Release and Arizona Superior Court Ruling by Justice James Marner

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org