How Does a Decision-maker Know What’s “Right”? Guest Post by Jim Furnish

Thanks to Jim Furnish’s for his take on “what makes a land management decision right?” (Others are welcome to submit posts on this topic).

This poses THE trenchant question when working one’s way through a controversy. The very existence of controversy indicates opposition, unease, and concern about the status quo or new proposal. The science and art of finding the most elegant solution is the responsibility of decision-makers, but “right” decisions can prove elusive. Good leaders excel here; poor ones flounder. Difficulty increases because outcomes often remain unknown for some time, meaning that knowing what’s right at decision time may be impossible. I’ll share what worked for me, acknowledging that one has to tailor their decision-making methods to their own skills and character.
Before proceeding, let me address what I consider to be an oft-stated but errant myth: “good decisions leave all parties of a conflict equally upset.” In my experience, this became almost dogma as I heard many decision-makers explain their rationale for a course of action, thinking that the right decision necessarily lay in a brokered middle ground that left both sides angered and neither whole. I find this notion confounding. A right decision should incorporate as much common ground as possible, leaving both sides feeling they achieved important aims; “win-win”, to echo a trite saying.

Realistically, this is often not possible. Which leads to another common brokering concept: what can all sides “live with”? This suggests optimality. It has a positive feel, but this hints at settling for some least offensive solution. It also reflects a social construct, neglecting an all-important priority — does the decision do right by the land?
I consider the land ethic issue to be the essential element of right decisions for natural resource managers. This may not factor in decisions for a banker or insurance manager, but must be a priority if one is managing land. In my view, this was the essence of my national forest business. Here I give some deference (not much) to private land managers for whom economics and profits play a more prominent role, but for public lands I think a bias for environmental considerations exists, or should.

Why? Public lands must be managed to benefit the citizenry, and this basic stewardship responsibility underpins all decisions. Commercial transactions commonly involve forest products, ski areas, grazing, and concessions among others, and private entities naturally focus on their bottom line. I never considered it my responsibility to assure the financial health of a business contractor. But if my decision did not focus primarily on the environmental effects of commercial entities doing business on public land – in my role as steward – who would see to it? I think “citizen owners” of public land have every right to expect and demand this of public land managers.

How to apply this in trying to reach a right decision? Context matters. As an example, consider ATV use, a heated issue since ATVs burst on the recreation scene about the 1980s. Most agencies found themselves caught flat-footed as ATV users exploited a cheap, fast, and nimble ride to essentially replace 4WD vehicles. New trails laced forest and alpine, and solitude disappeared. How does one find the right balance between exclusion and permission? Do users have an inherent right to go virtually anywhere outside Wilderness areas?

I begin with the adage “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. The FS took an important, long overdue step about 2005 by requiring that ATVs stay on designated routes, to be determined by comprehensive travel plans. A major issue was whether illegally created ATV trails could or should become a designated route. The FS left that door open to be determined locally. The battle was on. Enviros pushed for minimal routes and large scale exclusion zones. ATVers wanted almost every existing track to become a designated route. I slide toward the enviro end in seeking the right balance on that spectrum.

I try to simplify an arguably complex issue by asserting that ATV use is capable of significant soil and water damage, wildlife impacts, noise, and loss of solitude. ATV use is legitimate but needs restrictions as per Nixon’s Executive Order 11644. Accordingly, ATV use is permissible after negative effects are minimized and/or mitigated. Environmental issues as well as effects on other users must be accounted for. This means that ATV users should get the short(er) end of the stick. All things considered, this is not unfair and it’s “right” in my book.
I think historic context is crucial in working through other conflicts like logging and grazing. Timber industry had it their way for decades until the spotted owl solution in the Pacific Northwest came down heavily in favor of wildlife habitat and fish protections. The agencies doled out pain unequally; again, right in my view. Similarly, ranchers historically received preferential treatment and federal grazing has been supported at well below market value for decades. This context should tilt “right decisions” toward an environmental bias to help restore balance, especially when necessary to restore degraded environments.

Ultimately, I tried to weigh all factors in reaching a just outcome, but this didn’t mean I tried to make everything equal. Strive to help all sides to an issue achieve their aims, but it’s often necessary to take from one side to give to another in reaching a right decision.

Climate Science Voyage of Discovery. III. History of the RCP 8.5 Controversy

Steve Wilent pointed our attention to what is known as the 8.5/BAU (does RCP 8.5 represent Business as Usual, as many scientific papers say?) controversy a while back. I thought I’d post this Twitter roll (hopefully you can click to it) by Oliver Geden because it includes the sociology of science perspective. so often missing from climate science discussions. Also it seems like a gradual introduction to acronyms, and has links to many other papers of interest.

If you have trouble following the Thread reader, please let me know.

What is a Representative Concentration Pathway? You can read definitions, which aren’t necessarily very helpful. I like this article by Zeke Haufather because it tells the story of how the RCP’s were developed and used, leading to:

However, its position as the only non-mitigation scenario considered in the IPCC AR5 along with relatively poor communication between energy modelling and climate modelling communities led to a widespread misperception both in the media and in the academic literature that RCP8.5 was the expected “business as usual” outcome in a world without any future climate policy.

While worst-case outcomes are important to take into account, particularly given the uncertainties in the magnitude of carbon cycle feedbacks, it is important that they not be considered in isolation. Taking the range of possible baseline outcomes from 6.0 to 8.5 W/m2 forcing would provide a more realistic set of scenarios for studying climate impacts in a no-policy future.

On the other hand, though, if models and scenarios estimate so many things, how can we be sure that their estimates are accurate? From the Ritchie paper:

This paper finds climate change scenarios anticipate a transition toward coal because of systematic errors in fossil production outlooks based on total geologic assessments like the LBE model. Such blind spots have distorted uncertainty ranges for long-run primary energy since the 1970s and continue to influence the levels of future climate change selected for the SSP-RCP scenario framework. Accounting for this bias indicates RCP8.5 and other ‘business-as-usual scenarios’ consistent with high CO2 forcing from vast future coal combustion are exceptionally unlikely. Therefore, SSP5-RCP8.5 should not be a priority for future scientific research or a benchmark for policy studies.

It’s also clear that “poor communication” between energy modelling and climate modelling communities and the difficulty of communicating what they are doing to other scientific communities, including the impacts folks, as well as the media, may be a real problem.

Geden also refers to the BECCS debate, which seems to me another discipline gap – modelers are going to assume BECCS but there is no link to people who might say it’s feasible or not in a particular place (Geden’s slide 6). When he says “the STS community will have a field day.” He means the science and technology studies community, who study, among other things, how people and groups work to produce knowledge.

Roger Pielke, Jr. tied this back to the discipline of scenario planning in his article here.

Scenarios of the future have long sat at the center of discussions of climate science, impacts and adaptation and mitigation policies. Scenario planning has a long history and can be traced to the RAND Corporation during World War 2 and, later (ironically enough) Shell, a fossil fuel company. Scenarios are not intended to be forecasts of the future, but rather to serve as an alternative to forecasting. Scenarios provide a description of possible futures contingent upon various factors, only some of which might be under the control of decision makers.

The climate community got off track by forgetting the distinction between using scenarios as an exploratory tool for developing and evaluating policy options, and using scenarios as forecasts of where the world is headed.

To summarize there are three separate ideas. 1. RCP 8.5 was never feasible, as it relied on using a great deal more coal that (other scientists think) doesn’t exist. 2. Lotsa coal is not business as usual. 3. the RCPs are scenarios and are not comparable to each other.
As I recall, the idea of scenario planning was to look at a broad range of futures without likelihoods and pick things to do that make sense under a range of scenarios. Not to pick the worst ones and model the extent of further bad things. Let’s do an example. Denver Water used to do scenario planning. Suppose they had a most extreme scenario- climate change dries up supply and the population grows. What to do? The point is to think about it. Not to model and write news stories about how we won’t have any water. It’s really about what you do with the info of “what could possibly happem” not how you derive it, nor to what detail.

Should Timber Industry Workers Help the Forest Service Pick Trees for Helicopter Logging in Alaska?

The Center for Western Priorities has a great newsfeed, but sometimes you have to look past their anti-Interior bias. For example, this morning they posted this..
“Logging gets priority in Trump’s Interior Department” where they blended the wildfire carbon kerfuffle Matthew linked to here with an Alaska logging project.

CWP says “The Interior Department’s attempts to help the timber industry don’t stop there. Newly released documents show the administration has partnered with the state of Alaska and the timber industry there, paying $300,000 annually for five years so that industry can pick which trees should be cut in an upcoming sale in the Tongass National Forest.”

Oh, well. They linked to this WaPo story. Given the need to fit the Dominant WaPo Narrative, I thought the writers did a good job of explaining both sides and picking people to ask questions who are directly involved. I also think the old-timer, passing on skills angle is interesting- perhaps Alaskans on TSW can enlighten us more about this?

1. Earthjustice attorney doesn’t like industry picking trees.
2. State forester tries to place the Trump factor in context of the longer term decision making process and points out that FS staff are there in the units also.
3. Sitka Conservation Society understands need for industry to be involved, and also wants the public more involved in decisions.

Earthjustice staff attorney Tom Waldo said in an interview that federal experts — not the logging industry itself — should identify the trees, since they are charged with balancing the forest’s commercial appeal with protecting its overall health and the species within it. Earthjustice, which is challenging the sale on the grounds that the Forest Service has failed to fully inform the public about it, obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act and provided them to the Energy 202.

“Here they’re vesting a really lot of power in the hands of someone with a very specific interest in the timber,” Waldo said. “The very best trees for logging are also the best trees for wildlife habitat.”

But Alaska State Forester John “Chris” Maisch said in an email that the logging site was selected during the Obama administration, underwent extensive environmental review and any final decisions are made by government officials. The Forest Service staff lacks the expertise to pick the trees that are both commercially appealing and can be safely felled and lifted via helicopter, he said.

Industry foresters are working with Forest Service staff “in the units and are not doing this work independently.” Maisch said.

“It’s a team effort with experienced foresters passing this skill set to the next generation,” he said, adding that protections are put in place if trees with bird nests “or other sensitive habitat is identified.”

Andrew Thoms, executive director of the Sitka Conservation Society, said it is understandable that the Forest Service wants to tap the expertise of those in the private sector. “The only people who know how to pick out these trees are the old timers.”

But he added that it is crucial to involve the public in these decisions, especially since the most massive cedar and spruce trees in the Tongass stand the best chance of propagating their species. “You want them to put out seeds, because there’s a reason they’re a thousand years old.”

Both-Sides Reporting on New Clean Water Act Rule- Let’s Collect Them!

Navigable waters? What would EPA have decided?

While the Clean Water Act isn’t usually part of our TSW portfolio, since Matthew brought it up here (and see other stories brought up by Brian Hawthorne here in the comments as well as some legal history by Kevin Turnblom here. I’d be interested in what your local papers have to say about it, or whether they use the AP story.

The AP story here started off with ..

“WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Thursday ended federal protection for many of the nation’s millions of miles of streams, arroyos and wetlands, a sweeping environmental rollback that could leave the waterways more vulnerable to pollution from development, industry and farms.”

As Kevin Turnblom pointed out, If a judge throws a rule out because it’s illegal, and a reg is never enforced (so nothing has ever been protected by it) then.. is the next one really a “rollback”? It’s clearly not a rollback in Physical World (where water exists).

I did run across a story in the Colorado Springs Gazette by Tom Roeder that tried to show both sides and also gave some local context.. here’s a link and below are some excerpts.

Under the old rule, enacted by the Obama administration in 2015, federal authorities took a broad, and some say nebulous, view of their powers to stop water pollution.

The 2015 rule enforced federal regulation on “intrastate lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, or natural ponds.”

The Obama-era rule covered an estimated 60 percent of U.S. waters.

That meant actions that could impact those waters required a federal permit. The rules prompted a string of court battles, and even the Supreme Court called defining which waters were federal “a contentious and difficult task.”

The lawsuits meant the Obama-era rules never took full effect, and left the EPA scrambling for a definition of federal waters that would pass judicial muster.

President Donald Trump made rolling back the water regulation a plank in his 2016 campaign as he wooed farmers and ranchers.

But the rollback took years as the EPA wrangled over rules and faced a firestorm from environmental groups.

You gotta love Colorado politics, though. Our governor, who seemingly would think that our state is capable of regulating water quality, especially since there is a D majority in the House and Senate said:

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis issued a scathing statement about the rule change.

“Our administration will continue to reject attempts by the Trump administration to gut proven ways to protect our health and environment,” he said.

How could it be a “proven” way if the reg had never been in force?

Meanwhile, both the Colorado Springs mayor and local Congressperson argue for not federalizing what needn’t be federalized.

Suthers said those waters that won’t be regulated by the feds will still have plenty of oversight, but from state and local authorities rather than the EPA.

“Anything that happens there will be in the jurisdiction of the state of Colorado,” said Suthers, who served as the state’s attorney general before winning the city’s top job.

Lamborn said having locals regulate more water issues is the best solution.

“If you believe in federalism, then units of government that are closer to the people should regulate those decisions,” he said.

Here’s another interesting statement from this piece:

I haven’t checked this for accuracy but the author says..(about the 2015 non-implemented rule).

EPA estimated that the final Clean Water Rule expanded the types of water subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction by about 3 percent, or 1,500 acres nationwide. Opponents clearly think it could be much broader – and until they see the rule implemented on the landscape, their fears may have some basis in fact.

Meanwhile Matthew’s post headline said “millions of acres.” It might be interesting for someone to go back and check the 2015 regulation. The difference might well be in assumptions about how it might have been interpreted, which we never found out because it wasn’t ever implemented.

Here’s the American Farm Bureau’s side of the story:

The 2015 rule grants the federal government regulatory control over virtually any waters – and many land areas that only temporarily hold water – assuming a scope of authority Congress never authorized. It effectively eliminates any constraints the term “navigable” previously imposed on the agencies’ Clean Water Act jurisdiction, and few, if any, waters would fall outside of federal control.

The 2015 rule provides none of the clarity and certainty it promised. Instead, it creates confusion and risk by giving the agencies almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, agricultural ponds and isolated wetlands found in and near farms and ranches across the nation, no matter how small or seemingly unconnected they may be to true “navigable waters.”

The 2015 rule defines terms such as “tributary” and “adjacent” in ways that make it impossible for farmers and ranchers to know whether the specific ditches, ephemeral drains or low areas on their land will be deemed “waters of the U.S.” But these definitions are broad enough to give regulators (and citizen plaintiffs) justification to assert that such areas are subject to Clean Water Act regulation and give the agencies sweeping new authority to regulate land use, which they may exercise at will, or at the whim of a citizen plaintiff.

Trump Administration Continues Work with States on Endangered Species Protections on Platte River

It seems only fair, that if we’re to read the press releases of, for example, CBD about how bad things are, we should also highlight when there are environmental success stories.  I wouldn’t have found this one except a paragraph in a local newspaper.  Short story: Feds and state are getting along with water providers and other stakeholders to protect endangered species, even to the tune of providing lotsa bucks.

Secretary of the Interior, along with Governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, commit an additional $156 million for recovering threatened and endangered species in the Platte River Basin


 U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed an amendment to the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement, along with the governors of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, committing resources to extend the program through Dec. 31, 2032. The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program utilizes federal- and state-provided financial resources, water and scientific monitoring and research to support and protect four threatened and endangered species that inhabit areas of the Central and Lower Platte rivers in Nebraska while allowing for continued water and hydropower project operations in the Platte River basin.

“This program is truly an important partnership that has been successful because of the broad collaboration between federal and state representatives, water and power users and conservation groups,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “All of these stakeholders working together to help recover imperiled species is critical as new water and power projects are continued and developed in the Platte River Basin.”

The program provides compliance for four species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for new and existing water-related projects in the Platte River Basin. Examples of existing water related projects include the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado Big-Thompson Project on the South Platte River in Colorado and the North Platte Project in Wyoming and Nebraska.

“Programs like the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program are critical to ensuring that Reclamation is able to deliver water and power in an environmentally and economically sound manner,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman “This program is a true success story of how stakeholders and government from across state lines can work together for the common good.”

And if you see things through partisan lens here’s our favorite Boulderite governor:

“The signing of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program Cooperative Agreement Amendment marks the celebration of more than a decade of success,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “The commitment by the states and the U.S. Department of the Interior to continue the program’s innovative approach to species recovery and Endangered Species Act compliance is a win-win for the future of Colorado’s citizens and the environment. We look forward to the next 13 years working with our partners to lead in this national model of collaboration.”

Still Against Commercial Logging After All These Years: Should the Sierra Club Update its ECL Policy?

I was curious about the claim that “forests can’t sell trees from areas that are not in the timber suitable acres in a forest plan”, as we discussed for this project here. Further exploration yielded the information that the Sierra Club is one of the plaintiffs in the current litigation. Which made me wonder whether they had ever changed their policy with regard to selling trees from National Forest. I looked on their website and it appears that they still have this 1996 policy.

The Sierra Club support[s] protecting all federal publicly owned lands in the United States and advocate[s] an end to all commercial logging on these lands.
Adopted in the Sierra Club Annual Election, April 20, 1996

Now 1996 was 24 years ago, and perhaps some things have changed since then. Especially in California, where the Sierra Club headquarters are located, many folks think that if wood from fuel treatment projects (or salvage) could be sold, it should be, and that would be better, say, for climate than burning it in piles.

I also found this clarification from 2012.

Commercial logging is the removal of trees from federal lands as commodities — whether for lumber (or other building materials), pulp/paper, energy, or other commodity production — regardless of the stated rationale for the logging project, or whether some term other than commercial logging is used to describe the project.

There has been a great deal of pushback in various op-eds that environmental groups’ efforts and lawsuits have nothing to do with ability to get fuel treatments (and prescribed burning, where pre-treatment is necessary) done on federal lands. (My view is that it’s one of many factors).

But in an effort to be logical, for that to be true then:

(1) The Sierra Club has been completely unsuccessful with this policy over 24 years, that is, it has no effect because no fuel treatments would potentially incorporate commercial logging (in this case, they might want to reconsider the policy), or

(2) Number of acres treated for fuels is invariant to whether trees are sold or not. (I think there are two piles of funding one for fuel treatment and one for timber, and if you can do both you can fund a project from either or both pots, but I’m sure it’s more complicated and would like to hear from some TWS experts on this.)

But with what we know today, the alternatives to selling trees from fuel treatments (because many trees can’t be sold, and the FS still does fuel treatment) is to pile and burn them, or chip and mulch or …

It’s an advantage of interest groups, unlike federal agencies, that they can say what shouldn’t be done, without being clear about what they think should be done instead. It’s a great position to be in, because you don’t have to consider how technically realistic the alternatives are, nor do you have to produce a document describing them, and the environmental pros and cons of each. Nor put those out for comment, or debate what the best available science says.

Perhaps it boils down to “you can’t trust those people to be honest about the reasons for cutting trees, and we’re going to assume that all tree cutting that might be sold is really for commercial timber production.” It seems to me, again,  that in 24 years, there might be other ways of dealing with these concerns.

When the FS was exploring getting wood certified by FSC, I heard that the FS couldn’t do it because the Sierra Club was against it. I was surprised that one organization could have enough clout to put an end to an idea. I’ve heard this several times, but did not sit in on the meetings myself, so can’t vouch for it. But that idea was for making the case that if people use wood, the NFs can produce it just as sustainably as anyone else. It makes perfect sense that to the Sierra Club  ECL means ECL no matter how gentle the practices used.

What I’m thinking about is an independent certification body that could say “we have looked at this and these folks are cutting trees for other reasons. The choices are leaving stacks and burning versus selling them and having people use them (substituting for Canadian imports or ??).” It seems to me a certification body would be cheaper, and better, and with my design incorporate public comment, so more transparent,  than going to court and having folks digging through federal employees’ emails for signs of hidden commercial intentions.  And at the end of the day the judge may well end up ruling on something completely different, leading to appeals and more court cases and so on.

I think that such a body might also help folks in the Sierra Club who might be puzzled by the complexities of the 2012 memo. If, when I worked for the FS, I had gotten a memo like that, I would have interpreted it “you are free to do what you think is right, unless someone more important than you finds out and disagrees, and then you will have to walk back agreements you made and possibly get in a lot of trouble.” Been there…

Multiagency Effort Spawns Giant Forest, Recreation Project in Pend Oreille County

From the Spokesman-Review here via the Forestry Source. Note: “This is the first time that a tribe is doing environmental analysis for the forest service using state funds.”

Twenty years ago, the proposal being presented at public meetings in January for forest restoration and recreation projects on 90,700 acres in Pend Oreille County would only have been a pipe dream.

That was at the height of the “timber wars,” pitting pro-logging interests against environmentalists and bringing logging to a halt.

The project area north of Newport and east of the Pend Oreille River is a patchwork of tribal, state, federal and private lands. This is the first time that a tribe is doing environmental analysis for the forest service using state funds. When complete, it should vastly improve forest and watershed health for all land owners with a bonus of increased recreation opportunities.

Project area land owners are: Colville National Forest, 41,600 acres; Kalispel Tribe of Indians, 3,700 acres; Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), 8,200 acres; private, 37,000 acres; and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 200 acres.

All the actual work in the project will be done on forest service land, but the partners hope others will follow, especially private timber land owners. The DNR and Kalispel Tribe have been working on forest health and watershed improvements on their land already.

This project is the culmination of years of increasing forest fire danger caused by poor forest management and a new spirit of collaboration between forest managers and some environmentalists. It is also a milestone for this new-age management, because it is the first project in the nation with so many partners working on this large of an area.

But it isn’t without challenges.

“Get past the feel-good part and reality is, it is hard to get agreements,” said Gloria Flora, project coordinator for the Sxwuytn-Kaniksu Connections Trail Project. “We proceed with caution.”

The Kalispel Tribe refers to the project as Sxwuytn (s-who-ee-tin), a Kalispel Salish word that roughly translates to connection or trail. This planning effort is also referred to as Kaniksu Connections to acknowledge the building and strengthening of connections and relationships across landscapes and boundaries.

Flora said that everyone won’t agree with what the group proposes and challenges in court are possible. But she said she feels that “old-school protests” need to change.

She points to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals statements last year in the ruling in favor of the Colville National Forest and its large A to Z forest restoration project in Stevens County. The court said the environmentalists objecting had a chance to be at the table in the planning process and should have been involved but weren’t.

Flora has been at the table for forest planning projects for many years. She has worked 23 years in forest management around the country with the past seven in this region.

She founded and directs Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, a nonprofit organization that works to ensure the sustainability of public lands. Her former forest service career included serving as forest supervisor on two national forests.

Given the scale of forest health problems in Eastern Washington, the DNR, federal agencies and other partners agree that to meaningfully reduce wildfire and forest health risks, it will take coordinated actions across land ownership boundaries at a watershed scale. The forest land owners can’t just work their patches independently or not at all.

Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hope, and the Challenges of 2020

When we commemorate Dr. King, who died in 1968, over 50 years ago, I think it’s good to think about how his message might resonate today. First, I’m not sure that there is a spiritual leader in the US who promotes the view of meeting hate with love in quite the same way. For me the challenge of religious institutions, in the US, in 2020 is to stand apart from the partisan atmosphere of lies, hate, vitriol and fear-promotion in the seeking of worldly power, and instead be a safe place for love and truth to thrive. As Dr. King says “we must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice.” What is key that we “meet physical force with soul force.” King, of course, as a Christian leader, places hope within a Christian context. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for fewer people to be religious or spiritual, as time goes on, but I do think there’s a risk when that perspective causes people to lose hope for the future. People recognized despair as Not A Good Thing, long before there was even the science of psychology. There can also be a certain apocalypticism within the climate change and Extinction Rebellion activist communities that can act to promote fear, hatred and despair. Dr. King didn’t need models to predict future bad things- he lived every day with bad things- and still he had, and preached hope.

Here are some quotes from King’s “Give Us the Ballot” speech.

I cannot close without stressing the urgent need for strong, courageous and intelligent leadership from the Negro community. We need a leadership that is calm and yet positive. This is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. (All right) We must realize that we are grappling with the most weighty social problem of this nation, and in grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. (All right, That’s right)

We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter. I know how we feel sometime. There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about—there is the danger that we will become bitter. But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the new order
which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order. (Yeah, That’s all right) We must meet hate with love. We must meet physical force with soul force. (Yeah) There is still a voice crying out through the vista of time, saying: “Love your enemies (Yeah), bless them that curse you (Yes), pray for them that despitefully use you.” (That’s right. All right) Then, and only then, can you matriculate into the university of eternal life. That same voice cries out in terms lifted to cosmic proportions: “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.”

(Yes, Lord) And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations (Yeah) that failed to follow this command. (All right) We must follow nonviolence and love. (Yes, Lord)
Now, I’m not talking about a sentimental, shallow kind of love. (Go ahead) I’m not talking about eros, which is a sort of aesthetic, romantic love. I’m not even talking about philia, which is a sort of intimate affection between personal friends. But I’m talking about agape. (Yes sir) I’m talking about the love of God in the hearts of men. (Yes) I’m talking
about a type of love which will cause you to love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. (Go ahead) We’ve got to love. (Oh yes)

There is something in this universe (Yes, Yes) which justifies Carlyle in saying: “No lie can live forever.” (All right) There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes. All right) There is something in this universe (Watch yourself) which justifies James Russell Lowell in saying:
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne. (Oh yeah)
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown
Stands God (All right), within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own. (Yeah, yes)

Australia and US Wildfire, Similarities and Differences: II. How Much is Due to Anthropogenic Climate Change?

Time of emergence of anthropogenic climate change for (a) the frequency of days exceeding the 95th percentile, (b) the length of the fire weather season, (c) the peak 90‐day average FWI, and (d) annual maximum FWI. Mapped is the 17‐model median date at which the anthropogenic signal emerges based on the change exceeding the standard deviation of the baseline period. Areas of light gray highlight where the signal does not emerge for at least eight models by 2050. Unburnable lands where >80% of the area is water, snow, and ice or barren or sparsely vegetated are shown in dark gray. The percent of burnable land with emergence by 2050 is denoted in the bottom left corner of each map.

The above maps are from this paper by Abatzoglou et al.

Here’s a link to a Science Brief from the University of East Anglia about climate and wildfires. It’s kind of like a scientific rapid response team when an issue comes up, which made it easy to compare the Western US and Australia in terms of ACC.

First, here’s Australia

Climate change also affects fire weather in many other regions, although formal detection does not yet emerge from natural variability. ​Abatzoglou ​et al. (2019) suggest that the anthropogenic climate change signal will be detectable on 33-62% of the burnable land area by 2050. Other global studies agree that the effect of climate change is to increase fire weather and burned area once other factors have been controlled for (e.g. Huang ​et al.​, 2015; Flannigan ​et al.,​ 2013). ​Regional modelling studies corroborate these global findings by projecting how climate change will affect fire weather:…

Australia. Observational data suggest that fire weather extremes are already becoming more frequent and intense (Dowdy, 2018; Head ​et al.​, 2014). However, the divergence between anthropogenic and natural forcing signals is weaker, and more challenging to diagnose, than in other regions due to strong regional and inter-annual variability in the effect of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation on fire weather (Dowdy, 2018; Sharples ​et al.​ , 2016). ​Other important regional weather patterns, such as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) also contribute to natural variability in fire weather, but their effects are increasingly superimposed on more favourable background fire weather conditions. ​Impacts of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather extremes and fire season length are projected to emerge above natural variability in the 2040s (Abatzoglou​ etal.,​ 2019)

Then here’s the western US:

The impact of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather is emerging above natural variability. ​Jolly et al. (2015) use observational data to show that fire weather seasons have lengthened across ~25% of the Earth’s vegetated surface, resulting in a ~20% increase in global mean fire weather season length. By 2019, models suggest that the impact of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather was detectable outside the range of natural variability in 22% of global burnable land area (Abatzoglou et al., 2019). Regional studies corroborate these global findings by identifying links between climate change and fire weather, including in the following regions with major recent wildfire outbreaks:…

Western US and Canada. Models suggest that the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on fire weather extremes and fire season length emerged in the 2010s (Abatzoglou ​et al.,​ 2019; Williams ​et al​., 2019; Abatzoglou & Williams, 2016). Yoon ​et al​. (2015) similarly predicted the occurrence of extreme fire risk would exceed natural variability in California by 2020. Kirchmeir-Young ​et al​. (2017) found that the 2016 Fort McMurray fires were 1.5 to 6 times more likely due to anthropogenic climate change, compared to natural forcing alone. Westerling ​et al. (2016) found that burned area was >10 times greater in Western US forests in 2003-2012 than in 1973-1982. The 2015 Alaskan wildfires occurred amidst fire weather conditions that were 34-60% more likely due to anthropogenic climate change (Partain ​et al.​, 2016).

Note that the claims are sometimes models and sometimes empirical. For example, the increase in burned area noted by Westerling may have had many reasons besides changes in fire weather.

If we accept the Australian claim at face value (differences due to anthropogenic climate change expected to show up in the 2040’s) then they have some time to get their prescribed burning and other programs up to speed before the additional problems due to ACC surface. In that case, it looks like they have about 20 years before they get the additional problems due to ACC. However, if climate modelers don’t understand the natural cycles or anthropogenic factors well enough, though, as seems likely, conditions could be worse sooner or later than the 2040’s. So the Aussies and us, despite the difference in model predictions both need to get on with prescribed burning, building and community design, improving suppression and all that.

As the authors state:

Nonetheless, wildfire occurrence is moderated by a range of factors including land management practises, land-use change and ignition sources.

The Return of Smokey Bear: Human-Caused Ignitions in California

Here is a lengthy and interesting piece in the LA Times :

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection did not respond to repeated interview requests for this story. But the widespread shut-offs underscore the huge — and often overlooked — role that human-related ignitions play in California wildfire.

It doesn’t matter how dry the vegetation, how fierce the winds or how high the temperature; if there is no ignition, there is no wildfire.

Outside of the Sierra Nevada and the state’s northernmost tier, there is little lightning, nature’s ignition source.

That means that, in much of California, more than 90% of the wildfires are started by people or their equipment. In coastal counties from Sonoma to San Diego, almost all the starts are human related.

In 2018, the worst wildfire year in the state’s record, 1.8 million acres burned in California. Lightning torched only 117,107 acres, according to federal statistics.

Of the known causes of the state’s 20 most destructive wildfires, all are human-related. Half were started by power line or electrical problems, including the two most devastating, the Camp fire, which incinerated 18,804 buildings, and the 2017 Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people and destroyed 5,636 structures.

Other causes of the top destructive blazes include sparks from driving a trailer on the rim of a flat tire (the 2018 Carr fire in Shasta County); a hunter’s small signal fires (the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County); and arson (the 2003 Old fire in San Bernardino County).

Human starts aren’t just a California problem. Researchers who analyzed two decades of U.S. records found that, from 1992 to 2012, human activity was responsible for 84% of the wildfires and 44% of the area burned nationally.

The scientists also concluded that people have dramatically expanded the fire season — extending it by far more than a warming climate — because they start fires virtually year-round.

“We’ve forgotten the importance of human ignitions in the mix of this,” said Jennifer Balch, lead author of the 2017 paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I’m not saying that climate change is not important,” added Balch, who directs the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“I’m saying we have a confluence of climate change setting the stage for warmer and drier conditions — and people are providing the ignitions for those large blazes,” she explained. “The convergence and timing is really unfortunate.”

The one hopeful aspect, she said, is that “we can actually do something about it.”

Clearly something is going on,” said Keeley, who offered two possible explanations: The state’s power distribution infrastructure is aging, and the electrical grid has expanded as development pushes farther into wildlands.

Widespread power shutdowns have not been in play long enough to ascertain if they are effective, he said.

Still, Keeley said the 2019 fire season challenges the notion that the horrific wildfire toll of recent years is the “new normal” wrought by climate change.

“People have to recognize there is a lot of serendipity. It has to be the match-up of a number of things” to create catastrophic fires, he added.

One critical match-up is timing.

It is not the number of ignitions that drives wildfire destruction. There were 8,315 fires in California in 2019 — a couple of hundred more than in the devastating 2018 season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

It is the conditions under which ignitions occur that matter the most. If it’s a red flag day with single-digit humidity and howling Santa Ana or Diablo winds, chances are greater that a few sparks can quickly explode into a freeway-hopping conflagration that sets entire communities ablaze.