NPR interview, August 31: “Why Seattle Had The Worst Air Quality In The World At Some Points This Summer.” A professor of atmospheric sciences talks about wildfire smoke and air quality, but also forests (which, of course, he’s less qualified to comment on). Still, it is interesting that he says “only a small proportion of this is climate change.” Excerpts:
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At some points this summer, the big city with the worst air quality anywhere in the world was not Beijing or New Delhi. It was Seattle, Wash. To talk about why and what this means for the future, professor Cliff Mass joins us now. He’s a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. Welcome.
MASS: Well, the big problem is our forests. We’ve suppressed fire now for almost a century. A lot of the forests surrounding Seattle are in very bad condition. They’re overgrown. They have a lot of slash, a lot of low bushes and trees. And they’re completely unlike the forests that were here 150 years ago. And the problem is when they burn, they burn catastrophically.
SHAPIRO: And I’m sure climate change doesn’t help.
MASS: That’s right. The question is how much of this is climate change. I suspect that only a small proportion of this is climate change. I think that the main problem is the forests, which are ready to burn. We have invasive grasses that have moved in that burn very easily. And human beings are increasingly starting fires with this huge number of people going in for recreation, other uses of the forested areas.
Now, on the long term, as the planet warms up, we certainly would expect more fires. So climate change, global warming probably contributed a small amount to it, but probably the key thing is what we’ve done to the surface of the planet.
SHAPIRO: Are there things that the government or citizens could do to try to prevent this from happening more?
MASS: Well, the key thing is to fix our forests. People know what to do. I mean, if you talk to the people in the Forest Service, it’s clear. We have to thin the forests and then let fire come back regularly but at a much lower intensity.