I think Matthew was right about my calling particular kinds of statements “drive-bys”; as he said, that word has intimations of violence, and we don’t need that. I think “throwaway lines” might be in the same category. Or perhaps “generalized knowledge claims without invoking evidence.” These usually occur in an article or a talk as if they were something that everyone knows or believes. The thing is, writers don’t always have time to invoke evidence, so you see those GKCs thrown around a lot. The writers may think that they are true, because they read it somewhere, and it sounded plausible, and fits with a commonly accepted narrative. But often a GKC will lump apples and oranges and kumquats in such a way that the slurry is unrecognizable to people knowledgeable about specific places and practices.
Often it seems to me that a GKC will sprout from something that is true in certain places and situations, but has been generalized to the region/country/world. Who is generating the GKC, and to what end? Often GKCs seem to spread throughout certain media/academic worlds, and it’s unclear exactly where they started, so it’s hard to find the original evidence.
Here’s an example.
“Now fire seasons are all year, due to climate change. “
Many of us live in areas where fall and winter fires were never uncommon. Some of us live in monsoon country and when the grass dries out later in the year, especially if you have a wet year, there’s well, lots of dry grass (especially if not eaten by cows) and high winds.
If (1) ignitions aren’t gotten to right away (which our counties generally do) and (2) if the winds are so fierce that air resources can’t get into the air (and from what I can tell there is not a wind imprint of climate change yet), and (3) if there are people and their structures or animals around, you can get fires that are destructive.
I agree that (4) AGW (anthropogenic global warming) is part of the story.
But there seems to be a tendency, at least in some media, to blame everything (that is bad) on AGW. I’ll call that the Dominant Climate Narrative (your ideas for other names are invited).
The DCN is a problem for a number of reasons:
1. It’s not actually true;
2. AGW is much harder to get at than resilient communities and fire suppression (or other adaptive responses).
Which leads to bad psychological vibes to people who believe what is written. Note that I’m not the only person who has observed this. Our friends at Solutions Journalism are funding a Climate Beacon Newsroom effort:
The Solutions Journalism Network is leading a systems-level change in journalism so that all people – no matter how or where they get their news – have access to rigorous reporting not only about problems, but about promising and evidence-based responses to them as well. This is especially critical for the coverage of our changing climate, where apocalyptic, unsolvable, doom and gloom stories far outweigh those that examine meaningful efforts to advance environmental repair, resilience and adaptation. The news plays a pivotal role in making this information widely available.
3. It tends to promote fear (of our mutual future) and hate (of oil and gas people). Not only that, but I think each person who uses products derived from oil and gas (which is all of us) must sense a weird internal moral tension between “it’s OK for me to use these products” but “people who produce them are bad” and “unless they live in other countries, and we don’t want to look too deeply into the moral behavior of those countries.”
Scapegoating of others for bad things happening has a long and sordid human history.
4. People who don’t believe in the DCN often get labelled as “climate deniers” when we don’t deny climate change.. leading to unnecessary infighting among people of good will which distracts from… doing things to help the problem that we agree exists.
5. Since it is hard to decarbonize in physical world (as opposed to writing-about-it world) people are likely to despair if they believe this narrative. Hmm. Hate, fear and despair. The bad psychological trifecta. And not what we need to make progress.
Other writers have suggested that the DCN is ultimately partisan, or religious, or a plot by China, the WEF, or others, or simply a default to some apocalypticism neurons in the human psyche. I’m agnostic on all that.
Anyway, back to “fire seasons are now all year due to climate change.”
This certainly could be true in some places, I’m not saying it isn’t. But let’s figure out where that is and talk about it.
The Hotshot Wakeup Person with his wildland fire experience also questions this claim on this podcast.
Check out the podcast around 19:02 (actually the whole discussion of the Outside article is interesting) for his discussion of “different regions have different seasons” and “why time until containment is not a good measure of seasonality”.
Finally, this doesn’t have to do with seasonality, but he also points out that if you have more managed fires and prescribed fires that get out of control, more acres doesn’t equal “worse due to climate change”. He is also concerned that the Outside story he looks at says that firefighter mental health issues are framed in the story as due to climate change and not pay and working conditions. Which perhaps should be added to my list of problems: 6. Interventions that will really help the problem will be overlooked, leaving people suffering and 7. DCN might be used as an excuse by people who don’t want to confront their own management mistakes, or ineffective or destructive policy calls.