Are “Fire Seasons All Year” Really A New Thing? And Some Thoughts on the Dominant Climate Narrative

Good morning everyone! I had a great trip to the East Coast.  More later on that.

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.















11 thoughts on “Are “Fire Seasons All Year” Really A New Thing? And Some Thoughts on the Dominant Climate Narrative”

  1. Sharon says: Dominant Climate Narrative tendency is to blame everything (that is bad) on Anthropogenic Global Warming. This is a problem for a number of reasons:
    1. It’s not actually true;

    Well now, Sharon, wait a minute… of course you can’t blame EVERYTHING on AGW. But we can blame MANY things on AGW; this IS true. Your points 1-6 sort of flow from the “not actually true” notion.
    I also suffer from angst about what can I possibly do to move the needle. The BIG problem, as I see it, is that AGW is a massive issue, and if world powers (US, China, India, Brazil, etc) that have the massive powers and means (like US Congress, and Exec Govt, and Big Oil) to do meaningful things but DONT, us little people continue to suffer. Most people would be more inclined to climb on board if they felt a hefty tailwind.

    • I agree that it is a massive issue. But people ARE in fact doing meaningful things, like passing the IRA. Like California keeping Diablo Canyon open. Like a massive RE build-out where I live.

      Unlike many, but like many others, I think AGW is a problem. I also believe
      We don’t know which technologies will pan out, so let’s support all the horses in the race.
      We need to adapt as well as mitigate.
      The idea of “everyone needs to use less and behave the way I think we should to reduce carbon” is not necessary to decarbonization (see the Hartwell paper).
      Where I am (at the “following the technology” level) people don’t necessarily want to “climb on board” because there is never a clear path as to where we are going, who is going to benefit and all that. It’s hard to get on board when you don’t know exactly where the train is going.

  2. Interesting piece, Sharon! If something gets repeated enough, it becomes akin to conventional wisdom. Anyone who questions the conventional wisdom is then seen as an outlier, a denier or a nut. When often times, things are more complicated. People don’t usually want to dive into the details. I personally believe in climate change and that there is reason to think it is caused by humans, at least in part. Several years ago, I was in Jasper NP in Alberta and saw how much the glaciers have shrunk there, in a relatively short period of time and to me, it makes sense that something is going on. However, I also believe that there is a ton of knee-jerk commentary and blaming of events on AGW. That is not serious analysis.

    You mentioned wind and that there is not a climate change impact yet. Actually, I listened to a recent story that talked about how this spring was windier in many parts of the country. On average 5 mph more in some places. Naturally, this was blamed on climate change. Maybe climate change did cause it, I don’t know, but I wonder how it would cause a sudden, seasonal 5-mph increase?

    It’s good that there are people out there questioning the conventional wisdom. It became conventional for a reason, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean that there is not more to the story.

    • Thanks Dave. My take on your point on conventional wisdom, for now. There’s conventional, but I think the wisdom part is going to take a while since we’re in uncharted territory.

  3. Great commentary, Sharon.
    Even if fires out of season were in fact a result of climate change (maybe they are, maybe not), the DCN continues to ignore solutions other than decarbonizing which, absent a new look at nuclear AND the dubious scalability of renewables AND helping underdeveloped countries get off dirtier fuels, is not the lowest hanging fruit. It’s frustrating how universally adaptation is taking a back seat to emissions reduction. Like the world is waiting for a state like mine to shrink its carbon footprint while so much other work (soil building, stream restoration) languishes.

  4. While I believe in obvious science and observation (I’ve also seen the Columbia Icefields, Dave… no denying that reality), it sometimes feels like some people want to ‘manage’ the climate into something that supports their environmental utopia. Those people seem willing to sacrifice today’s landscapes in favor of only climate actions, which might take centuries to have any effect (if at all).

  5. Sharon, I completely agree with what I interpret as an overall theme with your post: black and white generalizations about the climate and fire are rampant and not necessarily constructive. I was told by PR people in both the RO (R2) and the WO that people don’t understand gray and we must use black and white messaging. I cried BS on this and the response I received on my local column (which I didn’t share with the RO because I knew they would micromanage me) showed how much people can understand and appreciate talking about the gray. It also built trust locally.

    All that said, I feel many black and white generalizations are thrown around by several people on this forum. Environmentalists bad, industry good, seems to be a common theme. Also, there are those that take the opposite view. I’m guilty of generalizing oil and gas industry bad. Why? Because the industry as a whole (there are many examples of companies and individuals doing good things) has spent 40 years putting out disinformation about climate change to create doubt that humans have anything to do with it. Now, the industry as a whole is putting out information about all they are doing to reduce GHGs (referred to as greenwashing) while lobbying Congress to allow them to carry on as usual. This does not build trust in the industry. Finally, for those who feel that human actions are only part of the reason for increasing average global temperatures, I believe basic earth science would indicate the earth should currently be in a cycle of cooling. Here is one of several articles about it

    • “people don’t understand gray”

      That’s why I think I am in a different place than Sharon. If there is one thing that has come out of the last few years of politics it’s that “reasonable people,” who might have an interest in what color it really is, are now a small minority. They have demonstrated the success of marketing to fear, and I’m for putting that to work if that’s what it takes to save the planet. Why are you so inspired by a few (likely “elites”) who like “talking about the gray.”

  6. Sure, climate emergencies happened before AGW, but the probability of them happening now and the extremity of the events is well-connected to AGW. Fact, the planet is warming. Fact, warmer air holds more water. When air holds more water, there is increased probability for more rain to fall when rain happens and for droughts to be more extreme. Many of the climate emergencies happening now are exacerbated by climate change and our infrastructure is not designed to withstand what we are now experiencing. The 100 year event is now a 30 year event. The 500 year event is now a 100 year event.

    I think the idea that fire season is all year can be seen as less hyperbole if one looks at it from a different perspective. Fire managers are being called away for much more of the year than they used to. They can be sent to boreal fires in Canada in the spring, fires in the southwest in late spring, throughout the west in the summer and fall, and even southern CA in the winter. The frequency of these deployments was much less before climate change and we have not sufficiently adapted our prevention and suppression responses to deal with the potential that fire managers could be called up year-round.

    BTW, we should all feel guilty about how much plastic we use. It’s tragic.

    Finally, for those that don’t already follow Daniel Swain on twitter, here’s a link. He’s one of the most thoughtful climate scientist out there and a great communicator.

    • Fire season is all year in some areas, such as southern Calif. Fire seasons are longer, but not all year, in most areas. Here in the PNW, the Nakia Creek Fire in SW WA is a bit unusual. Started Oct. 9 and so far has burned ~1,800 acres. We’ve had a dry October, so far, but that will end with significant rain this weekend and next week that will end fire season in the region.

  7. My issue with the dominant climate narrative is there is no discussion of the role of “natural” climate change versus man-caused climate change.

    Here is a book every forester needs to read and pass on to elected officials.

    It is written by a person that believes in man-caused climate change, but the book is about “natural” climate change over the past 10,000 years in California. It does get somewhat into the weeds with documentation from various scientific studies. It is worth having the book just for the references.

    It is a very scary book. The last 100 years in California were NOT normal. It was a period of time of unnatural and benign weather. IF we are headed BACK to “normal” weather for California and the western states, it will be a very difficult time for our society as the weather returns to normal.

    The book is worth reading in the light of our current climate change policies.

    I can just picture future generations looking at abandoned Industrial Wind Areas with the comment…..”What were they thinking??”.


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