It’s interesting to take one set of facts -there are wildfires in Canada, the smoke is going toward the East Coast, and people who aren’t used to wildfire smoke were breathing it-, and see how those facts can be framed differently. There are different fires in Canada, in extremely different parts of the country, that are being managed differently, from full suppression to big boxes or what we might call wildland fire use, ignited by different sources. This tends to get lost in some of the reporting.
(Some) Legacy Coastal Media and Some Politicians- Wildfire Smoke, the Scent of Apocalypse
If you read the NYTimes or the WaPo, it’s the harbinger of apocalyptic climate change. Perhaps because the WaPo hired a bunch of climate reporters, it’s not surprising that any story could be seen through the climate lens.
I’m not saying that climate and weather don’t affect wildfires. I’m just saying that it’s difficult to tease apart the contributions of various climate change elements (different greenhouse gases, land use changes) from natural variability and a host of other factors (ignitions, fire policy) and the history of vegetation that has developed through time. I’m OK with saying “it’s complex, and we don’t really know, but from what we know, the sum of human impacts on climate have affected the situation.” It’s complicated. But to some politicians, it’s simple- and the answer- to quit fossil fuels:
So that’s one framing.
The Hotshot Wakeup- It’s Complicated And You Need Suppression Folks- So Treat Them Decently and Support the Tim Hart Act
Let’s take a great the Hotshot Wakeup podcast from last week, titled “How Did the Canadian Wildfires Start? A Rational Response in a Sea of Conspiracy. What’s Really Happening?”
Tim does a terrific job of talking to people on the ground in Canada, and also trying to explain to people who aren’t familiar with the wildland fire world how things work. You can tell why he thinks the way he does because he gives his rationale. He also discusses some of the “out there” ideas that are floating around and, perhaps most importantly, doesn’t seem to have a specific axe to grind about causality (or would that be a pulaski?). He’s another one who looks at the situation and says “it’s complicated.”
He seems to come to the eminently practical suggestion that no matter what the different causes (ignitions, climate, past fire suppression), we are going to need wildland firefighters and they are not being paid or treated well and may walk off the job if Congress doesn’t get its act together. He suggests we all call our representatives and support the Tim Hart Act. NFFE has a link you can use to make it easy. I’d like to understand who is against it and why. Which goes back to the need for some Smokey Wire legislative contributors.
Anyway, I contacted my Congressperson’s office as a Smokey Wire reporter and asked whether they were supporting the Tim Hart Act, and if not, why not. They said their legislative team was reviewing it and did email me afterwards to say (sadly I’m not kidding) “I talked to our legislative team about the bill, and they said our office is not supportive as it’s a massive increase in expenditures for something that could be carried out at a state level.” I wrote back and said how can the state fund Federal firefighters?” and I haven’t heard back yet. I believe in fiscal responsibility, but the very same Congress just approved the IRA and BIL which the Admin seems to be sometimes using as a slush fund for their pet priorities (e.g., mapping intactness of BLM). After this depressing experience, I feel that filling out the NFFE form or calling would be helpful. It doesn’t matter is anthropogenic climate change is responsible for 5% or 40%, we need firefighters and they deserve to be treated decently.
Cliff Maas the Meteorologist- Smoke- Bad Luck Plus Some Climate Change?
in the Wall Street Journal. I like how he mentions plants and seasonal drying. I don’t know how true this is of the areas involved.. would like to hear more local Canadian observations on the plants. The below is long, but in case you don’t get the Wall Street Journal..
The recent wildfires occurred in the boreal forests of northern Quebec. Fire isn’t rare in that region. The ecology of these forests relies on fire for the release of seeds and forest health. Many of the major boreal fires occur during a narrow temporal window from mid-April through early June, just after the winter snow has melted and before grasses and other small plants grow, reducing flammability. During this short window, the dead vegetation from the previous year can dry out sufficiently to burn if there is an ignition source such as lightning or errant human activity.
Many of the great Quebec fires have occurred during the spring, such as the May 2010 fire that spread massive amounts of smoke into New England and the May 1870 Saguenay fire, which spread smoke as far as the British Isles. Large boreal forest fires during the spring in Canada are neither unusual nor a sign of climate change.
The fires this month began on June 2, as hundreds of lightning strikes ignited vegetation dried by nearly a week of unusually warm weather. The weather prior to the warm spell wasn’t unusually dry, with the Canadian drought monitor showing normal moisture conditions and temperatures near or below normal.
Starting on May 27, an area of high pressure built over south-central Canada, warming and drying the area for several days into early June. With the light surface fuels, such as grasses ready to burn, all that was needed to start a fire was an ignition source, which occurred in early June with a lightning storm associated with low pressure.
The lightning ignited numerous fires and the low-pressure center’s circulation produced high winds that stoked the fires, resulting in rapid uncontrolled growth. Even worse, as the low center pushed south and intensified east of New York, it produced persistent strong winds from the northwest, moving the Quebec smoke into the New York metropolitan area.
It was the perfect storm for smoke in New York, with several independent elements occurring in exactly the right sequence. It’s difficult to find any plausible evidence for a significant climate-change connection to the recent New York smoke event. The preceding weather conditions over Quebec for the months prior to the wildfire event were near normal. There is no evidence that the strong high pressure over southern Canada that produced the warming was associated with climate change, as some media headlines claim. In fact, there is a deep literature in the peer-reviewed research that demonstrates no amplification of high- and low-pressure areas with a warming planet.
The long-term trend in Quebec has been for both precipitation and temperature to increase. Temperatures have warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the past half-century. Even assuming that this warming is entirely human-induced, it represents only a small proportion of the excessive heat during the event, in which Quebec temperatures climbed to 20 to 25 degrees above normal. The number of wildfires in Quebec is decreasing; there is no upward trend in area burned, which would be expected if global warming was dominant.
The Hotshot Wakeup also has a new post on arson in the Canada wildfires titled “Alberta Premier Says She’s Bringing in Arson Investigators From Outside the Province.-175 fires in Alberta still have unknown causes. Very Interesting Indeed.”
But if we read what Google searches come up with on the Alberta arson question (or at least mine does), we get interesting anti-arsonist-explanation sentiment..
“There’s a certain logic to trying to distract from the terror of wildfires and the changing climate that helps set the conditions for them. For many individuals, perhaps the truth is so unimaginable, unsettling and unavoidable, they refuse to accept the complex origins of the new reality. ”
And pretty much call the interest in arson “disinformation”.
The facts will come out as to how many, if any, were started by arson, so we’ll see. It’s interesting to note the fact to spin ratio… But why is it so hard for many to say “it’s complicated” instead of “it’s climate”? Is that in itself “disinformation”?