California is burning – and politicians are weaponising it

“Climate dries the [wood] fuels out & extends the fire season but its not the cause of the intensity of the fires. The cause of that is fire suppression and the existing debt of wood fuel.” 
— Malcolm North, US Forest Service

A red sky glowers over California as fires rage out of control. Recent pictures show The Golden Gate Bridge dwarfed by a red angry sky, and homes in the hills obscured by banks of thick smoke. There is a sense of righteous validation in the castigations of global warming activists, who point to the red sky as proof of their eschatological climate prophecies.

Callifornia’s Governor, Gavin Newsome, took the opportunity when presented by a scorched brush background and flecks of floating ash, to lecture voters through the TV cameras about the dangers of climate change. It’s not the future: “we’re in the midst of a climate crisis”, he said.

Nancy Pelosi pronounced that Mother Earth was angry and was letting us know through fire and hurricane. Mother Earth, who Pelosi has a direct connection to, is angry at the wrongness of mankind, especially – it must be obvious – those Trump voters

But here’s the truth, California has always burned. Mother Earth hasn’t taken a sudden turn against sinning mankind. That sort of deluded talk only gets in the way of coming up with actual solutions to a the real challenge that Californians face.

Of course, it’s not just Californians who suffer from the duplicitous climate change blame gaming of their politicians, we have seen Australians suffer from the exact same issues as their representaives set the conditions for brush fires, and then used the resulting fires as an opportunity to push an environmentalist agenda.

The Californian policy of fire suppression is ignorant of science and history. The present problem is not a question of global warming; it’s a question of forest management. The simple fact is, that due to a century long policy of fire-suppression there is now five times as much dry fuel laying around in the forests of California as there naturally would be. But climate alarmists, it seems, can’t see the wood for the trees.

Before people ever arrived in North America, the West Coast forests burned, and after the first pre-European settlers arrived, they used controlled fires to cultivate the land. Why is the current politically charged discussion of California’s fires ignoring this fact and focussing on the wrong solutions?

California will continue to face the threat of fire, but it is a threat that can be managed successfully. However, because of terrible environmental policies the threat of conflagration is only increased. For example, in the 2014-16 Californian drought 65 million trees died and were left in place to mulch. These are now bone dry tinder which burst into flame like napalm when the fire front approaches.

Historically California has been prone to far higher burn rates than those of the modern era. One report  suggests that in prehistoric times the yearly burn rate was nearly 20 times higher than current yearly burns.

The forest ecosytem of California (and most of the west coast of America) has adapted to fire conditions because of its unique climatic conditions, which conspire to cause brush fires.

It may be a surprise to learn that some forest ecosystems need fires to regenerate. Or that the expectation of fire is built into the forest life cycle. Some plants will only germinate after there has been a fire.

Low density fires return nutrients to the soil and clear the forest floor allowing renewal. So the conception that all forests are pristine green environments that grow old and regenerate, and that fire is a calamitous interruption, is ignorant of both history and science.

Katabatic winds (extremely dry, gale-force winds that sweep downslope from the Rockies and gather speed and temperature as they descend in altitude) such as the Santa Ana in Southern California, can cause almost instantaneous temperature rises of 20 or 30 degrees in less than an hour. Chinook winds cause similar extreme drying conditions on the leeward side in the North-Western States and have been known to change the temperature by as much as 40 C in a few hours.

North pacific storm remnants mixed with the jet stream, sometimes result in dry lightning storms, which of course spark off multitudes of brush fires. There was one of these events in mid August on America’s west coast.

Modulation of wet and dry years, as we saw in Australia in recent years, cause profuse growth spurts which the ensuing drought dries out, leaving plenty of dry tinder as fuel for brush fires.

And then there is the fact that, with a growing population, the modern infrastructure of California is extending housing further and further into the forest areas. Part of this infrastructure is the electricity grid, but unfortunately because of an investment focus on renewable and the neglect of power line upkeep, the ageing power grid is becoming a worsening fire hazard. In fact the deadliest fire in Californian history, the 2018 Camp fire that burned the town of Paradise, destroying 10,000 homes and killing 85 people, was caused by power grid equipment that was installed in 1921.

Fuel on the ground is a problem when its tinder dry; poor forest management means this becomes an ever present fire risk; and weather conditions make the perfect storm.

Gov Newsome was way off when he used that term “perfect storm” in his opportunistic camera rant. He capitalised on the crisis nicely in a  narrative manipulation which is being funneled into the Biden campaign for all its worth. The one thing we humans have control over is forest management, so why is the policy discussion on forest management so blinded by unscientific politicising?

 


 

Lorcán Mac Mathúna

 

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