by Judith Curry
Subtitle: our failure to live in harmony with nature.
I’m taking a breather today from nonstop hurricane stuff. Well, ‘breather’ may not be quite the right word.
As I’m writing this, I’m looking out into the smoke from the California fires that are blowing into Reno (not to mention much of the rest of the U.S.). Schools in Reno are supposed to be open (they have a good COVID protocol), but have been closed more than half the time for the past month owing to bad air quality from the fires.
The mantra from global warming activists that manmade global warming is causing the fires, and therefore fossil fuels must be eliminated, is rather tiresome, not to mention misses the most important factors. More importantly, even if global warming is having some fractional impact on the wildfires, reducing fossil fuels would fractionally impact the fires but only a time scale of many decades hence.
Here are some of the more intelligent articles that I’ve seen on the California fires.
From the LATimes: 150 million dead trees could fuel unprecedented firestorms in the Sierra Nevada. Excerpts:
The Creek fire is burning in the Sierra National Forest, an epicenter of the bark beetle attacks that killed nearly 150 million drought-stressed trees during the last decade.
“All of us on the paper were suggesting that if you are going to try to reduce that mass fire problem in the future, you really need to start putting prescribed fire into these stands to start whittling away at those bigger fuels,”
While thinning — cutting down the dead timber and hauling it away — can play a role, especially around mountain communities, North said a majority of the beetle-killed stands are in wilderness or in areas that are too remote and too steep to be logged.
Moreover, the dead trees have lost most of their commercial value and are of little interest to the remaining sawmills in California.
Fire ecologists have long pointed to the mid-elevation pine and mixed-conifer belt of the Sierra Nevada as a place desperately in need of the frequent, low-intensity burns that shaped the forest before settlers and a century of government fire suppression policies snuffed them out.
The elimination of indigenous fire practices, logging of the biggest and most fire-resistant trees and fire suppression produced an overgrown forest vulnerable to bark beetle attacks during the severe California drought of 2012-16.
Some areas have 500 to 800 trees per acre, compared with 60 to 100 pre-settlement. The beetle toll was the greatest in the densest stands. There dead fuel will keep piling up for years to come.
Prescribed fire programs aren’t getting the staffing and money they need from the regional and national Forest Service offices.
“We have a culture, and our society, that make it difficult” to return fire to its proper place in the Sierra, he said. “I can’t tell you how many times we had burns and had to shut down a campground and people were upset because we were ruining their vacation,” he recalled. “We had to explain we are trying to make this a place to come back to in the future.”
From the Mercury News – California fires: State, feds agree to thin millions of acres of forests. Excerpts:
The two dozen major fires burning across Northern California were sparked by more than 12,000 lightning strikes, a freak weather occurrence that turned what had been a relatively mild fire season into a devastating catastrophe.
Yet what’s driving these enormous fires is not sparks, but millions of acres of fuel: bone-dry trees and brush that haven’t burned in many years.
Under the plan, California agencies and the U.S. Forest Service will use brush clearing, logging and prescribed fires to thin out 1 million acres a year by 2025 — an area larger than Yosemite National Park every 12 months, and roughly double the current rate of thinning, which already is double rates from a few years ago.
But the plan is not without complications.
Environmental regulations will need to be streamlined, particularly permits for landowners with small parcels to thin trees and brush on their properties.
Some residents complain about controlled burns because they put smoke in the air and spike hospital visits from people with asthma.
Also, more uses will need to be found for millions of tons of dead brush and small trees that will be removed from forests, much of which has little lumber value. Some can be used to make chipboard and other forest products. There are hopes some can be made into biofuels. The material also can be burned at biomass plants to make electricity, but those are polluting and controversial in many communities. Otherwise, crews pile up dead brush in the forest during spring and winter months and burn it when wildfire risk is low.
And it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
Environmental groups say they generally support the more aggressive thinning plan. But they have concerns.
Article by Michael Schellenberger, California ha always had fires, ENvironmental Alarmism Makes Them Worse than Necessary. Worth reading.
An excellent article from OregonLive entitled Oregon’s historic wildfires: unusual but not unprecedented. Excerpts:
The “east wind event” that conspired with existing drought conditions to blow up two low-level fires and other human-caused ignitions last Monday is rare but hardly unique, academics and fire experts say. The winds were the main culprit in making the catastrophic infernos as fast moving as they were. The windstorm and resulting fire danger were forecast days in advance, but with little appreciable effect.
The prospect of widespread forest treatments in the complex ecosystems of the west side – establishing fire breaks and using thinning and prescribed burns to reduce the fuels that choke forest floors – is environmentally unthinkable to some, and impractical to others.
That leaves Oregon facing the paradox of relying on full fire suppression. But leaping on every fire and putting it out immediately is the practice that helped create the problem in the first place.
Alternatively, Oregon can turn to other, easier measures. It could adopt policies requiring more frequent pre-emptive blackouts by utilities so that downed power lines do not spark fires. Or the state could force updated building codes, regulations on defensible space near structures, and incorporate wildfire risk in land-use planning and zoning.
But those policies won’t stop big fires and are contentious, too. Bills to expand forest treatments across the state, as well as legislation to modernize and bolster the Oregon Department of Forestry’s ability to put down wildfires quickly, went nowhere.
The idea of human-set fire is also apt. Most of the fires burning in Western Oregon today were not caused by lightning, which doesn’t occur during the atmospheric conditions in place Monday. Officials have yet to identify the cause for most of the blazes, saying they are under investigation. But with population increases, particularly in what fire experts call the wildland-urban interface, 70 percent of fires in Oregon today are human caused, and earlier this summer, the percentage was 90 percent, according the Oregon Department of Forestry.
It is feasible that Oregonians can agree on some of the wildfire mitigation and adaptation strategies that the council recommended. Among many others, they include updating building codes, increasing enforceable requirements on defensible space, incorporating wildfire risk in land-use planning and zoning.But those recommendations aren’t universally popular either. Should the requirements apply to new construction vs. retrofits of existing homes? How to assure low-income communities benefit? Do you adopt penalties for neighbors who don’t comply with defensible space?”
This image is from the Oregon Department of forestry. Click on the diagram to blow it up, you can see the influence of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).
This is a superb article in the NYTimes, entitled Australia’s Witnesses to Fire’s Fury and Desperate to Avoid a Sequel. Liberal excerpts (since behind paywall):
“Ms. Taylor Mills is one of many who have turned for the first time to local Aboriginal fire experts for help with controlled burns that aim to make the land that didn’t get scorched last year less of a threat. Others, in areas that did burn, have been busy raking up branches and dead trees for preventive burns of their own.
Land clearing has become more common than barbecues. Calls to 000, the equivalent of 911, have been flooding in as people report both preventive burns by their neighbors and those who fail to clean their property of brush and leaves.
The government is actually giving landowners more responsibility. State fire officials recently adopted a series of recommendationsf rom an independent fire inquiry, including a measure requiring that people ensure their properties are safe by clearing land and conducting hazard-reduction burns.
Further changes, to allow for more preventive burning by firefighters and Aboriginal experts, could arrive at the national level later this year.
Interest is already surging. The Walbanja elders who worked with Ms. Taylor Mills — Andrew White, Owen Carriage and Les Simon — said they had received more than 60 requests for help with burns that rely on Aboriginal knowledge to minimize the impact on animals and native plants.
“When you’ve been living with the environment for thousands of years, you know how to read it,” said Mr. Carriage, 67, as he surveyed the burned grass on Ms. Taylor Mills’s property. “You’re a part of it. And fire is a part of it.” “
On the same theme, an article in The Conversation entitled The biggest estate on Earth: how the Aborigines made Australia. Excerpts:
“Aboriginal people worked hard to make plants and animals abundant, convenient and predictable.
By distributing plants and associating them in mosaics, then using these to lure and locate animals, Aborigines made Australia as it was in 1788, when Europeans arrived.
“No fire” because a conscious decision not to burn also regulates plants and animals. They judged equally what to burn and what not, when, how often, and how hot. They cleared undergrowth, and they put grass on good soil, clearings in dense and open forest, and tree or scrub clumps in grassland.
Put simply, farming peoples see differently. Like our draught horses, we wear the blinkers agriculture imposes. Australia is not like the northern Europe from which most early settlers came. Burn Australia’s perennials and they come back green; burn Europe’s annuals and they die.
Again, you can predictably lure and locate Australia’s animals because there were almost no predators, whereas Europe’s many predators scattered prey, so the notion of using fire to locate resources was foreign there.
But above all we don’t see because farmers don’t think like hunter-gatherers. For us “wilderness” lies just beyond our boundaries; for them wilderness does not exist. Until Europeans came, Australia had no wilderness, and no terra nullius.”
Living in harmony with nature
We need to do a better job at living in harmony with nature. One of the most thought provoking thinkers and journalists on this topic is Dutch filmmaker Marijn Poels. Marijn has a new documentary forthcoming entitled Return to Eden. I’ve watched it, it is really good. STUNNING cinematography. This is mostly about agriculture and how different cultures relate to the land (and how top-down policies mess things up). The interviews were fascinating, my favorite was growing food in the Sinai Desert.
Online release is Sept 17
While you’re at it, also watch his previous two climate-related films:
- The Uncertainty has Settled
If there was ever a case for post-normal science, this is it. I know, a lot of you get upset because you erroneously confuse ‘post-normal’ with ‘post-modern’ or ‘post-truth.’
Well, ‘normal’ science (such as it is) tells us manmade global warming is causing the fires, with the inference that the solution is to stop burning fossil fuels.
The extended peer communities associated with post-normal science welcomes input from stakeholders and non-traditional experts such as the Aborigines. American Indians should be a good source of wisdom on fires also.
The saga of Oregon politics surrounding fire reinforces that a broad range of stakeholders need to be involved in policy development and decision making.
There is also much to be learned from the farmers and innovators interviewed in Return to Eden.
CFAN’s fire forecasts