Media hype about forest fires and global warming

The (formerly) Scientific American magazine has a January 8 story proclaiming “Global Warming Helped Exacerbate Biggest Year Ever for U.S. Wildfires.” (See story)

That story claims: “More than 10.1 million acres of U.S. forests—private, state and federal—were scorched last year, marking 2015 as the most extensive and expensive fire season on record, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Forest Service.” [emphasis added] By the way, 5.1 million acres of that 2015 total were in Alaska.

The Scientific American claim is taken apart by two recent articles, one on Tony Heller’s Real Science blog, the other by Michael Bastasch in the Daily Caller.

Heller recovered a story from the New York Times, dated October 9, 1938, which reported that in 1937, 21,980,500 acres burned in the US. Heller also cites a 2001 paper authored by agencies of the federal government which states “Historically, fire has been a frequent and major ecological factor in North America. In the conterminous United States during the pre-industrial period (1500-1800), an average of 145 million acres burned annually.”

Bastasch’s story includes an interesting graph:

Wildfires in US

This graph shows that from about 1926 through 1940, is was common to have annual burns of 20 million to 30 million (and even 50 million) acres. And, Heller opines, the data from that period probably did not include Alaskan fires. Apparently, Scientific American no longer employs fact checkers.

Bastasch notes:

What’s most interesting is the years with the worst wildfires occurred when carbon dioxide emissions were only a quarter of what they are today. This is important because scientists claim CO2 and other greenhouse gases are heating up the planet and driving more wildfires.

Data going back nearly 90 years seems to indicate a negative correlation between CO2 and wildfires, but that changes when data is “cherry-picked” to only include data going back to the 1960s. A correlation between rising CO2 and wildfires magically appears when data only starts in the 60s.

For more background on the history of forest fires, see my ADI post:

Wildfires and Warming – It’s complicated

Scientific American is no longer very scientific. It has instead become an alarmist propaganda publication. It is stories like this that caused me to drop my subscription many years ago. “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” -Aldous Huxley