A story out of Australia would have you believe that the latest threat from global warming is fires so intense their smoke darkens the sky and causes cooling. Uh, problem solved, right guys? A negative feedback mechanism keeps things in balance. Phew. But no. We’re talking “nuclear winter” here, and nuclear is bad. Also “Fire thunderstorms… not only create their own weather system but may also be powerful enough to actually change the climate, according to scientists from Australia and the United States.” And everybody knows changing the climate is bad, especially when scientists say.
The article itself may contain much that is true and interesting. It is possible that fires, which on a large scale do release a lot of energy because nature is very big and humans are very small, also in the process emit as much smoke as a volcanic eruption. And as the story notes, large eruptions tend to cool the planet at least for a year or two as, famously, after Mount Tambora in Indonesia let loose in 1815 and 1816 was “the year without summer”. But the overall thrust is as absurd as it is tendentious.
The piece quotes one expert on the “nuclear winter” issue that “Of course, we don’t have anything on the scale of an atomic exchange when it comes to these forest fire events. But, with these events [the Australian fires of 2019-20], you have a scalable phenomenon. So, if you scale it up 10, 50 or 100 times, you could see if you would get a nuclear-winter-sized plume and [consequent] effects.” Right. So if 100 Australias burned at once, which honestly seems rather unlikely, you could get major cooling. And if warming causes fires, the cooling would put them out. Problem solved?
No. Say it ain’t so. It must be bad and getting worse. Thus another expert “said climate change could drive an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme fire events that, in turn, could change the climate.” And changing climate is bad. Though if you want to be all nit-picky, the prospect here is of changing it back. Or who knows? Because that same expert added “If you’re a climate-change modeller, you’ll answer back, ‘How many of these events are we going to have in the fourth decade of the century?’, to which the answer is: ‘It all depends on the feedback loop that your model gives us’. So you’re caught in a loop.”
Pfui. In the first place, you’re caught in a computer model whose output depends not on careful inputs of real data and accurate replications of physical processes but whatever the modeler makes up to get a scary result (and possibly a grant). And in the second, “caught” sounds bad but, as we’ve observed before, a big problem with alarmism, inside the models and outside them, is precisely the assumption that all the important feedback mechanisms are runaway positive ones not self-damping closed loops.
We would also mention that new data has shown that forest fires, which were not becoming more common in the 20th century anyway, have actually been getting less frequent for centuries. But if we did, some alarmist would say “Aaaaaah, warming is supressing the cooling fires, we’re all going to dieeeeeeee!”