President Biden peered through the smoke and commented on the wildfires in Canada saying: “We’ve deployed more than 600 U.S. firefighters, support personnel, and equipment to support Canada as they respond to record wildfires – events that are intensifying because of the climate crisis.” Climate scientist Justin Trudeau tweeted “We’re seeing more and more of these fires because of climate change.” Even the Wall Street Journal got into the game, with: “Wildfires such as those ravaging Canada are becoming bigger and more frequent as forests around the world increasingly dry out amid the warming climate.” But as we’ve pointed out before, the number of wildfires in Canada has been trending down for decades (especially in Eastern Canada) and at the global level the total area burned due to wildfire has also been declining for nearly 20 years. And where wildfires are getting more intense, such as the western US, scientists predicted it back in the 1990s, a result not of climate change but new forest management rules demanded by environmentalists.
In a CDN post nearly 3 years ago we quoted from a 1994 interview in Evergreen Magazine with forester Bob Zybach warning of the increased risk of catastrophic wildfires in the west due to then-President Bill Clinton’s plans to scale back forest thinning, controlled burns and other fire suppression methods in order to (the theory went) protect owl habitat. Zybach pointed out the inevitable downside:
“EVERGREEN: What do you think will happen in the region’s forests if the President’s plan is implemented as proposed?
ZYBACH: I share the concerns of Dr. Oliver and other forest scientists who fear catastrophic wildfire. There is a tremendous amount of dead and dying material in our forests today, a partial result of the long ago made decision to put out wildfires. If these forests are not thinned, you will see wildfires reminiscent of the Tillamook burn, the 1910 fires and the Yellowstone fire.”
Fast forward 30 years and the fires in some places are indeed getting more intense, but instead of blaming governments for creating problems that were entirely foreseeable, the usual suspects now shift the blame to you-know-where. NBC sent out an email teaser on June 9 with the subject line “NYC's day of smoke shows there are only so many ways to prepare for climate catastrophe”. Woot. The New York Times’ “Climate Forward” chipped in that a new study:
“found a 27-fold increase in the number of Americans exposed to an extreme smoke day between 2006 and 2020. That was principally in the Western United States, where hot, dry conditions, supercharged by climate change, have fueled catastrophic wildfires in the last few years.”
Supercharged by climate change you see. Alternatively, Environmental Studies professor Cornelis van Kooten at the University of Victoria told the Epoch Times:
“In the past, we used controlled burns, but environmentalists are against those, so we don’t do that anymore. So as a result of the increased fuel loads, you get these more intense, bigger fires,” he said.
In Ottawa a Liberal cabinet minister took a partisan cheap shot with “We can literally taste the smoke from the wildfires in the House of Commons. When will the Conservatives take their heads out of the sand and work with us to fight climate change, protect our environment and support the health of Canadians?” To which we’d have been tempted to respond, as soon as you’re ready to roll back the restrictions on fire management practices demanded by your environmentalist friends.
As for the temperatures causing the fires and turning trees into kindling, Ottawa actually had its second-coldest May 17 on record this year and then the second-warmest May 31, but the newspapers predictably only trumpeted one of those events. As for the smoke, well, according to the tireless “Ottawa Weather Records” Twitter account (which does not share our views but which furnishes a lot of interesting data):
“8am today was #Ottawa’s 18th smoky hour this year which puts 2023 in 17th place for the most in any year since records began. Just 1 more hour to get to 15th place.”
Closing in on 15th place isn’t the same thing as breaking a world record, now is it? Especially as the top five are all in that famously not blazing hot decade, the 1950s. Indeed, the top 10 are all between 1953 and 1967, which sounds a bit strange until you learn that “Records began in 1953”. The lowest totals come from… um… 2014-22. As global warming set the place ablaze or so we were just told and will be again.
Such details didn’t deter NBC from saying “Canada is experiencing one of the worst starts to its wildfire season ever recorded. More than 6.7 million acres in the country have already burned in 2023, federal officials said last week.” And after repeating the 2.5 micrometre particulate canard beloved of the American EPA, it paraphrased a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado:
“[Brett] Palm said the situation unfolding in the Midwest highlights the longer-term risks of wildfires, particularly as climate change creates warmer and drier conditions that make these blazes more likely to occur – and more severe when they do.”
Oh. So how’s the American wildfire situation? Um perfectly normal. Below, actually. A wet spring and few fires. NBC tries to start a blaze anyway, saying:
“Wildfire season in most parts of the western United States could be delayed this summer with heavy snow still covering many mountain ranges, national fire forecasters say. Still, the risk of damaging wildfires continues to trend upward as the climate warms, one factor making it more difficult to predict how the season will shake out.”
But just as “global” warming that skips France to hit Spain fails to convince, so does a worldwide change in conditions that causes Canada to ignite while across our long land border the U.S. is soggy and can’t get lit. Indeed, NBC eventually concedes that while the spring season there is off to a slow start, the real action normally comes later. And so:
“Fire seasons are growing longer. Hotter temperatures zap fuels of their moisture faster. And more people are living near the wilderness – and potentially, in harm’s way.”
Again reporting what is going to happen in case it doesn’t and you don’t get to gloat. Though regrettably, at least from their point of view, the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise Idaho:
“is predicting above-normal fire activity in parts of the Pacific Northwest, including eastern Oregon and central Washington, in July and August. Elsewhere in the West, forecasters are predicting normal or below-normal fire activity for those months.”
In short, nothing to see except the usual. Namely a lot of fires under variable conditions, as has been the case since the year dot, and a haze of rhetoric.
P.S. Just as everyone was assuring us the choking pall of smoke would not clear any time soon, Ottawa on Thursday June 8 had an air quality of 1, the best possible. And a day after the headline “Toronto’s air is smoky and expected to get much worse” that city was at 4, on the border between low and moderate risk.