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A startling number of wildfires

10 Jan 2024 | Science Notes

On his Substack channel Roger Pielke Jr has presented a quick and useful summary of 2023 climate extremes. As he points out, the news is pretty boring, unlike the rhetoric. “We are all well aware of the narrative that the weather is quickly getting worse,” he says. “Unfortunately, data does not agree.” He adds in a footnote “The media’s reluctance to accurately report actual data remains amazing to me.” We will restrain our urge to point out that “data” is plural, and “to accurately report” is a split infinitive, or to ask mainstream journalists what they think their job is and why their circulation is plummeting, and turn instead to the numbers he dug up. Of which one data series in particular jumps out. In a year in which journalists and activists (but we repeat ourselves) repeatedly pounced on the unusually high number of Canadian wildfires as proof of a global climate crisis, no one seems to have noticed that the word “global” evidently does not include the USA, which had relatively few wildfires and the smallest number of acres burned since 1998. If warming causes wildfires, and 2023 was the warmest year in “recorded history” how can it be?

Here is the chart which Pielke Jr. assembled using data from the National Interagency Fire Center:

The trend line is upward over the past 40 years. If the chart went further back in time it would be downward-sloping, and dramatically if it went back centuries. And the rise since the early 1990s is at least partly due to changes in forest management practices instituted during the Clinton presidency that encouraged the buildup and subsequent ignition of what those in the business call “fuel load”. But even setting those points aside, 2023 turns out to be the lowest year this century for American wildfires in terms of area burned, and the lowest since 1998. Which means, logically, it’s hard to blame Canada’s bad year on global CO2 levels unless the US is on some other planet.

Assuming logic has anything to do with the study of or reporting on climate change.

7 comments on “A startling number of wildfires”

  1. Morbidity data
    From Google: In the past three decades, the global death toll due to wildfires surpassed 2,900.Nov 6, 2023 (or rounded to 97/yr.)

    In 2022, 1,504,500 fires resulted in 3,790 civilian deaths and 13,250 injuries. In addition, there were 96 on-duty firefighter deaths a 3886 total
    This total was the UNITED STATES ONLY, REPEAT, ONLY not including Wildfires.
    Two websites estimate global fire deaths at annually ~110k including the last 3 decades which equals a total of 3,300,000. The 2900 total represents 0.87%

  2. "Data" is only plural for pretentious sesquipedalians. We speak English, not Latin, and English words are pluralized according to the rules of English; not the rules of the language from which the word was derived. Which is fortunate, because you don't wanna know the rules for pluralizing Latin words.
    Otherwise, love the post and the blog.

  3. The singular for one piece of data or a fact is datum. Stop butchering the beautiful English language, instead learn and embrace it.
    Raj, you should consider the plural of erratum, errata. You need to!

  4. If 2023 was the warmest year ever,why did the US have a quiet fire season?Also,if we do some cherry picking of our own,fires in the US are trending
    down since 2006.And why not,since the Biden Administration only wants you to see data starting in 1983?And show an upward trend over 40 years.

  5. Stop with the misplaced pedantry already. There is no English "rule" against splitting infinitives. Sometimes, there is no grammatical construction that avoids it.
    Here's one example:
    "He agreed to resign immediately."
    Which verb does 'immediately' modify here? Does it mean he agreed immediately, or he resigned with immediate effect? If the former, the correct construction is, "He immediately agreed to resign [e.g. to resign as soon as a successor if found]." If the latter, the correct construction is, "[After much deliberation,] He agreed to immediately resign."
    Another example:
    We expect it to double more than.
    We expect it more than to double.
    We expect it to more than double. Obviously this is the only construction that makes sense, split infinitive and all.
    Use in writing whatever construction sounds most natural in speaking. Nobody avoids split infinitives in spoken English.

  6. Tom, I thought so, too. Which is why the distracting and erroneous grammatical pedantry in the article should end.

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