by H. Sterling Burnett
Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.
is managing editor of
Environment & Climate News and a research fellow for
environment and energy policy at The Heartland
Burnett worked at the National Center for
Policy Analysis for 18 years, most recently as a senior
fellow in charge of NCPA's environmental policy program.
He has held various positions in professional and public
policy organizations, including serving as a member of
the Environment and Natural Resources Task Force in the
Texas Comptroller's e-Texas commission.
Sorry, Mainstream Media,
Wildfires Are Declining,
Amidst Modest Warming...
A firestorm, pun fully intended, erupted as dozens of
media outlets, large and small, touted a report this week from a
team of researchers associated with the United Nations claiming
wildfires are on the rise due to climate change (aka
This is false...
show conclusively wildfires have declined dramatically over the past
century even as the earth has modestly warmed.
St. Louis Post Dispatch, and
Health Day were among the dozens of media outlets uncritically
parroting the claims made by a team of researchers that wildfire
seasons are worsening due to climate change.
The stories also all
uniformly claim that unless something is done to lessen future
climate change, wildfires will be more frequent and intense in the
The story from the
St. Louis Post Dispatch by Health Day reporter, Robin
Foster, titled, "Climate
Change bringing More Catastrophic Wildfires - UN Report,"
was typical of the corporate media's coverage of the report.
wildfires around the world will only grow in number in coming
decades as climate change further fuels the chances of
out-of-control blazes, a landmark report from the United Nations
"The heating of the
planet is turning landscapes into tinderboxes," said the report,
which was published on Wednesday by the United Nations Environment
The report was
prompted by a string of deadly blazes around the globe in recent
years, burning the American West, vast stretches of Australia and
even the Arctic.
Had Foster bothered
to exercise a modicum of curiosity, as might be expected of a
investigative journalist, she would have found wildfires in the
United States and around the world have, in fact, declined
in recent decades...
As presented in
Climate at a Glance - Wildfires, data on wildfires from the U.S.
National Interagency Fire Center from as far back as 1926 show,
current acres burned in the United States, are approximately 1/4th
to 1/5th of the amount burned annually in the 1930s.
What is true of the
United States is true for the world in general.
scientists reported in
a study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of
Geophysical Research, analyzing global wildfires back to the
declining rate of burned area globally."
NASA satellites have documented a global long-term decline in
NASA reports satellites have measured a 25-percent
decrease in global lands burned since 2003.
That is an objective
To the extent
wildfires in recent years have modestly increased from what they
were in the 1990s, as explained in multiple Climate Realism
here, for example, the reason is largely due to,
management policies and increased urban incursion into formerly wild
forested areas historically prone to wildfires.
Even the U.N.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bows to the data.
Sixth Climate Assessment Report, the IPCC reports no increase in
wildfires globally and states it has only,
confidence [emphasis theirs] that weather conditions
that promote wildfires (fire weather) have become more probable
in Europe, Northern Eurasia, the U.S., and Australia over the
Although the IPCC
says it has,
"high confidence that fire weather conditions
will become more frequent at higher levels of global warming in some
regions," weather conditions are only one factor contributing to
Fuel load is the most important factor and, as the past
century has shown, regardless of the weather fuel load can be
managed to reduce wildfire incidences and severity.
breaking new alarming climate research, which claims various extreme
weather events, like wildfires, are worsening due to climate change,
reporters should look upon the research with a jaundiced eye, and
exercise a bit of skepticism before promoting such reports.
and repeat the mantra,
data, follow the data, follow the data"...
Data or peer reviewed research generally exists for most
types of extreme weather, and when examined current weather events
don't seem so 'extreme' or historically 'unusual'...