Setting Senator Whitehouse Straight on Climate & Wildfires

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Not enough politicians are honestly educating the public about the science of climate change and wildfires.

Senator Whitehouse has pushed climate misinformation mostly offering conspiracy theories that argue skeptical science is fabricated & paid for by the dark money of fossil fuel companies. He compares skeptics to a “ventriloquist’s wooden painted dummy” and controlled by fossil fuel companies. In his numerous “Time to Wake Up” speeches, senator Whitehouse has fear mongered wildfires as evidence of a climate crisis, such as highlighting Colorado’s most destructive Marshall Fire.

Now as the chairman of the senate’s committee on the budget, he pushes speculation on the extreme cost of climate change. This March 9th 2023 his committee focuses on wildfires.

I was being considered to be one of the expert witnesses for that hearing but did not make the final cut. So, instead I’ll present what I had prepared for broader public consumption. I’m an ecologist and environmentalist, free of any fossil fuel manipulation, so I’m titling my contrasting presentation “Time to Learn Some Science”.

There is no evidence supporting claims that rising CO2 and global warming increases the spread or intensity of wildfires. The intensity and spread of the destructive Marshall Fire was governed by the flammability of the grassland and the winter winds.

In winter, the vegetation is dead or dormant, so moisture content reaches its seasonal low.

The Marshall Fire was a grass fire. Grasses become highly flammable in just hours of dry weather. Grasses become highly flammable independent of climate change. The Marshall Fire was not evidence of a climate crisis!

The Marshall Fire was ignited by humans.

Human ignitions have expanded fire season into the coldest seasons, making deadly fires less predictable. Natural lightning fires are more predictable in the summer months of the more limited lightning season.

Like the Marshall Fire, humans caused California’s most deadly fire, the Camp Fire, due to faulty electrical apparatus in October. Also in October, faulty electrical caused California’s 4th most deadly fire, the Tubbs Fire.

Electrical sparks ignited California’s 2nd largest fire, the Dixie Fire as well as its 9th largest, the Thomas Fire. A mere spark from a stake hitting a rock in a grassy pasture ignited a section of the 3rd largest fire, the Mendocino Complex Fire. An escaped campfire caused the 12 largest, the Rimm Fire And a highway accident caused the 14th largest, the Carr Fire.

As grass fires are want to do, the Marshall Fire went from ignition to an out-of-control state in less than one hour

Despite strong winds, temperatures were below freezing, and relative humidity was above average, conditions not considered to be worrisome fire weather. So, the National Weather Service did not issue a red flag warning that day.

However, the drying Chinook Winds were strong enough that a no-burn restriction was rightfully issued. Strong winds will carry an escaped fire into human habitat with devastating speed.

California’s Santa Ana & Diablo winds have similarly spread California’s worst fires. All these winds peak in winter as cold air flows down the mountains. Any global warming should reduce these winds.

Fires require high amounts of energy to ignite and spread.

It is well proven that increasing CO2 from burning fossil fuels adds about 2.4 W/ m2 of energy. But that cant ignite even a paper fire.

In contrast,  3,400 W/m2 will ignite grassy vegetation in seconds.

It is also well proven that grass fires emit about  35,000  W/m2 of energy.

 Depending on the vegetation density, that’s 10 times more energy than what’s needed to sustain a grass fire.

Thus, the added energy from CO2 adds only 0.007% to the energy that a fire emits So, the added energy from CO2 is insignificant regards the drying and spread of a fire.

Once a grass fire ignites a house, the house generates so much heat its ignites neighboring houses causing a fire siege that destroyed this whole community. Studies of burning furniture find a burning mattress alone releases nearly 4 million watts of heat.

In contrast to Whitehouse’s call for a CO2 safety zone, a defensible space is created only by removing any vegetation that carries a fire too close to one’s home. Only then can a reasonable wildfire safety zone be realized.

The introduction of Eurasian cheat grass over 100 years ago, has enabled increased fire ignitions and created more pathways carrying fire into shrubland, forests and rural towns. Cheat grass creates a dense carpet of highly flammable fuel that dies and dries by June and cheatgrass’ spread is one correlate with the disproportional number of fires in the west.

If the senator wants to minimize deadly fires, the budget committee should consider more support for restoring native vegetation.

The deep rooted, native perennial grasses that cheatgrass replaced, produce moist live foliage through august and create a mosaic of grassy clumps and bare ground that slows the spread of fires.

Similarly, in forest habitat, money would be best spent increasing prescribed burns and forest thinning to create a mosaic that again reduces wildfire spread.

Fires were far more common in the early 1900s when CO2 was lower and temperatures were cooler as demonstrated by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Likewise, fires were far more common throughout the American southwest during the Little Ice Age.

Fire suppression policies that began 100 years ago and were meant to save forests, instead caused forest fuels to accumulate, unintentionally resulting now in more intense and devastating fires

Lightning is the cause of natural fires. Despite a lightning strike raising air temperatures by 50,000 F, a strike usually doesn’t ignite living trees due to the trees’ high moisture content and the lightning’s short duration. Lightning is also less likely to start a fire when accompanying rainstorms.

Interestingly, California accounts for 31% of all of America’s burnt area from lightning, despite having one of the lowest densities of lightning strikes.

However dry lightning is more common in the arid western USA and is another correlate explaining the disproportionate number of fires in the western USA.

Accordingly, California’s largest fires were due to a summer swarm of dry lightning strikes in 2020. Dry lightning caused California’s all time biggest recorded fire, the August Complex Fire, in addition to causing the 4th and 6th largest fires.

In contrast, Florida is hit by 50 times more lightning strikes per square mile. Yet, although California is just 3 times larger, California’s burnt area is 20 times larger than Florida’s, despite both states being equally affected by rising CO2.

This difference correlates with the fact that California has the least amount of summer precipitation during lightning season while Florida has the most. Thus, it’s California’s Mediterranean climate that makes it naturally prone to dry lightning, drier fuels, and larger wildfires.

A Mediterranean climate’s dry summers happen each summer because a clockwise-spinning high pressure system sets up and diverts moisture-carrying storms northward & away from California inhibiting its summer rainfall.

Although a similar high pressure sets up in the Atlantic, the same clockwise spin drives more rain into the Gulf and east coasts, explaining why the eastern USA has far fewer fires.

The Pacific high-pressure system fades in winter allowing California to receive more rainstorms, but La Nina-like oceans can maintain higher pressures during the winter, resulting in more drought, particularly in California.

La Nina’s are natural. So, CO2 driven models have failed to accurately simulate their occurrence. Scientists are struggling to understand why their models predicted more El Nino-like oceans as CO2 increased, in contrast to the past 40 years of observations finding the pacific has become more La Nina like.

Finally, climate alarmists and mis-informers have been cherry-picking & weaponizing the tragedies of the Marshall Fire & California’s fires, as evidence of global warming catastrophes. However, the global burnt area declined by 25% between 2000 and 2017, again contrary to global warming predictions.

The red areas show where burnt areas have significantly increased, blue significant decreases. All the white areas represent NO trend and reveal neither the USA nor the world show any indication of a growing wildfire crisis or any correlation with rising CO2.

So, indeed wake up America, it is time to learn some science!

Thank you