November 4th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY National Energy Guarantee: lots of smoke, but no coal-fired power

EDITORIAL Popular revolt against the ideology of globalism

CANBERRA OBSERVED Paris still rules in the party room

ENERGY Renewables and gas conspire to push up prices

ENVIRONMENT Climate change did not cause California fires

ELECTRICITY Consumers will wake up only when there are blackouts: economists

ECONOMICS Something new under the sun from China

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Abbott gets brickbats for exposing house of straw

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Australia is far from fulfilling its potential

TECHNOLOGY Aussie scientists 'write' with adult stem cells

75TH ANNIVERSARY NCC: new challenges, kind of new adversaries

MUSIC All around the beat: the essential drummer

CINEMA Happy Death Day: Deja vu with a sharp edge

BOOK REVIEW Traditions under threat fight back

BOOK REVIEW Journey to freedom


ENERGY Coal-fired power needed to restore economic growth

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Climate change did not cause California fires

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 4, 2017

The disastrous bushfires which swept through rural California cost 40 lives and did billions of dollars damage, including the destruction of thousands of homes as well as established vineyards and wineries in the world-renowned Napa Valley in northern California.

The fires followed a wet winter which encouraged plant growth, followed by a wetter than usual spring and a hot summer. In the northern autumn, hot dry winds from deserts in the interior sweep down from the Rockies towards the sea.

Despite repeated claims that “climate change” or “global warming” caused the wildfires, a study of the historical record shows that the recent fires are neither exceptional nor unprecedented.

Dr Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish climate scientist and author of The Sceptical Environmentalist, recently published the historical record of forest fires in the United States, based on two historical datasets, from 1926 to 2017.

Lomborg is visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School as well as president of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre. He is a former director of the Danish Government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen.

Because forest fires had such a devastating effect on the United States a hundred years ago, and national parks were being established for conservation reasons across the country, an accurate fire record was kept to determine the effectiveness of fire prevention strategies.


The record shows clearly that the area burnt by fires peaked in the early 1930s, then steadily declined until the 1960s, when the chart flattened out, only to begin rising again from 2000. However, the current peak is only a quarter as much as was burnt in the 1930s.

As the 20th century was one of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, if global warming were the cause, then we would have seen steadily rising fire damage across the country – which has not happened. However, there has been a big increase in fire damage over recent years that demands an explanation. What are the changes in forest management over the past 20 years?

The most obvious one is the reduction of what Americans call “prescribed burns”, to reduce the fuel load in state forests, and a reduction in timber harvesting in forest lands.

This has been driven by the desire to preserve old growth forests for wildlife, particularly in California under ultra-green Democrat Governor Jerry Brown, but supported by the Federal Department of the Environment. (California has historically been run by the Democrats.)

Timber harvesting on federal lands in the Pacific northwest has declined since at least 1990, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing led to the protection of large areas of forest for the bird’s habitat. Additional environmental protections imposed after 1990 also reduced timber harvesting.

The U.S. National Parks Service, which cares for the forests, understands the importance of natural fire cycles, and supports prescribed burns. It says: “Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today.”

The rationale is that burning forest fuel under optimal and controllable conditions reduces the chance of catastrophic wildfires. This strategy was successfully employed for 60 years, between 1930 and 1990, to reduce forest fires, including wildfires.

But these controlled burns are politically unpopular with the environmental lobby, including powerful groups like the Sierra Club, which have largely controlled government policy, at both the state and federal level. They claim that fuel-reduction burn-offs damage old growth forests and wilderness areas.

Added to this is the fact that northern California has seen massive growth in the wine industry over recent decades.

As smoke contaminates growing grapes, and hence wine, viticulturists have strongly opposed prescribed burns in the favourable winter and spring months, creating a powerful rural lobby against forest management.

One consequence of modern fire-fighting technology is that small fires that are suppressed leave large swathes of forest unburned. Unless widespread and systematic fuel-reduction burn-offs take place, fire fighting can unwittingly lead to larger, more uncontrollable wildfires.

And finally, the growth of California’s population, now 40 million, has led to increased demand for housing to be build on the coastal strip between the Pacific Ocean and the heavily forested Rocky Mountains, which run from Mexico up to the state of Oregon, and beyond.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm