As a massive wildfire torches vast swaths of land across southern California, climate activists are pushing claims the devastating fires are linked to global warming.
Climate Signal sent an email Wednesday claiming the Thomas wildfire “is fueled by conditions consistent with the trends driven by climate change,” followed by links to information connecting wildfires to global warming on their website.
“Higher temperatures, drier conditions, increased fuel availability, and lengthening warm seasons—all linked to climate change—are increasing wildfire risk in California,” the email reads.
The email also included contact information for experts “who can further explain the connection between fires and climate change.” Climate Signal is a project of Climate Nexus, a non-profit organization under the fiscal sponsorship of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
Climate Signal promotes a growing fad in climate science called “attribution,” whereby scientists use models to guess how much more likely an extreme weather event was made by global warming.
“From 1979 to 2015, climate change was responsible for more than half of the dryness of western forests and the increased length of the fire season,” the email claims. “The fingerprint of climate change has been found in past wildfire activity in California.”
Already, news coverage has emerged, connecting wildfires to man-made warming. E&E News reported “Scientists See Climate Change in California’s Wildfires” and InsideClimate News published a piece on “4 Questions on the California Fires and Climate Change.”
While climate scientists expect global warming to play a bigger role in future wildfires, experts tend to see land use and management as a major driver behind the recent uptick in fires.
In fact, the most recent report of the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment looked at the connections between global warming and western U.S. wildfires and found “low to medium confidence for a detectable human climate change contribution” in the region.
The report defines low confidence as being based on “inconclusive evidence,” and medium evidence as based on “Suggestive evidence” but with “a few sources, limited consistency, models incomplete, methods” and “competing schools of thought.”
The NCA report actually found a slight decrease in the number of large wildfires across Mediterranean California — which ecnompasses California’s coastal region from the south to about mid-state.
Late-year wildfires are nothing new for California. The Sacramento Bee noted that 12 of the “20 most devastating fires in California history, as measured by the number of buildings destroyed, have started on Oct. 1 or later.”
California is a warm and dry state, so winter and spring rains bring an abundance of plants, which dry out throughout the year when rainfall is scarce. When the Santa Ana winds come, they bring hot, fast-moving airflow that helps fires spread.
Add to that, massive increases in population, which means more buildings are being built in wildfire-prone areas — most fires are caused by humans. Those tend not to engage in prescribed burns and other thinning techniques necessary to keep fuel loads low.
That’s not to take away from the devastation of the fire currently raging in Ventura County. The Thomas Fire has been raging for days, destroying 150 structures and forcing thousands to flee.
California saw its deadliest fire on record in October when fires in the northern part of the state killed 42 people and damaged thousands of buildings. Thousands were forced to flee only to come back to smoldering homes.
Record rainfall in winter spurred plant growth across California. As the year wore on, plants dried up and created the perfect tinderbox for wildfires.
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