L.A. Times Says Wildfires and Global Warming Aren't Related

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Patriot Post, the “Voice of Essential Liberty,” knows how to recognize a call to resist the tyranny of elite policymakers and liberal academics who are misleading a gullible public about the dangers of climate change. It’s a conservative online journal that published a blog item earlier in the year attacking the Lancet Commission’s finding that climate change was a health hazard. Dan Gilmore wrote:

“First, climate change was going to hurt the polar bears, then drown Florida. Listen enough to government rhetoric and you’ll hear climate change being blamed for everything from a sluggish economy to the war in Syria. Indeed, it seems that the world’s politicians are promising too much as they push for doing something on climate change, telling us that if they could only control the planet and the people on it, then we’d have peace, security and happiness.”

Around 70% of Americans (pdf) acknowledge the world is growing warmer. Sixty-five percent are “very confident” of their opinion. Only 16% say it’s not happening. Even 56% of Republicans recognize global warming. Just about every scientist on the planet believes in climate change, and a good number of them are pretty scared about its wide-ranging effect on the planet.       

The Patriot Post does not share that view, although to the casual reader, the source of its blog item, the Los Angeles Times, does. The newspaper, which probably hates the dead-tree reference, ran a front-page story on Monday with the unambiguous print headline: “Climate Is Not to Blame for Fire.” Its online story was headlined: “Gov. Brown's Link Between Climate Change and Wildfires Is Unsupported, Fire Experts Say”

The Times doesn’t win as many Pulitzer Prizes as it once did, but a commenter at Mother Jones thought it deserved one for “worst article about global warming that still acknowledges it’s a real thing.”

That reader had just read Kevin Drum’s head-scratching response to the Times’ response to Governor Jerry Brown connecting the state’s intense fire season to global warming when he said, “It’s a new normal. California is burning.”

Drum thought the premise, that climate change cannot be definitively linked to any single phenomena much less declared the single cause, was true. But that doesn’t mean it’s not almost certainly a contributing factor. Hotter and drier conditions matter.

Drum also had a problem with the experts.

“Virtually everyone quoted in this article either (a) says nothing about climate change or (b) says climate change is an important factor in the rise of wildfires in California and the West. And yet, somehow all of this is written in a way that makes it sound as if climate change has nothing to do with wildfires.”    

Media Matters included Drum in its roundup of critics of the article, but started its critique by citing the 2014 National Climate Assessment that projected 74% more wildfires in California because of climate change. Other scientific studies and a survey of fire experts are mentioned, but the lengthy piece ends with eight separate complaints about the Times story’s first expert, Roger Pielke.

Or, more correctly, Roger Pielkes. Apparently, Pielke Senior and Junior are both well-known, climate scientists at the University of Colorado who have been called climate deniers by critics, and the Times story doesn’t make it clear which one is their source. But most seem to assume it’s Pielke Jr.

Pielke was one of the original recruits to write a column at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com, but it ended abruptly in a firestorm of criticism when he wrote a story in March 2014, “Disasters Cost More Than Ever—But Not Because of Climate Change.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Gov. Brown's Link Between Climate Change and Wildfires Is Unsupported, Fire Experts Say (by Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times)

LA Times Misleads on Link Between Climate Change and California Wildfires (by Andrew Seifter, Media Matters)

LA Times Says Climate Not to Blame for More Wildfires. They're Wrong. (by Kevin Drum, Mother Jones)

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