Romm's Sleight of Hand

Joe Romm never misses a disaster to beat the global warming drum. You name it– floods, fires, hurricanes–if they’re in the headlines, then he finds a way to connect them to climate change. It’s tricky stuff because he’s smart enough to know that no single climatic event or catastrophe can be pinned exclusively on greenhouse gases. Yet he always suggests that climate change is at least a contributing factor and that disaster X should be viewed like the proverbial “canary in the coalmine”–a warning of what’s to come if carbon emissions are not stabilized.

So it’s no surprise that Romm seizes on the latest California wildlfires in a recent post. He did the same with Australia’s tragic conflagrations last winter. Both times Romm also chastised the mainstream media for not playing up the supposed climate change link. That’s why I’ve taken to calling him a propagandist. To Romm, disasters are convenient “messaging” vehicles.

But it’s highly irresponsible to use wildfires in naturally fire-prone lands that also sit in the urban/wildland interface to dramatize concerns about global warming. Steven Pyne warned against this kind of “misdirection” after the Australia wildfires. So it is with the latest torching in California.

Here is Pyne again, over at Island Press’s blog, trying to educate us about fire:

In fire-prone public lands, where the setting will not convert to shopping malls and sports arenas, some fire is inevitable and some necessary. From time to time a few fires will go feral. Without fire some biotas will only build up combustibles capable of stoking still-more savage outbreaks, and equally, some will cease to function. Fire is a force of “creative destruction” in nature’s economy. Without it, particularly in drier landscapes, nutrients no longer circulate freely but get hoarded. It’s as though organisms hid their valuables in secret caches dug in the backyard or in socks under the bed. The choice is not whether or not to have fire but what kind of fire we wish.

You can listen to Romm or Pyne when it comes to wildfire. That’s also a choice.

9 Responses to “Romm's Sleight of Hand”

  1. Steve Bloom says:

    You quoted Pyne in the prior post:  “Global warming might magnify outbreaks, but it means a change in degree, not in kind.”

    That’s simply wrong, considering that repeated burning is a component of the transition from semi-arid to arid landscapes.

    You might bear in mind, Keith, that the flip side of “no single climatic event or catastrophe can be pinned exclusively on greenhouse gases” is that no such event or catastrophe can be said to be unaffected by global warming.     

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    On your latter statement, I have always  acknowledged as much.

    What I object to is Romm exploiting these disasters to advance his own arguments. Per the latest example, it also confuses people on the real causes for the CA wildfire.

  3. Henry chance says:

    Romm told us the plane that crashed off Brazil was due to global warming before they found it’s location. 

    Today he tells us Spain is booming because of it’s green initiatives.  spain has over 18% unemployment.  The worst in the EU.

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    But Keith, recall your complaint:  ‘Yet he always suggests that climate change is at least a contributing factor and that disaster X should be viewed like the proverbial “canary in the coalmine””“a warning of what’s to come if carbon emissions are not stabilized.’

    You just admitted that don’t disagree about the first point, and of course Joe links to the peer-reviewed research backing up the second.  So what’s your point?

  5. Keith Kloor says:

    Steve,

    This Climate Progress reader channels Romm and also makes my point.

  6. L. Carey says:

    Does it occur to you that perhaps Romm is merely pointing out the obvious?  He is hardly the only person to make this point.  From the SF Chronicle of 7/21/08:

    “Since 1980, U.S. wildfires have burned an average of 8,500 square miles per year, a jump from the 1920-1980 average of 5,000 square miles per year.
    “In the past three decades, the wildfire season in the western United States has increased by 78 days, according to work led by Anthony Westerling, formerly at Scripps, now at UC Merced. Roughly half that increase was due to earlier ignitions, and half to later control. Burn duration of fires greater than 1,000 acres has increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days in response to a spring-summer warming.
    “People on the fire lines see that the wildfire intensity and size have changed and question whether global warming is to blame, Stephens said. “They know that the temperatures are increasing, and the snow is leaving earlier. One thing is certain: Weather and fire are tied together. They know that better than anybody.””
    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/20/MNSC11Q7RD.DTL#ixzz0Q0PfkPDo

  7. Richard Steckis says:

    Steve Bloom says:

    “You might bear in mind, Keith, that the flip side of “no single climatic event or catastrophe can be pinned exclusively on greenhouse gases” is that no such event or catastrophe can be said to be unaffected by global warming.”

    Totally wrong. There is NO flipside. Reason being that the statement is that there is NO empircal evidence to link global warming to any one weather related event. End of story.

    In almost all cases there is not even evidence of increased frequency of these events (e.g. Hurricanes, and wildfires in Australia) in recent times.

  8. londongreenear says:

    Steve B misses the forest for the trees.

    If global warming affects everything and you cannot say exactly what stopping global warming will do for “everything” (or even the dry trees in dry SoCal) then you’ve just made the transition from a statement about cause and effect (science) to one far more religious in nature.

    People like to say that God, like global warming, has a presence everywhere as well, and if I acknowledge His presence I will reap the rewards.  Somehow I have never found that very convincing.  Especially so when the pastor tells me that he sees the hand of God in events like the California wildfires.

    Steve B, following your own logic, you cannot say that the fires were unaffected by God.  Thus, repent sinner and you will reap the rewards.  Trust me, there is a consensus on this point.

  9. […] politicans like CA Representative Linda Sanchez and not surprisingly Climate Progress’ Joe Romm sought to place the blame for the California wildfires on “˜global warming’. the massive […]

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