Global Warming Is Not the Cause of the California Wildfires

Published October 30, 2007

(CHICAGO, Illinois – October 30, 2007) As firefighters battle to subdue the last of the wildfires that continue to ravage the Southern California landscape, some observers have asserted those fires are the consequence of unchecked global warming.

The following background information and comments on the California wildfires are from James M. Taylor, senior fellow for environment policy for The Heartland Institute, and Sandy Liddy Bourne, vice president of policy and strategic development.

You may quote from this statement or contact Taylor or Bourne directly for further comment.

“Attempts by activists to make the ongoing California wildfires a global warming issue are patently ridiculous. The modest warming of the twentieth century has resulted in moister soil conditions and reduced drought frequency and severity. Arguing that global warming is causing more drought and wildfires is like arguing that increasing crop yields is causing more starvation.

“The May 25, 2007 issue of Geophysical Research Letters reports that for twentieth century soil moisture trends, ‘An increasing trend is apparent in both model soil moisture and runoff over much of the U.S.’ The study adds, “This wetting trend is consistent with the general increase in precipitation in the latter half of the twentieth century. Droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the country over the last century.’

“The July 2004 issue of International Journal of Climatology reports, ‘it is now clear that many places in the Northern Hemisphere, and in Australia, have become less arid,’ and ‘in these places, the terrestrial surface is both warmer and effectively wetter.’ The study concludes, ‘A good analogy to describe the changes in these places is that the terrestrial surface is literally becoming more like a gardener’s greenhouse.’

“If you believe frequent and severe drought and forest fires are a good thing, then by all means support legislation designed to return us to Little Ice Age conditions, when drought and wildfire were more frequent and prevalent.”

James M. Taylor
[email protected]
Senior Fellow, Environment Policy
The Heartland Institute

“It is disturbing to hear global warming advocates falsely blame the southern California fires on climate change to fit their political agenda when lives have been lost and homes have been destroyed.

“For decades, Southern California has had cycles of brush fires in dry seasons brought forth by the Santa Ana winds as a result of cool temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Policy leaders need to assess the situation and respond appropriately to any natural disaster that occurs within their region.

“By all appearances the local, state, and federal government responded as quickly and effectively as they could given the number of fires, weather conditions, and acreage effected. Their efforts were heroic, but like all responses should be carefully reviewed in preparation to prevent or respond to the next event.

“Any legislative fixes should be considered after a careful assessment of all of the causes (to include three possible arsons) and the responses by the local, state, and federal government. After a comprehensive after action report, there will be adjustments made to current operational disaster management plans.

“Some practical actions could be taken with a simple civilian education program to not stack wood or brush next to a home, especially during fire season. Perhaps some environmental regulations should be reviewed to ensure that a fuel basement is not inadvertently building in fire-prone areas due to lack of forest or brush sustainability practices. Contracts made in good faith within the public-private partnership governing model should be reviewed to ensure that an expedited response is covered with parameters to meet the capacity of the fires. Certainly, there should be severe criminal and civil penalties for arson.

“Other legislative ideas will come forth, but the priority should be on real-time disaster management criteria, measured with legitimate human health, environmental, and disaster management data and not confused with the political rhetoric of a theoretical climate change debate.”

Sandy Liddy Bourne
[email protected]
Vice President, Policy and Strategic Development
The Heartland Institute

For further information about The Heartland Institute, please contact Harriette Johnson, media relations manager, at 312/377-4000 or email [email protected].