The Climate Change Connection
It is hard to understand the connection between climate change and wild fire. This is in part because it is hard to understand the factors that determine the frequency and extent of wild fires to begin with, and partly because of the messiness of the conversation about climate change and fire. I’m going to try to make this simple, I don’t expect to succeed, but maybe we can achieve a somewhat improved understanding.
Fires have to start, then they burn for a while, then they stop.
Most wild fires are probably started by humans. This does not mean that human arsonists are running around the landscape having what they consider to be fun. There is a better way to think about this. Every species is unique, and one of the ways Homo sapiens is unique is in the control and use of fire. This has probably been going on for something close to two million years, which means that in some cases entire ecosystems have probably become more fully fire adapted than they otherwise might have been simply because humans started concentrating energy in a way that causes stuff to burst into flames. However, there are natural fire-adapted ecosystems that certainly emerged in the absence of humans, as humans have only recently come to live in all of the habitable regions of the world. The point is, when we think of fires, and realize that they have to start somehow, it is easy to confuse “natural” and “human-caused” fires, or to see them as distinct. What you need to realize is that while lightning strikes and other natural phenomena can and do start fires, human involvement is probably the most common source.
Humans start fires in a lot of ways. There were a lot of fires in the last half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century started by the railroads, which used coal in burners and had real sparky wheels. These trains were often serving lumbering regions, where trees were cut and huge piles of slash were left near tracks, which could then accidentally catch fire. Humans have always had camp fires, initially as the only way we cooked our food or kept warm, and more recently for most humans, as a recreational thing. There is a variety of other human activities that involve fire that can get out of control. Finally, humans start fires on purpose, to reduce slash, to limit large fires, or to manage the ecology. This last effect has been going on with our species for tens of thousands of years, but continues in park and wild lands.
As the number of humans in a region goes up, the chances of a fire starting, all else being equal, goes up. But then, the density of humans goes past a tipping point, and two things happen. One is that the value of what might be burned is increased (or recognized) including homes, but also, forests that are used for recreation. The other is that humans are dense enough, and have built enough roads and other facilities (including roads built just for fire suppression activities) that it becomes possible for humans to put out the fires they start, and thus, the number or extent of fires may go down.
Fort McMurray seems to have been caught between a rock and a hard place in this regard. The mountainous and forested regions of Alberta and other western Canadian provinces normally have a lot of fires, and normally they are left (mostly) to burn. They burn out, and the parts of the forest that are burned then go though a natural cycle. For McMurray, however, is a closely compact set of settlements and other human-built facilities that are in a place where suppression is not carried out on a day to day basis, so what might have been a big fire ignored and left to burn is happening in a place where we do not want a fire to burn.
Added to this, when this fire started, the residence of Fort McMurray needed to flee north to get away from the fire. But what is north of Fort McMurray? A dead end. If you go north form Fort McMurray, you eventually run into a cul-de-sac, and that’s it. As of this writing, during the day on Friday, May 6th, authorities are working out how to evacuate those residents that went north back through the fire area, to the south. But I digress..
Fires start, and humans starting fires is, really, just as “natural” in a way as any other way to start a fire. But fire starting is not context free. It is difficult to start a fire with human intent, carelessness, accident, or with lightning, in a wet forest. Stuff doesn’t burn that well, so a fire might start up but then it dies out. If, however, there is plenty of fuel and the fuel is dry, a real fire is more likely to get going. The conditions in Alberta (and over a much larger area, including the northern Tier of the US states at the moment) are ripe for fires to get started right now, and in many areas, have been so for weeks.
Once the fire starts, it burns. The more fuel, the more intense the burn, and the larger area with fuel, the larger the fire may become. Winds push the fire along and spread it. So, dry conditions with a good breeze are optimal to get a fire started and spread.
The conditions in the vicinity of Fort McMurray have been dry all winter. There was reduced snow pack, and the snow pack melted away quickly. there has been very little rain. There has been a lot of wind, which further dries things out. There has been a lot of heat, a warmer atmosphere, which exacerbates the drying. The forested areas of Alberta are ripe for fires starting, and for their spread, and for their intensity.
How does climate change fit in? First, let me disabuse you of a notion that we are seeing mentioned in relation to this fire, and that has been out there in conversations about climate change and weather (and yes, fire is part of weather) for some time now. It is a form of meme, and it goes something like this: You can’t attribute a given weather event to climate change.
This is patently false, not so much because it is not true, but because it begs the question and does so improperly. In other words, it is the answer to a poorly formulated question that assumes things that are not true. I’ll clarify by reformulating the whole idea.
Weather is climate, now, just as climate is weather over the long term. If the climate changes for any reason, the weather changes. In other words, the relationship between climate changing and weather being altered is a natural tautology. All weather events are related to climate because they are climate.
The relevant question, then, is not is there a link between A and A (because they are the same things at different scales) but rather, is the nature of a potential weather event — including it’s likelihood as a statistically defined hazard, or other variables such as how big, how wet, how hot, how dry, or when it happens, etc. — different now than it would have been in the absence of surface warming cause by the human release of greenhouse gas pollution?
When it comes to fire, the answer is, simply yes. But, the reasons for this are complex.
Surface warming has caused … wait for it … warming. The warm air exacerbating the Alberta fires is warm air we can presume is contributed to by an El Niño event (which has been winding down but surface temperature remain elevated after the event itself is over), riding on top of surface temperatures elevated by global warming. There are a lot of ways to get warm air into Alberta in May, but we know that the northern regions have been warming apace with global warming, with winters shorter, snow pack melting out faster, etc. So we can be reasonably confident that the “warming” part of “global warming” can account for … warming, generally, probably here, now, this Spring.
Surface warming has caused atmospheric moisture to become more clumped. This has to do with differential warming in the Arctic vs. the rest of the planet, which has caused the polar jet stream to change its characteristics, so instead of being usually straightish as it runs around the planet, it seems now to be usually slow moving and wavy. This has caused large areas of the landscape to experience prolonged dry conditions, sometimes for months (then it rains) and sometimes for years (like in California, where there is a drought). Meanwhile, other areas experience multiple 100-year or 500-year rainfall events with flooding in a short period of time. The forested regions of Alberta have been dry.
The same effect might also have brought prolonged and energetic winds to Alberta over recent weeks, making it more dry and fanning and spreading fires once they start. I quickly add that I’m not sure if Alberta has been exceptionally windy or, of so, why, but that is something that should be examined.
Finally, climate change has helped the spread of the pine bark beetle in the region. Fort McMurray is within the area of increased pine bark beetle activity, but other areas farther to the west are even worse. These beetles turn normal trees into kindling, providing fuel for any fires that start in the area.
So, yes, the Alberta fires, and other fires in western Canada and in the northern tier of the US are more frequent and larger than they otherwise would have been because the things that cause fires to get started and spread are worse because of climate change.
Schadenfreude and Karma
We have seen a lot of yammering on social networks, Op Eds, and a few other places, engrossed in a sense of schadenfreude and invoking references to Karma. This is because most of the settlement at Fort McMurray happened because of the bituminous sands exploitation in the area, and of course, this has to do with global warming because it is part of the process of exploiting fossil fuels, which causes the release of CO2 pollution, which causes … well, you get the picture. So, if you are mad at the people of Fort McMurray for being part of this, then you might think they are getting what they deserve. And, you might even see this as some sort of Karma.
That would, however, make you something of an asshat.
Privilege examination time. Most of the time, most people don’t get to make most of the decisions that they would ideally make in order to save the world from humanity. If I could, I would drive an electric car charged entirely from solar panels that I would plaster all over my house and property. But, actually, I’m kind of a working class stiff without the resources to do that. So, instead, I just don’t go to conferences any more, and thus burn far less air fuel than I otherwise might. I do that because I can do it, but I can’t do those other things.
The people of Fort McMurray did not decide to cause climate change. They decided to get a job so they could eat and live in a house. Same with the coal minters in West Virginia or the workers in a Koch refinery somewhere. It is only form a position of great and unexamined privilege that one can see the victims of this enormous catastrophe as getting what they deserve.
The Residents of Fort McMurray are Victims
Indeed, these people are victims in many ways. The economic viability of the entire region has been heavily damaged by fuel prices, and to a much lesser extent (than most people think), by pipeline politics. Now they are forced out of their homes by a threatening fire, and in many cases, a very large percentage of cases, will not be able to return to those homes because they are burned down. Indeed, the entire community may be destroyed. You can’t burn down so many homes and have people just go back and rebuild. Their places of work (both bituminous sands exploiting related and other jobs, like as school teachers, grocery store clerks, etc.) are in many cases not going to be there when the fire finally goes out.
The Fort McMurray people were already undergoing a major economic disaster, and now an even greater disaster has befallen them.
The Rhetorical Damage of Insensitivity and Sensitivity
There has been pushback against the schadenfreude and karma tropes. Unfortunately, some of this pushback, including some by Prime Minister Trudeau, has been destructive in another way.
We see people falling into the “we can’t attribute this fire to climate change” trap as a way of reacting to the schadenfreude and karma comments. This is entirely inappropriate. Rather, the role of climate change in causing this type of disaster has to be kept firmly in mind, while at the same time the plight of the people of Fort McMurray has to be fully acknowledged as an epic human disaster, and addressed.
It is not a good idea to throw the importance of climate change under the bus because some people are disrespecting the victims of this catastrophe. That doesn’t do any body any good.
There is a lot written about this fire and related issues, and I’ve put together a few items that you will find intereseting.
97 thoughts on “The Meaning of the Fort McMurray Fire”
Prime Minister Trudeau, if you don’t mind.
Thank you, fixed.
One question: were the tar sands or the processing facilities involved with spreading the fire?
I agree with most of what you say.
I get where you are coming from – the fires are worse than they would have been but for climate change.
However, this type of thinking is also problematic.
Some areas will be wetter due to the clumping you are discussing.
Some fires which may have started in those areas won’t because they are wetter than they would have been (because of climate change).
Because we cannot detangle humans effects, you are really saying that everything is humans fault (going forward).
The floods in Texas, caused by el nino are worse than they would have been but for climate change.
Every weather event is worse than it would have been because of climate change, with this type of thinking.
That is not very useful.
Every beautiful day is also better because of climate change – but nobody will write about those.
Now we will be responsible for the tides, because the tides rise and fall on top of an already higher sea level, because of climate change.
The orbital cycles effects will also be our fault (going forward) because they are acting on a planet already affected by humans.
I was born and I use resources.
Therefore, everything that happens on the planet is my fault going forward because I have some effect on the climate and therefore some effect on the fires in Canada, some effect on the rain in Texas, some effect on every snowfall, every rainfall, every hurricane and so forth.
This does not do anybody any good either.
In my opinion, the better way to think about this is that we have no idea if this fire would have happened in a world without humans. It might have happened anyway – or it may not have happened anyway.
We don’t know.
The need to blame this on humans is not useful or helpful, because people (on average) will push back against the notion that merely being born and existing taints everything that happens weather wise and climate wise.
Like you – I drive a car that burns fossil fuels and I heat my home (in my case I have geothermal so I use electricity) – with electricity which is created by burning (some of it anyway) with fossil fuels.
I do not apologize for this, nor do I feel guilty for this.
If we could use less fossil fuels, that would be great – but until we invent this new technology or make the existing technology economical enough to be accepted, I will continue to drive my car and heat my home.
We won’t get far telling people that doing activities they are going to do anyway is bad for the planet, in my opinion.
Humans have warmed the planet.
But I don’t know how much we have warmed the planet.
I still think it would be better to produce more of our electricity with nuclear power.
I still think we should try to invent other non-co2 producing power, which is cheaper than fossil fuels.
Maybe we should try to pass a law which helps the problem, but takes baby steps and doesn’t try to do to much – that might be a better approach.
We could do that and still fight over how much warming has been caused by humans and how much by nature and what CS is or ECS or TCR.
But all of these battles and name calling back and forth have not really accomplished anything.
Neither will blaming people for every future fire (in my opinion).
I am amazed at the scale of destruction in Fort McMurray. It exceeds the level of destruction to major urban areas in Australia by recent bushfires except possibly the 2009 and Canberra bushfires. This may be because suburbs in Australia rarely have forests close to them as dense as the those close to Fort McMurray.
I can only think that those forests were previously considered to be not as dangerous as they are now.
No. Once they get too hot, the beautiful days are no longer beautiful. You just want to escape from them.
Gee. No-one ever thought of that before.
What is the point of that? If we’re causing some of the warming then we should stop doing it.
You can’t attribute a given weather event to climate change.
I agree, but it makes a dandy starting point for endless arguments about who’s responsible, who said what about karma, and selling newspapers or page views.
My impression from reading a bunch of those arguments is that people are not able to understand this event in the context of relative risk. Instead, they want answers to their questions about fires, and whether to even believe in climate change. The most common question I’ve seen in comments is, “Was this fire caused by lightning or by humans?” Something we’re unlikely to ever find out.
We’d be better off using the US military’s terminology around this situation: Climate change is a threat multiplier, because it cuts through a bunch of half-baked arguments about “Yes, we’ve had big fires before; fires are a feature of this forest regime; more humans equals more fires; fires are natural!/we’re doing too good a job at fire suppression; etc. etc.” What’s changed is that a warmer, drier climate means greater risk of fires, greater frequency of fires, and a much longer fire season. Explaining this in terms of a threat multiplier makes more sense than trying to blame any one event on climate change, which is a pretty abstract concept for a lot of folks and inevitably leads to more shouting matches about who believes what.
Kahn, no. This is a wildfire. I’m not sure the fire itself has actually been at the same location as the extraction sites at this point.
RickA, you actually have a lot of your facts wrong, so whatever logic is in there is confused.
For example: Because of the clumping, fire favoring conditions that were once rare are much more common. The clumping of rain in some areas, i.e. california, may actually make it worse. A few good rainy years gets you more fuel so when the dry conditions come, you get more fire. In other words, wrt fire, the novel wild weather we are having is a lose-lose situation.
Chris #4 said “If we’re causing some of the warming then we should stop doing it.”
Ok – how?
RickA: Now we will be responsible for the tides, because the tides rise and fall on top of an already higher sea level, because of climate change.
Are you trying to suggest that human-caused climate warming is as natural and inexorable as the tides? Because that would be misleading. What’s wrong with accepting the science that clearly says that humans are responsible for the majority of the observed warming, and getting on with changing the way we power our civilization?
Kahn/Greg: Fort McMurray is 10-15 miles south of the nearest tar sands facility, and the fire started south of the town. So, no.
So the greening of the planet and more trees in general leads to more fuel for fires – so lose lose.
You are making my point – everything that happens in the future is humans fault.
Whether it is more rain, causing more trees or less rain causing more fuel – it is always humans fault.
It may be more productive to talk about wildfires without trying to blame them on humans, in my opinion.
GregH #11 said “What’s wrong with accepting the science that clearly says that humans are responsible for the majority of the observed warming, and getting on with changing the way we power our civilization?”
My point is that blaming every wildfire in the future on humans is going to get in the way of trying to change the way we power our civilization.
When CO2 was at 280 ppm – we had wildfires, we had floods, we had drought, we had storm surges, we had hurricanes and so forth.
This latest meme – that all weather is now happening on top of human caused climate change is being used to blame all weather events on humans. Why? To try to persuade large numbers of people to change the way we power our civilization.
I think this meme is going to backfire big time and is actually counter-productive to the goal of trying to change the way we power our civilization.
Of course this is just my opinion.
As I write this, the fire is not threatening the nearest of the tar sand facilities, (although this may change) in fact it is being used to shelter some of the evacuees. Should this wildfire approach, we are being told that there are suppression equipment and protocols in place, although it would seem using them would also create an environmental disaster only of a smaller scale.
This story just keeps getting better all the time. Bank of Canada is saying that the cost will wipe out the modest gains the whole county’s economy was projected to make this year, and its not over.
#12, no, you’re jumping to conclusions in an effort to ignore (or mock) the facts about climate change. You’re welcome to take responsibility for the tides and orbital cycles, but why don’t we focus on the part that humans actually have a role in?
This latest meme – that all weather is now happening on top of human caused climate change is being used to blame all weather events on humans.
So RickA, let’s pretend everything that is known about paleoclimate, ocean chemistry, and the function of the atmosphere doesn’t exist. Do you think it’s possible to extract an infinite amount of fossil fuel from a finite planet? You might do yourself a favor and develop long-term strategies a little more complex than “I’m gonna run every errand by zooming around in my SUV forever.”
RickA: “So the greening of the planet and more trees in general leads to more fuel for fires – so lose lose.
No, you don’t get it at all. The most fuel is in rain forests in the tropics, The normally don’t burn.
Except when they do. When do they burn? When the kinds of weather conditions that accompany global warming dry them out.
I’m pretty sure you are TRYING to not understand this.
RickA: It may be more productive to talk about wildfires without trying to blame them on humans, in my opinion.
Okay, RickA, we will attribute the increase in number and severity of wildfires to climate change, and only indirectly to human causes, such that we do not blame them on humans.
Because, as you are perfectly aware, we cannot have any productive discussion about wildfires while simultaneously attempting to dishonestly sweep one of the prime causes under the rug.
A nit: “it seems not to be usually slow moving and wavy” Should ‘not’ be ‘now’?
Slightly larger grumble: “warm air caused by an El Niño event” – this is a bit of overconfident causal reasoning itself. Of course the warm air is caused by global warming, el Niño, the omega blocking ridge, and who knows what all else. Causality is not the right way to express the matter, as seems to be a main point here. Odd that you should fall into it.
That said, overall the article is elegant and spot on. I think your treatment of the political context is insightful and sensitive. Thanks!
I blame humans for the fires set by humans.
I do not blame humans for the fires started by nature.
I think it is a bad idea to blame people for fires started by lightning (for example).
It is oil sands not TAR sands.
The oil sands are mother natures oil spill. It is a giant natural occurring oil spill. And the developers clean it up and do their best to take care of the environment and put everything back cleaner than what it was. The Oil Sands developments are a lot cleaner and environmentally conscience than anything in the USA. Just saying. And it is a lot more socially conscience than buying your oil from Saudi Arabia. Just saying. It isn’t perfect but no petrochemical development is. But at least in Canada we try to be as clean as we can.
The companies involved in the oil sands have runway facilities that can land 737 jets. They are evacuating people from these sites. They also have huge work camps because the location is so remote most workers fly in and out and stay in camps. They house thousands. They are now housing all the residents of Fort Mac who fled north. The oil companies are providing a huge amount of relief and support to everyone. After all it is their workers who live in Fort McMurray.
Most production is shut down until the fire is out and as of now none of the sites are in any danger from the fire right now.
RickA: Your legal training/expertise in misdirecting the jury to focus on strawman arguments is showing once again…
No one is blaming people for fires started by lightning (for example).
“People” are enhancing the conditions (“multiplying the threat”) under which fires can increase in frequency and severity. We are seeing evidence of that.
You do understand evidence, I presume? Do try to stay focused on the subject at hand…
You do understand evidence, I presume?
Having waded through some of the other threads nearby, I’m not so sure. “Evidence” is just grist for whatever mill RickA uses to argue that RickA is the “winner” even if it’s just in his own mind.
“Technically, both “tar sands” and “oil sands” are inaccurate. The substance in question is actually bituminous sand, a mixture of sand, clay, water and an extremely viscous form of petroleum called bitumen, which itself contains a noxious combination of sulphur, nitrogen, salts, carcinogens, heavy metals and other toxins. A handful of bituminous sand is the hydrocarbon equivalent of a snowball: each grain of sand is covered by a thin layer of water, all of which is enveloped in the very viscous, tar-like bitumen. In its natural state, it has the consistency of a hockey puck.
You might be forgiven for believing that the term has been foisted upon us by nasty, truth-hating environmentalists – but you’d be wrong. The term has actually been part of the oil industry lexicon for decades, used by geologists and engineers since at least 1939. According to Alberta oil historian David Finch, everyone called them the tar sands until the 1960s, and both “tar sands” and “oil sands” were used interchangeably until about 10 years ago, when the terminology became horribly politicized.”
I’m not sure if the Canadian X-sands production can be compared with similar exploitation in other areas, since the geology in various areas is so different.
In any even while exploitation is necessarily dirty, as well as transport, the main problem is still the use of fossil fuels because that releases fossil carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 (or methane, leaking form gas exploitation).
Prime Minister Trudeau said we cannot attribute this fire to climate change.
Greg is basically saying that this is wrong and calls that kind of thinking a trap.
I see this line of thinking as blaming all future wildfires, and in fact all future weather events, on humans – because they all occur in a world with a human changed climate.
I see this as destroying the ability to distinguish between a wildfire caused today and a wildfire caused in 1750.
Both caused by lightening – but the one today blamed on humans because (you fill in the blank).
You don’t see that, and apparently neither does Greg.
Lets agree to disagree (again).
sorry – i meant #23.
Sharing an opinion isn’t a winning or losing proposition.
If you disagree with my opinion, then go ahead and try to change the way people power the world by blaming them for wildfires and floods and other weather events.
Blame people for winter and summer while you are at it.
RickA is slaying one strawman after another. Heroic, isn’t it?
mt (20) Thanks for the catch on the Rossby waves. I’m sticking to my story about global warming warming the warmth, but I did revise the paragraph taking your concerns into account, possibly.
“I blame humans for the fires set by humans.
I do not blame humans for the fires started by nature.
I think it is a bad idea to blame people for fires started by lightning (for example”
If AGW increases the chance of a fire getting started to begin with, or growing out of control instead of being something that can be put out right away (i.e., a lightning strike sets ablaze a tree dead from pine bark beetles, which otherwise would have shrugged off an exploding Svea stove) then the humans share the blame.
As noted at the beginning of this post, this is complex. You will have to complexify your thinking on this to come closer to getting it right.
RickA has to stop building and slaying strawmen in his own little debating world to come closer to getting it right.
But that presents a jarring conflict within RickA that cannot be resolved along those lines.
The only comforting solution in RickA’s mind is to avoid any semblance of understanding by setting up strawmen that support his heart’s desire of “how it should be”, then providing his “aw shucks” opinions of why everyone else is oh so wrong…
RickA, we’re sorry you don’t live in the world you want to be living in. We’d prefer a different one ourselves. The difference is that we accept what we’ve got and want to make appropriate changes. You wallow in denial and fruitlessly try to argue against change.
Of all the times he’s shown how clueless (or dishonest? unintelligent?) he is, those paragraphs are currently the most concise. Way to go RickA.
Rhetorical legerdemain, wherein hand-waving confuses proximate and distal causes and makes them disappear. Very lawyerly since nature is just a figment of jurisprudent imagination, nature being as it is the mere servant of the relentless wishful pride of engineers.
God said so: Go forth and FUBAR thou.
Let us know when you and the politicians you vote for accept that humans are causing enough global warming to need to stop doing it. Until then the “how” is completely academic.
I’m not going to take issue with your science, but I do with your politics. You write that the people of For Mac just have to make a living and have no responsibility for the tar sands. I’m going to be charitable and that you simply don’t know anything about Canadian politics or Alberta. The province of Alberta has been the biggest booster of insane, crazy, climate change denial in Canada for a very, very long time. They were probably the biggest reason we were stuck with that vile pig of a previous Prime Minister who shall remain nameless.
I don’t believe in “karma”, but boy oh boy if it did exist, this fire would be a great example. Right now the cement heads in Alberta have been fighting tooth and nail to promote pipelines to sell tar sands oil to the rest of the world. The endless blabbing about how “OK Alberta believes in climate change, but people will always need the oil, or, climate change doesn’t exist, or, whatever just continues, or, the rest of the country are hypocrites” (nevermind that Ontario has gotten rid of coal fired power stations, build solar and wind power, and moving heaven and earth to build public transit and end suburban sprawl—its all baloney to Alberta.) The real issue is that Alberta is filled with arrogant, hard-working boobs who like making huge amounts of money in the oil industry without having to get an education. They also like not having to pay any taxes. The province is now in the midst of a huge budget short fall and still refuses to levvy a sales tax. (It might make those monster trucks and all terrain vehicles the oil workers like a little more expensive. Poor, sad, little puppies.)
In the words of my nephew, who is an Phd. in Engineering who works in the tar sands “Alberta is desperate to keep the tar sands working—-because they pissed away all the money from conventional oil”. I don’t want anyone to be hurt, but there are consequences to bad decisions. I save my pity for the poor, screwed peasants in Bangladesh who are going to drown. Not the fat jerks in Alberta who have fought tooth and nail to preserve their standard of living and to Hell with future generations.
If you want my vote, then you (or perhaps your side would be more accurate) need to set forth a plan and the plan needs to be subjected to a cost/benefit analysis to show it will do more good than harm.
So the how is required to get the votes to change how we power the world – or no change will take place.
Green subsidies are a disaster.
Germany shutting down 7 nuclear power plants was a disaster.
Turning corn into fuel is a disaster.
So far, most plans have done more harm than good.
So we need to be very careful and not take action without thinking.
The first step in thinking is to set forth a plan.
There is no plan (that I am aware of).
So therefore, nothing to subject to a cost benefit analysis.
I am still waiting for a plan.
I know a little about Alberta politics because I am in conversation with experts on that topic, but you are right this is not my bailiwick. However, I do know something about Texas politics, and apparently there are parallels!
I have no doubt that the politics of people who make a living off of petroleum (or cattle ranching, or whatever) are to support those industries make the kind of excuses you refer to, etc. I’m sure you are basically right.
However, as a general principle, the working stiffs who are the ones to get stiffed when the industry they work for have their politics shaped by their circumstances and are not really the ones to blame. So, I think the tone of my message regarding the folks in Fort M and the message of your comment can be both in strong contrast and both true at the same time.
Escalating feedback cycle – how things are snowballing :
And – although this is my speculation based on this :
among other things – I suspect some of that ash and soot from the burnt trees will end up changing the albedo of Arctic or Greenland (& other lands) ice and exacerbating things further too.
Latest news – via BBC online :
just keeps getting worse.
As an Aussie who has known bushfires, my sympathies and thoughts are with Albertans generally and the fire’s victims right now. Just horrendous.
There are a number of forest fires burning around the globe as seen by NASA.
@Rick A. You never did read all those books actually offering plans that I suggested for you in another thread year a few months or more ago did you?
George Monbiot Heat : Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning
Carbon Detox by George Marshall.
Oh & :
Another plan as mentioned in the excellent book ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’ by NASA’s top climatologists Dr James Hansen.
You got the memory of a goldfish Rick A or .. what?
So wish we could edit commenst here sigh.
Although, it might even have been a year ago.
Pretty sure these three books noted – all of which I have onmy bookshelf -are available from most good libraries and probably most second (or first)hand bookshops as well as online sellers too.
Would / Did you even think of actually looking at the sources suggested for ya RickA? Or ..
So if we want certain peoples’ votes, all we need is a “plan” that fixes a problem that they deny exists. That fits nicely with “something can’t be real if we don’t like its implications.”
And then those same people who make an art form out of delaying, prevaricating, and obstructing cry buckets of melodramatic crocodile tears when it’s pointed out that they’re denialists. Give me a break.
@40. RickA : “I am still waiting for a plan.”
You do know there’s this thing called Google and this thing called Wikipedia and these things called encyclopedias that existed before the internet age even right?
Now there are lots of good people out there and if you ask nicely – and sometimes even not – these people will try and answer your questions and help do some of your research for you or at least point you in the right direction with links and sources you can find out more from checking.
And if you have dspecific questions and don’t understand some things in some sights then fair enough you can try asking others for help in explaining it to you.
But really dude; is it too much to ask you to do at least some of your flippin’ homework here especially before you mouth off incorrectly ’bout things you clearly know sod all about?
Stevo, you give RickA too much credit for being stupid. He’s not. He’s a clever lawyer who knows very well how to torture language, logic, and ethics to push his self-serving agenda.
His only stupidity here is being too stupid to realize that he’s pushing for his own cherished lifestyle’s ultimate destruction, even as he desperately tries to preserve it through deceptive means.
So don’t treat him like a dummy. Treat him like.. a criminal in the docket. One who thought that he was too clever to get caught…
RickA: If you want my vote, then you (or perhaps your side would be more accurate)
Our side, RickA, is the side of humanity. So if you are identifying yourself as not willing to be on our “side”, then you are telling us that you are anti-humanity.
Not that we didn’t already know that.
An excellent argument can be made that this city should not be rebuilt.
The city is mostly support infrastructure for the oil sands deposits. Those deposits cannot be fully developed because the atmosphere doesn’t have the capacity to take all of that CO2.
Rebuilding the city would be a waste, because the city will have to be abandoned when the oil sands projects are all shut down.
Better to do that sooner, rather than later. The city would have been a “stranded asset”. It isn’t an “asset” any more. Better to take any insurance payments and rebuild other stuff elsewhere.
Bill Hulet, as an Albertan I generally agree with your comment. On the other hand, we did elect a “socialist” government last year, so we’ll see if that makes any difference in the long run.
So when are the politicians you vote for going to tell us that they accept climate science (so far they’ve been lying) and that all they are waiting for is an acceptable plan (to them) to proceed with reducing GHG emissions?
I am astounded that you are so willing vote for politicians who are compulsive liars. But since you are too maybe it’s not so astounding.
Here’s a hint ra. The reason for shutting down those nuclear power plants had nothing to do with reducing GHG emissions.
your comment about fires in the mountainous areas of Alberta and the western provinces isn’t quite right, or if you mean “western provinces” without including BC….they have no mountains. BC DOES fight its fires, avidly so….the reason the fires in the Alberta Rockies are let to burn and go through their natural cycle because they are in national parks and fires there generally don’t threaten industry or any community like they so often do in BC.
also re manmade vs natural you missed accounting for indigenous fire-setting, a method of encouraging underbrush and herbs, mushrooms, keeping the forest open rather than thick with scrub, and so on
the Kelowna Mountain Fire a decade ago was caused by government cutbacks of programs paying for people to control underbrush; add on the pine beetle problem and poorly managed forest land winds up being a firestorm waiting to happen.
Thing is the Fort Mac fire might burn for years, moving east across into Saskatchewan, and others will start in the meantime and probably sooner and more than later and few.
Smoke from last year’s superfire near Pemberton choked all surrounding valleys for hundreds of miles, even smoking out Vancouver. Several fires of that kind and smoke /particulate content in northern hemisphere air has to go downwind somewhere……
and if the tar sands catch fire…..it may be impossible to put out, and the carbon release even more than what’s going on already….
and bugger off to the guy ranting about “oil sands” vs “tar sands”. The media and academia got bought out by corporate money long ago and the internet is inundated with that term but normal folks have always called them the Athabasca Tar Sands, same deal with the Sydney Tar Pits and the La Brea Tar Pits. Bitumen=tar is NOT OIL.
Has anyone considered that the fire might be one giant case of Insurance Fraud for the entire town that was most likely bankrupt anyway? Just saying…
Skook. I would count indigenous fire-starting as part of human fire-starting, and that was totally included. Mainatining ecologies. That stuff.
As for fire management policies, etc., I’ve heard a different story from everyone I’ve talked to. I’ve come to understand that Canadians are generally not that fully cognizant of what their country’s fire management policies are, and/or it is very complex! Also, there is the relativity problem. The degree to which a fire might be let to burn, or the number of air vehciles or fire fighters used, etc. may be very different in the US vs. Canada yet be seen as roughly equivalent in terns of overall relative effort.
For example, when looking at the size of the Ft McM fire and the number of aircraft used, that number of aircraft seems like (though I’m just guessing) a small fraction of what would be used in a similar sized California fire, and both might be considered maximal.
If the oil sands could catch fire, then they would have caught fire at some time over recent decades or centuries, and there is no record of that. In order for oil sands to be ignitable, they have to be pre-heated to a fairly high amount, much less than the ground is usually heated during even an intense brush fire. Coal/peat/rubber tires etc. can be ignited much more easily, thus there are long term fires of that sort.
However, the extraction and refining sites are full of chemicals of various degrees of flammability. I would not want to rule out some sort of Rube Goldberg-esque sequence of untoward events. But it seems very unlikely.
David, I imagine the idea of not rebuilding is both on the table and almost impossible because of the culture of how we deal with victims.
If city fire departments used the same procedures to put out fires as provincial government forest service employees, then cities would always burn to the ground.
Whenever there is a fire, “hit it fast, hit it hard” prevents conflagrations like Fort McMurray. Dithering around “making a plan” squanders valuable time, allowing fires to grow out of control.
We had a fire early in the evening at the foot of a mountain several years ago. My neighbours and I could have put the fire out with our fire pumps while it was small and controllable. The Forest Service employee told us if we went near the fire, we would all be charged with an “offense”. The fire took off- up the mountain early the next morning. 7 helicopters and all summer finally stopped this fire.
I have had a lot of experience around fires, and the biggest problem is letting government employees in charge.
Killing a fire in its infancy is the only way to prevent tragedies like Fort Mac.
I can’t understand why otherwise intelligent commenters continue to reply to RickA. We know the routine, and, no matter how much information we provide,
it never changes. You’re wasting your time.
The following is from a 2004 paper:
“The area burned by forest fires in Canada has increased over the past four decades, at the same time as summer season temperatures have warmed. Here we use output from a coupled climate model to demonstrate that human emissions of greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosol have made a detectable contribution to this warming. We further show that human-induced climate change has had a detectable influence on the area burned by forest fire in Canada over recent decades. This increase in area burned is likely to have important implications for terrestrial emissions of carbon dioxide and for forest ecosystems.”
Here’s more on fire and climate change:
https://www.forestsandrangelands.gov/QFR/documents/2014QFRFinalReport.pdf pp. 15-20
I can’t understand why otherwise intelligent commenters continue to reply to RickA.
Debate practice. It helps when discussing the subjects with open-minded but misguided individuals for whom it has a positive effect of enlightenment.
At least RickA provides a consistent foil for exercise. Like a plumber who needs a toilet that keeps clogging up so he can practice how to work on such a case.
Chris #52 said “Here’s a hint ra. The reason for shutting down those nuclear power plants had nothing to do with reducing GHG emissions.”
Germany shut them down because of Fukushima.
Which is stupid – because they are in no danger of losing their back-up batteries due to a tidal wave.
Meanwhile they are using coal power to replace the non-CO2 producing nuclear.
I said nothing about more fires or less fires.
I said it is a bad idea to blame fires on humans which are not started by humans.
In your world – now that humans have increased CO2 to 400 ppm – absolutely everything which happens is humans fault.
Every fire, every drop of rain, every snowflake, every drought, every flood, every hurricane, every tornado and so forth.
But this is clearly nonsense.
Every natural event listed above occurred when CO2 was 280 ppm (and even 180 ppm) and therefore not every natural event can be laid at humans feet.
It is counter-productive and an overreach.
It will backfire and turn people off.
It will make it harder to change laws.
Just one person’s opinion.
Here’s the problem with using rhetoric and sophistry to score points. Once a society tosses logic and evidence out the window, there is nothing left to settle disputes except brute force. Do you really want to go to a world where the issue of climate change is settled by lynch mobs hanging deniers from lamp posts? Because if our society delays long enough, that’s exactly what is going to happen.
Like clockwork: an Appeal to Extremes.
[sigh] Still working his way through every rhetorical fallacy in the book, I see. Tsk.
My comment @~ 64 was directed at RA.
This is exceptionally good:
The problem that arises when arguing with a contrarian/science denier regarding the attribution of any particular extreme weather event to AGW
Is you are essentially arguing against the “gamblers fallacy”
They will simply sit back and say “this could have happened without AGW” – i.e. naturally – “after all it has in the past”
the existence of Las Vegas is a monument to these idiots
I’m wondering how the chemicals used in geo engineered weather modification (chemtrails) that are relentlessly sprayed worldwide impact wildfires. I’ve heard that aluminum, barium, strontium, etc. cause wildfires to burn much hotter than they normally would. Can you speak to this? Great article. Thank you.
Yes it is. But notice you’re the one saying that. Moron.
the real reason fires are so out of control lately is that we have been suppressing fires for over 100 years. Nature likes to clean itself up through wildfire and lightning strikes (and uncontrolled fires which burn out naturally) In some places the burn cycle is yearly while other places have a 35-40 year burn cycle.
So… with all of this suppression we have fuel buildups which make the intensity of wildfire even greater and thus these raging infernos. It’s time to return wildfire back to the ecosystem but we need to find ways to get rid of this buildup so that the raging fires are extremely limited…..
“If you want my vote, then you (or perhaps your side would be more accurate) need to set forth a plan and the plan needs to be subjected to a cost/benefit analysis to show it will do more good than harm.”
Well. This might take a bit of time away from your commenting activities. It takes quite a bit of reading and even more fact checking and following up references if you take it seriously.
The best takeaways on various pages (from my point of view) –
“This is a major reason why laboratory measurements of dissolution rates of minerals are irrelevant to obtain rates of weathering of minerals in tropical soils. … Lichens are also able to attack rock surfaces, by secreting oxalic acid … When the olivine grains are plowed under, the weathering rate is further enhanced, because the soil atmosphere is on average hundred times richer in CO2 than air … This is due to the fact that plant material is decaying, and soil fauna is breathing, both increasing the local CO2 content. ”
Best of all –
” All molecules of CO2 are identical, so one should aim for the most economical way to capture as much CO2 as possible anywhere in the world, independent of location or origin. The atmosphere is a well mixed reservoir, so capture of CO2 around a dunite mine in a tropical country reduces the CO2 level of the entire atmosphere of Earth just as much as capturing the same amount of CO2 from the flue gases of a power plant in Western Europe.”
Lots of jobs. Millions of them. Improve agriculture in the tropics. Improve coral reefs and fish life in mangroves. What’s not to like!
And – above all else – the ability to measure exactly how much CO2 is extracted from the atmosphere. 1 kg/tonne of crushed olivine absorbs 1.25 kg/tonnes of CO2.
And the more we introduce renewable power and use of EVs, public transport and improved building design, the faster we’ll reduce CO2 emissions, the faster we’ll get to the point of reducing atmospheric and ocean concentrations of CO2.
The wildfire events at Fort McMurray did not occur when CO2 was 180 ppm.
It was under 3,000 metres of ice!
A google search brought me to this surprising study on insect damage and forest fire published in Environmenatl Research Letters, April 21, 2016. Th authors found that infestations of Mountain Pine Beetles and Western Spruce Budworm in the Pacific Northwest correlate with less severe, rather than more severe, forest fires. I’m not a scientist, so I hope that some of those commenting on here will take a look at this and see if it holds up. http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/045008/pdf
when the trees are freshly killed – red needles which act as tinder – they are extremely volatile but when the needles fall off they lose volatility and pose less of a threat. But, they still dry out and when they do light up they burn hot…..
OK. So it was stupid to mention that in the context of measures attempting to reduce CO2 emissions.
I’ll leave you to vote for your liars.
Skookum1 The “tar sands” do not easily burn and due to the nature of the soil there (sand/ unsorted glacial till) the chances of a deep fire that burns underground (aside from shallow fires that follow tree roots) are practically nil as there is no way for oxygen to reach it. There have been massive forest fires in northern boreal forest many times since the last ice age and the bitumen deposits have not become deep underground fires. The open pit mines however are another matter as there is a lot of bitumen exposed and a lot of extraction by-products in the settling ponds (I don’t know how flammable the latter would be.) Fortunately as of this writing the fire has avoided the mines.
As the winds are blowing the smoke down into SK and souther AB right now I suspect the ash will follow and not be a major factor blackening the ice/snow cover in the Arctic (I hope).
Douglas Alder’s comment raises a question for me. A while back I read that China has a huge number of artisanal (ie: small, traditional) coal mines. They are dry mines, and this means that they spontaneously give off CO2 without burning once the coal is exposed to the air. The point of the article was that this was a huge source of C02 pollution and an NGO was working with the Chinese population to get them to seal these things off and stop this source of GreenHouse gases. I was wondering if the open pit tar sands extraction sites were similarly outgasing CO2 (maybe or/and methane too)? If so, is this gas also being incorporated into the footprint of tar sands extraction?
Bill, good question.
I read the article linked in #66.
“We’ve reached an era where all weather events bear at least a slight human fingerprint, which, as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in the New Yorker, means “we’ve all contributed to the latest inferno.” That’s a scientific fact.”
And dean thought no one was saying this (#69).
If every weather event bears the fingerprint of humans, than every weather event bears the fingerprint of nature also.
So everything is partially humans fault – even if a fire is set by arson, it is partially natures fault (if you use probability). Since lightning started fires are about 10% of the fires, we could say that a fire started deliberately by a human (arson) was 90% human fault and 10% natures fault. Does that sound right?
I reject that kind of thinking.
A fire set by a human (arson) is 100% humans fault. It is actually a crime.
A fire set by lightening is 100% natures fault. It is not a crime.
To blur the lines of human responsibility in order to motivate action is a mistake, in my opinion.
I suspect that you are a cement head troll, but in case there’s someone reading this who might have some sympathy to this line of argument who isn’t also similar cement head troll, here’s the flaw in that line of reasoning.
The world is a complex place and there are layers of “causes”, primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. Let’s look at a hypothetical case of arson. Let’s say a person sets a fire in a warehouse and it leads to a catastrophic fire that kills lots of people. The person who sets the fire is a primary cause, but that doesn’t let secondary, tertiary, and other causes off the hook. What could these other causes be?
If the person who sets the fire is a pyromaniac that will predictably set a fire if he is let free from a mental hospital and the hospital lets him free because his family bribes the committee that decides whether or not to let him free, then both the committee members who take money and the family members who bribed him bear some responsibility.
Let’s also look at the warehouse. If the company that owns the warehouse decides to break the fire code and doesn’t have proper fire alarms and sprinklers, then it has a responsibility. As does the fire department if it “looked the other way” when it inspected the property.
Also, if the contractors decided to not bother following the code when they build/renovated the warehouse and made it more susceptible to fires.
Also the warehouse managers are guilty if they stored dangerous, flammable materials in the warehouse in a way not according to the fire code.
To casual readers who want to dismiss the above because I used a “personal comment” in the above because I called a fellow commentator a “cement head”, this is a statement about the sort of rhetorical sophistry that he is making, not a pejorative statement. The informal logical error he is using to throw sand in the eyes of the naive is the “cement head” fallacy. This is when you simply refuse to accept when someone points out the logical errors you are using to make a point. The point is that they are totally impervious to rational rebuttal. The only response to a cement head is violence, you cannot reason with a cement block, you have to hit with a sledge hammer. This is sad, but true.
As for the “troll” part. A troll is someone who doesn’t engage in an online discussion to learn something (ie the sort of thing that scientists and philosophers do to learn more about the world around them), but instead at best to “score points” (ie the sort of things lawyers do to win trials or politicians to win debates) and at worst to get “laughs”. Again, trolls are cement heads because there is no logical argument that will change their minds simply because they are not engaging in a discussion to learn anything but instead to do something else. And again, like a cement head, the only thing that works with a troll is violence. Again, sad but true.
In my blog, I ruthless exclude cement head trolls. But other bloggers have different attitudes.
So, by your logic, if somebody soaks your house in gasoline and an ember from a lightning strike a mile away lands on it burning it to the ground, then the fire is 100% caused by nature.
“To blur the lines of human responsibility in order to motivate inaction is a mistake, in my opinion.” There fixed it for you.
Argh. A better comment got in ahead of me again.
Mine @~ 79 was aimed at RA.
Bill, it’s probably not a good idea to use legal examples with RickA, because he doesn’t understand legalities.
Well, he “doesn’t understand” when understanding would conflict with his destructive self-interest.
Which you can easily tell, because that’s when RickA whips out the “aw shucks” sophistry, fraudulent rhetoric, and misleading strawman arguments and “my opinions” he’s so famous for.
As far as being a troll, RickA is not trying to score points. He’s trying to sabotage — and the only laughs are when he tries to hide this and appear innocent.
Ricka, if you really think that item you quoted says the same as your exaggeration you clearly are beyond hope.
“To blur the lines of human responsibility in order to motivate inaction is a criminal activity, in my opinion.” There fixed it for you.
Well, ‘troll’, yes. But RickA has pretty much promoted the kind of stock “conservative” propaganda that Republicans have been foisting on the masses for quite some time now. They depend on a base whose critical thinking skills have been assiduously incapacitated.
Then, of course, they can’t figure out how Trump took over the party — though I suspect that RickA is a wee Trumpie in his shriveled little heart of hearts.
“Trumpkin”. Likely, only more along the lines of a pre-Trump conservative, cloaked in the thin, transparent veneer and blowing annoying dog whistles in an effort to keep up the Emperor’s facade of false respectability.
What do you think “all weather events bear at least a slight human fingerprint” means?
RA @ 86, I don’t know about Dean, but laying aside your rhetorical falderal, I can’t figure out what YOU actually think it means: Something, something, oh-no!, grab your foil hats, conspiracy, blah-blah-blah…?
“What do you think “all weather events bear at least a slight human fingerprint” means?”
does not mean “everything that happens is our fault”. Your comment says we are the sole cause.
I’m guessing you know you’re lying about them being the same, as that sort of thing is your standard operating procedure.
Terrific article, enhanced by further information from the comments. Grateful to mt for pointer to here. The careful balancing of responsibility, inclusion of working stiff dilemma re livelihood and choices, and not allowing the desire to be compassionate to get in the way of saying the necessary are spot on imhol.
The time has been and gone when it is OK to avoid saying the obvious, that we are in a whole lot of trouble and need to pay attention and do our possible.
Agree RA is a complete waste of time; time to ignore him. Too much other good stuff to waste time with the obvious, and I think the points that need making have been made.
” a noxious combination of sulphur, nitrogen, salts, carcinogens, heavy metals and other toxins. ”
What an unkind thing to say about a sedimentary rock in the state of nature, whose erosion in situ since the retreat of the last ice age has created a pristine Canadian wilderness and driven the evolution of many of the hydrocarbon metabolizing species forming the podisolic base of the boreal food web.
Good point made.