Networks Blame Wildfires, Droughts on Climate Change, Despite Fact They’ve Declined
Hot-headed climate alarmists continue to make wilder and wilder claims about the effects of global warming, but they often desert the actual evidence.
On June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new plan to restrict carbon emissions in an attempt to combat climate change. This move came less than a month after the White House released a high-profile report fear-mongering over the impacts of climate change, including wild fires and droughts.
Over the past three months, the broadcast networks have fretted over increased wild fires and worsening droughts, while blaming both on man-made climate change. Despite this hysteria, recent analyses reveal a decline in the frequency of wildfires and droughts in the United States.
ABC, CBS and NBC connected “hundred-year forest fires” and “periods of severe drought” to climate change in 23 morning and evening shows between March 1 and June 1. They never questioned the hypothesis that these incidents were caused by climate change
Instead, reporters warned that “something is very dangerously happening with the weather,” but scientific and historical evidence revealed that neither droughts nor fires are increasing due to man-made climate change.
Throughout these 23 stories, the networks regularly interviewed or played clips of famous climate alarmists, such as President Barack Obama and scientists like Michael Oppenheimer and Heidi Cullen. Each network accepted and promoted alarmist claims, especially hyping major reports pushing a global warming agenda.
Journalists consistently made over the top claims. For example on May 18, NBC “Nightly News” correspondent Joe Fryer claimed that “for the first time, all of California is in a serious drought or worse.” Ironically, there is evidence that this “historical” California drought is far from unique. Similarly, CBS’ Charles Osgood, on May 11’s “Sunday Morning,” wondered “whether the dust bowl is really so far away and so long ago after all.”
On May 6, the White House released its Third U.S. National Climate Assessment which purported to “confirm that climate change is affecting Americans in every region of the United States.” The administration claimed that “drought and increased warming foster wildfires,” and the networks immediately promoted this claim.
While reporting on these findings, the broadcast networks were uniformly sympathetic to the government’s position. NBC’s Al Roker, on May 7’s “Today,” cited the report as detailing “wildfires burning more often with less water on hand to put them out. And on the heels of America’s warmest decade, more heat waves and periods of severe drought. All these symptoms set to grow more severe.”
ABC also pushed the assessment with May 6’s “World News” correspondent Ginger Zee saying “it means more heat waves and exceptional drought, bringing those wildfires. All of it, according to the National Climate Assessment report, is from the impact of a warming planet.”
Overall, the networks spent over 27 minutes on this report in the 24 hours after it was released. But contrary to this hype, even the report’s fine print undermined the propaganda. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the National Climate Assessment admitted, “There has been no universal trend in the overall extent of droughts across the continental U.S. since 1900.”
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released another installment of its Fifth Assessment Report, the networks rushed to repeat its claims that “drought frequency will likely increase.”
On March 31, ABC “World News” correspondent Jim Avila said “today’s ominous report, blaming the increase in extreme weather on global warming. Here in America, more wildfires, intense burns like this one in Colorado.” He also connected it with a “devastating drought in the American West.”
That morning, on CBS’ “This Morning,” Michio Kaku, an alarmist climate scientist, predicted “hundred–year droughts, hundred-year forest fires” and said “something is very dangerously happening with the weather.”
Evidence Undermines Media Hype
Unfortunately for the media and climate alarmists, there is little evidence that droughts and wildfires are increasing due to man-made global warming. In fact, recent research both disputes the connection to climate change and reveals more intense periods of droughts and fires when carbon dioxide levels were much lower.
Writing for Forbes Magazine, James Taylor pointed out that, “2013 was one of the quietest wildfire years in U.S. history.” He cited the National Interagency Fire Center, which lists the number of forest fires each year since 1960. This data showed that 2013 had the fewest forest fires during this period. Taylor said, “From 1962 through 1982, for example, at least 100,000 wildfires occurred in the United States every year” but after 1982 “not a single year has registered 100,000 wildfires.”
Historically, the United States was struck by severe fires even before carbon dioxide reached current levels. In fact, the two largest fires in American history, according to the Weather Underground occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
A Wisconsin fire in 1871, “the single worst wild fire in U.S. history,” burned almost 3.8 million acres and killed 1,500 people. The second-worst was a 1910 fire in Idaho and Montana that killed 87 people and destroyed 3 million acres. By contrast all 47,579 fires in 2013 destroyed only 4.3 million acres, a mean average of 90.79 acres per fire.
In fact, geological records bolster the evidence that earlier fires were more frequent. A 2009 analysis by R.M. Beaty and A.H. Taylor examined charcoal records in northern California to study wildfires over thousands of years. They found that “current fire episode frequency is at one of its lowest points in at least the last 14,000 years.”
Similar evidence challenged the connection between climate change and droughts. Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, posted a graph on his blog on May 22. This data showed a slight decrease in global drought since 1982, based on a 2013 publication in Nature which monitored “historical drought severity data.”
This information is not surprising, given historical evidence that Californian droughts, at least, used to be much worse. The San Jose Mercury News reported in January that “studies of tree rings, sediment and other natural evidence” have revealed “severe megadroughts [that] make the Dust Bowl of the 1930s look tame.” In fact, Scott Stine, an environmental studies professor at California State University, East Bay, studied tree ring data and found that while 2013 was a very dry year, this past century “has been among the wettest of the last 7,000 years.”
Further evidence has found that periods of drought and rainfall in California fluctuate naturally over time. According to the Heartland Institute’s Climate Change Reconsidered II, current Western droughts can be explained by natural variability. A group of researchers led by J.A. Kleppe found in 2011 that “dry conditions have occurred regularly, in cyclical fashion, ‘every 650-1150 years,” suggesting “there is nothing unusual, unnatural, or unprecedented about the nature of [Californian] drought.”
— Sean Long is Staff Writer at the Media Research Center. Follow Sean Long on Twitter.