Very often it isn’t what you say that dictates the narrative, it’s what you choose to omit. The BBC understands this very well when it comes to reporting extreme weather events. Extreme storms and flooding require more energy and moisture to be held in the atmosphere. This can be expected with global warming and so such warming is bound to result in an increase in frequency and severity. Therefore, an observed increase in frequency or severity is surely due to global warming, QED. Other contexts rarely get a mention; or, if they do, they are always secondary considerations.
Similar logic applies to heat waves and forest fires. There’s no smoke without fire, and there’s no fire without global warming. As far as the BBC is concerned, it really is that simple. Or, at least, that is the impression they give whenever they report upon such events. Consequently, every single heat-related mishap becomes a golden opportunity to remind us all of the indisputable fact of global warming.
One such opportunity that has recently fired the BBC’s imagination (pun intended) is the conflagration currently underway in the Siberian wastelands. It has been well-covered by the BBC, for example, here and here. As always, the theme seems to be pre-written. Yes, such events have happened before, but this time it is so much worse – as you would expect with global warming. Undoubtedly, the increased severity is therefore due to global warming. And you know what that means. Yes, it’s going to get much, much worse folks.
I wonder, therefore, what the BBC would make of the forest and moorland fires occurring in my neck of the woods. They too have been happening for at least the thirty odd years that I have lived here, and yet, they too, appear to be on the increase. Obviously, according to the BBC’s abductive reasoning, this is the hand of global warming. Except for one awkward fact: the fires have only ever occurred during school holidays.
So, what are we to conclude? Is the increase due to global warming, or does it indicate a deterioration of social order, a manifestation of an increasingly destructive juvenile ennui? Of course, either or neither may be factors, but what do you think the BBC would make of it, if they could ever be bothered? Yep, I agree. The kids are kool. Global warming strikes again.
“Steady on.” I here you say. “There are no kids in Siberia. What do you say now, smart-arse? In such wilderness there can only be one explanation for the increasing severity of such fires, the one brought to you by the BBC, the world’s most trusted source of bullshit news.”
Except, here again, there are one or two facts that usually don’t get a mention in the BBC broadcasts. Firstly, the Russian economy is on the skids, and so a cost-cutting policy has been introduced whereby boreal fires are now only to be tackled if they stray too close to a populated area. Surprise, surprise! Fires are now more extensive than they used to be. Greenpeace (less surprisingly) has bemoaned this policy. Global warming, it says, poses an increased threat and, with their new policy, the Russian authorities are not doing enough to combat it. No one seems to think that it is the new policy that poses the increased threat and that it is the climate that is not pulling its weight.
Secondly, in many cases, arson is suspected. There may not be a dense population of delinquent youths in Siberia, but authorities do have a problem with illicit logging, and there is evidence that ne’er-do-well lumberjacks are starting fires to cover the evidence. Once again, a deteriorating economy can be expected to correlate with an increase in such criminality. Global warming is not the only trend in town.
Finally, what are we to make of the following paper? It is a paleo-climatological study based upon charcoal analysis of sediment cores. Its headline is that boreal forest fires in Alaska are at a level not seen in the last 10,000 years. This fact has been gleefully pounced upon by many who have reported upon the Siberian outbreak (though they don’t seem to have noticed that the paper they cite is referring to a completely different country). The real devil, however, is in the detail. A point well made in the paper is that, if you are going to look at trends on a millennial scale, you have to consider both climatic and vegetative changes. To put it in the words of the authors:
“These data allow us to put fire regime dynamics of the past several decades in the context of natural variability of past millennia and infer the role of climate–fire–vegetation interactions in boreal forest burning.”
So, it seems, the recent peak has as much to do with the availability of the right combustible material as it does the right climatic conditions.
Another awkward fact lurking in the paper goes as follows:
“During the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA; ∼1,000–500 cal B.P.), the period most similar to recent decades, warm and dry climatic conditions resulted in peak biomass burning, but severe fires favored less-flammable deciduous vegetation, such that fire frequency remained relatively stationary.”
Did I just read that correctly? Charcoal analysis of sediment cores indicates peak biomass burning around the Medieval Period, suggesting similar climatic conditions?
Oh my God! Don’t tell Michael Mann. Tree rings be damned! The truth is in the ashes.