Scenes of residents and tourists cowering on beaches to escape ferocious wildfires engulfing all before them are, undeniably, of great concern to us all. And seeing such scenes on the eve of the publication of an IPCC assessment report that focuses executive attention upon increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events only adds to their poignancy. We know already that scientists are obsessed with the necessary role that climate change plays in events such as the recent Greek forest fires. The fact that a warming planet must, perforce, lead to extended burning seasons is difficult to deny. So surely there is nothing left to be said.

Except, when it comes to forest fires, there’s always plenty more to be said. You might not suspect so when reading the typically simplistic reports emerging from the mainstream media, but trends in such fires are always a result of a complex interplay between climatic change, availability of combustible material and human activity. The Greek fires are no exception, so let us look under the hood a little to see what the full picture looks like.

Source material

I have taken as my main source of information an analysis of Greek forest fires provided by the Climatechangepost website. This is a site dedicated to the promotion of the various adaptation measures deemed necessary to deal with climate change. The site does not entertain sceptical views regarding anthropogenic climate change, and so you may be assured that no part of the analysis was written specifically for the benefit of those with a sceptical mind-set. Nevertheless, I choose here to highlight those elements of the analysis that place the Greek fires in their broader context, since this may be of interest to the curious. If you wish instead to make up your own mind, then by all means consult the Climatechangepost analysis directly. If you are happy to accept my summary of highlights, then please read on:

1) The number of fires and areas burnt is correlated with rainfall and not temperature

Looking back at the historical trend between 1900 and 2010, the analysis states:

“During the period 1961–1997 there was a statistically significant increasing trend and a positive correlation between the number of fires and area burned and the annual drought episodes in Greece (1,2). Summer drought episodes did not show any particular trend for the same period. The average number of fires and area burned were significantly higher in Greece during the sub-period 1978–1997, when Greece entered a prolonged period of drought, compared to the previous sub-period 1961–1977 (1). From a statistical analysis of fire occurrence in Greece during 1900–2010 it was concluded that total area burned at the national scale is controlled by precipitation totals rather than air temperature (3).”

The distinction between increased temperature and drought may seem academic, but the two do not necessarily correlate and this has implications for Detection & Attribution studies that attempt to attribute local drought events to global warming.

2) The recent wildfires are by no means unprecedented and have been less destructive than the 2007 wildfires

The favourite quote presented by the media regarding the 2021 fires is that “we have never seen anything like it”. For example, there is this from Nikos Hardalias, Greece’s civil protection chief:

“Over the past few days, we have been facing a situation without precedent in our country, in the intensity and wide distribution of the wildfires, and the new outbreaks all over [Greece]”

People have short memories. Admittedly, it is early days but the forest fires of 1998 and 2007 were actually much more destructive and resulted in a much greater loss of life than the 2021 fires. Regarding the 2007 fires:

“The estimation for the cost of the damages for the 500,000 people affected was close to 3 billion euros according to European sources (4), while other moderate estimations have found it to be close to 2.2 billion US dollars (5). During the 2007 summer period, 68 people were killed, while another 2,094 people were injured (6). More than 100 villages and settlements were damaged; the burned forest and agricultural land constitutes about 2 % (190,836 ha) of the total area of Greece (7,8).”

It is also worth pointing out that the main reason for this particularly extensive set of forest fires was an over-accumulation of combustible material:

“The large burnt areas of 2007 fires season in Peloponnese Peninsula appear to be more sensitive to fuel availability and vegetation density than to vegetation dryness (9).”

It remains to be seen what role this has played in the 2021 fires.

3) The recent trend regarding Mediterranean wildfires is not that of an uninterrupted rise

Whilst it is true that the period 1900-2010 has seen a gradual increase in the numbers and extent of forest fires, the trend has been by no means straightforward as patterns of drought and fuel availability have taken their affect. This is not just true for Greece but for the Mediterranean in general. For example:

“A study on the Mediterranean region on fire trends in Portugal, Spain, southern France, Italy, and Greece in the period 1985-2011 revealed a general decreasing trend of the total annual burned area in all countries, with the exception of Portugal (10).”

4) Rural depopulation of northern mountain areas has been a key factor in recent wildfires

I have already mentioned the relevance of surface burning material to the 1998 and 2007 fires. This is a recurrent factor, however, and it is largely determined by human behaviour. With regard to the 1998 and 2007 fires, the analysis states:

“These fires most likely have had more surface burning fuel to propagate compared with those in previous decades because of rural depopulation in northern mountains of the Mediterranean, thus resulting in (a) reduced harvesting of biomass and (b) longer periods of fire exclusion (during which burning fuel accumulated) because of lower human activity (12).”

The analysis warns of worse to come if the current socioeconomic trend continues:

Mediterranean mountainous areas may face a very large threat from wildfires in the twenty-first century, if socioeconomic changes leading to land abandonment and thus burning fuel accumulation are combined with the drought intensification projected for the region under global warming (4).”

5) The fire risk season can be expected to lengthen in most (but not all) Mediterranean countries, but the removal of accumulated dead biomass will mitigate the risk significantly

The future trend of forest fires in the Mediterranean is expected to be of an increase, resulting from a lengthening burn season:

“Forest fire danger, length of the fire season, and fire frequency and severity are very likely to increase in the Mediterranean (13), and will lead to increased dominance of shrubs over trees (14).”

But not for everyone:

The islands of Crete, Sardinia, Sicily (southernmost Italy too), Peloponnese, and Cyprus see no increase or decrease. Cyprus may even see a small decrease every month.

However, trying to reduce the lengthening of the fire season by cutting carbon dioxide emissions is not a cost-effective risk reduction strategy. The key to controlling the risk lies in adequate risk assessment tools, effective forestry management and keeping on top of the accumulation of surface burn material:

“Developing fire risk assessment tools that enable long-term fire danger prognosis (15) and battling the accumulation of burning fuel should be a top priority to reduce fire spread, especially if rural depopulation further continues in northern mountains of the Mediterranean (14).”

“Thinning and pruning may significantly reduce the risk of developing active and passive crown fires, giving the opportunity for successful countering of a possible fire from ground and air forces, since the fireline intensity of the front is significantly reduced, as a result of the fire’s confinement to the surface.”

Unfortunately, a major tool in the forest fire fighter’s armory is not available to the Greek authorities:

“Controlled or prescribed burning as a means to reduce surface fuel is not allowed under Greek legislation (7).”

Perhaps this last point should have been made more of by the media.

Conclusion

I have not written the above in order to dismiss the importance of the 2021 Greek wildfires, nor to deny that climate change will play a role in the outbreak of future forest fires. However, as is always the case, the reality on the ground is far more complicated than one might think given the shrill remonstrations made by those who demand an urgent transition to net zero carbon emissions. Risk may be reduced in a number of ways and the determination of the most cost-effective risk management strategy requires a full understanding of the factors leading to previous wildfire events and any underlying trends. Putting it all down to rising temperatures that can only be mitigated by reductions in carbon dioxide emission is both simplistic and misleading. I’m guessing, however, that will not be the message delivered by the IPCC’s AR6 executive summary.

References:

1. Dimitrakopoulos et al. (2011)

2. Camia and Amatulli (2009); Hoinka et al. (2009); Costa et al. (2011); Koutsias et al. (2012), all in: IPCC (2014)

3. Xystrakis et al. (2014)

4. Davidson (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)

5. Statheropoulos (2008), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)

6. USAID (2007), in: Mitsakis et al. (2014)

7. Xanthopoulos et al. (2006), in: Zagas et al. (2013)

8. Koutsias et al. (2012), in: Xystrakis et al. (2014)

9. Gouveia et al. (2016)

10. Turco et al. (2016), in: Silva et al. (2019)

11. Christopoulou et al. (2013), in: Sarris et al. (2014)

12. Sarris et al. (2014)

13. Santos et al. (2002); Pausas (2004); Moreno (2005); Pereira et al. (2005); Moriondo et al. (2006), all in: Alcamo et al. (2007)

14. Mouillot et al. (2002), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)

15. Sarris and Koutsias (2014), in: Sarris et al. (2014)

46 Comments

  1. John, thanks for that thoughtful and sensitive piece.

    I am sure that nobody here will downplay the seriousness of the fires. However, I had suspected that the hysterical media reporting lacked both context and serious analysis. Thank you for supplying both.

    When the history of climate alarmism comes to be written, I think one of the most serious charges to be made against those in charge of policy (and those agitating for GHG reduction policies) will be the extent to which they ignored alternative sources/causes of problems, and failed to take serious steps towards adaptation. Time and again, it seems to be mitigation or bust, and never mind the consequences.

    Like you, sadly, I hold out little hope for any serious or thoughtful consideration of those issues when we are due to be met with the shrill Cassandras in the media and among the usual suspects, when tomorrow’s great press release takes place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Surely another major factor controlling the severity of new wildfires is the extent and the timing of previous wildfires. Areas recently burnt cannot burn again until regenerated. This of course is another aspect of fuel availability, but clearly indicates that we should not expect an uninterrupted increase in wildfires.

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  3. Alan,

    >”Areas recently burnt cannot burn again until regenerated”

    Indeed. I guess that is the implication of “longer periods of fire exclusion (during which burning fuel accumulated)”.

    But it isn’t just about the harvesting of combustible biomass, it is also a question of what replaces it. A couple of relevant points also made in the ClimateChangePost analysis are:

    “In addition, forest fires are expected to encourage the spread of invasive species which in turn, have been shown to fuel more frequent and more intense forest fires.”

    But then, if broadleaf species move in:

    “…the progressive enrichment with broadleaf species might increase the moisture content in these positions and further reduce the risk of a forest fire spreading.”

    It is also worth mentioning that drought does not straightforwardly increase the risk of fire. It can also reduce it in the longer term by reducing combustible biomass:

    “…the frequency and intensity of fires in subtropical forests will eventually decrease after an initial phase of increase once rainfall has decreased so much that less grass fuel is available to support fires.”

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  4. Today the BBC is reporting that 56,000 hectares have been burnt in this year’s wildfires. That’s an impressive figure but still a good deal short of the 191,000 burnt in 2007. Unprecedented is still a word to be kept in reserve. Watch this space.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think climate change has a role here. Summer drought is the norm for the garrigue/maquis/chaparral shrubby community that you get in these areas, without which they would not exist. Photos appear to show crown fires in trees rather than shrubland burning but there is an obvious contribution of understorey biomass/necromass to fire propagation likelihood. (In fact one of the references given mentioned that a particular fire spread from shrubland into Aleppo pine forest (I seem to remember)).

    Even if you might suppose that climate change increases the chance of ignition, then you still don’t get anywhere. Why? Because this habitat always burns in the end. If a drier climate made it burn every 4 years instead of every 6, then yes you’d have a larger area burnt per year, but it would be burnt with less intensity – particularly if a prolonged drought season meant that biomass accumulated more slowly over time (think how slowly biomass accumulates in a desert; does it burn?).

    Now, it may be that if you could keep fire away from this type of habitat long enough, you’d end up with a forest of broadleaf trees as mentioned above by John. These cast more shade, so that the type of shrubs that burn easily are in the end outcompeted by shade-tolerant species (that are less tolerant of incredibly hot days with direct sunlight), so lowering fire risk. But that might take a hundred years.

    Final points: 1) were these fires started naturally, i.e. by dry lightning? and 2) wildfires don’t matter unless they affect places where people live. The more people who move into the “Wildland-Urban Interface” the more trouble we will have, because we will have more arson and accidental fires, and we will be forced to constantly put fires out because of the threat they hold, thus increasing standing fuel, and making it harder to put them out next time, and making human loss more likely next time too.

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  6. Jit,

    Thanks for your contribution. Some very interesting and valid arguments made there. However, I have a question. The analysis claims that both the frequency and burn areas of forest fires has increased over the 1900-2010 period (albeit unsteadily). If this is true, how do you account for that, if it isn’t due to a steady increase in the fire risk season?

    The depopulation of the northern mountain areas was an interesting point made by the analysis, I thought. It is fair to say that human activity is a major factor in the frequency of fires, and yet inactivity is what leads to more intense fires when they eventually happen. As you suggest, there is an inevitability to the fires and all that may be at stake is the pattern of occurrence and severity. Whatever the case, the explanation for any particular trend or fluctuation has to be more complex than the media and certain climate scientists are making out.

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  7. According to this article,
    https://www.moonofalabama.org/2021/08/how-akp-cronyism-let-turkeys-forest-fires-get-out-of-control.html#more
    the forest fires in Turkey have nothing to do with global warming, and everything to do with Erdogan’s vendetta against the Turkish Aeronautical Association (THK) set up by during the post-Ottoman revolution by the secular leader Kamal Ataturk and reportedly too close to the secular opposition parties. Following “reorganisation” and the resignation of experts, the THK lost its firefighting contract with the Forestry Ministry and was replaced by a company with no specialist Canadair firefighting planes, but only inefficient helicopters.

    I’ve no idea whether it’s true or not, but the sources are obviously Turkish. It’s the sort of “not a lot of people know that” story which any serious newspaper would have loved once upon a time.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I really feel for the many bone-dry-vegetation areas planetwide uncontrollably burning. As a lifelong resident of southwestern B.C., the unprecedented heatwave here in late June, described by meteorologists as more of a ‘stalling heat dome’, left me feeling I could never again complain about the weather being too cold.

    Neo-liberals and conservatives are overly preoccupied with vociferously criticizing one another for their politics and beliefs thus diverting attention away from the planet’s greatest polluters, where it should and needs to be sharply focused. (Although, it seems to be conservatives who don’t mind polluting the planet most liberally.)

    But there’s still some hope, mostly due to environmentally conscious and active young people, especially those who are approaching/reaching voting age. In contrast, the dinosaur electorate who have been voting into high office consecutive mass-pollution promoting or complicit/complacent governments for decades are gradually dying and making way for voters who fully support a healthy Earth thus populace.

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  9. For two years I lived in Contra Costa County, just inland of the Berkley Hills in The Bay Area of California. Our hilltops became golden in the dry summers and a serious fire risk. Each property had a bit of hillside, and our property deeds stated that we were responsible for reducing the fire hazard by cutting and removing the bone dry tall grass every year. So I purchased a fossil fuel powered monster whipper-shipper and climbed to the peaks of my domain there to remove over several weekends what seemed to be several tons of necromass (what an evocative word; I had quite a few more words for the stuff before I had finished). I was much less enthusiastic the following year, because I found few of my neighbours had removed any of their hilltop vegetation. Thus we were still at risk.

    I never worked it out, but Jit must be correct. Eventually (unless removed) it must burn. Some, of course gets eaten.
    So I never directly experienced a wildfire in California, although elsewhere in the County, small fires did occur.

    Oddly the only fire that could have burnt us out occurred in Norfolk. We lived in a converted barn complex. One year my immediate neighbour learned to read his deeds. A deliberate fire in a field of stubble got out of control and my neighbour’s immaculate garden was trashed by several rampaging fire trucks on their way to the fire – they had a right of way which explained an oddly-placed gate that my neighbour had permanently closed. The fire took more than a day to put out and set off small satellite fires, all illustrating the “fact” that climate chaos could hit Norfolk badly, unfortunately not converting it into a Greek paradise on the way.

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  10. It is certainly possible that frequency and area burnt has gone up. One thing I did not mention is that recovery after a severe fire might be slower because the intense heat penetrates the ground and kills even the fire-adapted oily shrubs. Moderate or quickly-moving fires only remove the above-ground material and the shrubs reshoot from the base quite quickly.

    In Britain on the moors where prescribed burning is the order of the day, this results in a kind of hamster wheel of fire. Regularly-burnt areas regenerate their heather fast and soon become dangerous, thus necessitating another burn, which causes rapid regeneration, etc.

    Ecologists often argue for removal of burning but have to admit that there would be an increased risk of wildfire year on year. Eventually trees would outcompete the heather and the wildfire risk would shrink. But you have to reach that stage.

    No easy answers but I wonder whether there are fewer goats around in Greece than in former times. It sounds dumb and inconsequential but grazing at certain times of the year might well ameliorate the risk and reduce the intensity of fire.

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  11. Alan, I think stubble burning is no longer permitted. I also saw a stubble fire get out of hand once, as a teenager. The field whose fire got out of hand is now a housing estate.

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  12. With all this emphasis on wildfires, especially in areas of summer drought, the fact that fires are natural events and are curtailed/delayed by human intervention (making them more severe) is being ignored. Once I flew from Darwin to Perth overnight. Looking down we saw lines of fire stretching from horizon to horizon. Not just one, but a succession of them, for hundreds and hundreds of miles. That was in 1981, but I can still picture it. Apparently if you flew by day, the fires were all but invisible.

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  13. repeat post by me from NALOPNT –

    I notice the BEEB are covering the fires in Greece as another “extreme climate event”

    but I remember this happening almost every year (I think) & the BEEB covering it !!!

    The only quick link I found for fire season in Greece from 2000 – http://www.fao.org/3/ad653e/ad653e64.htm

    Last para – “Of course, these changes in the Forest Service will require additional funding compared to the current low level,
    but in the long term will reduce damage and the cost of firefighting .
    Otherwise, given the natural flammability of Greek forests, the problem may become worse in spite of spending more money in the battle against forest fires.”

    PS – When the MSM report the fires they tag on at the end
    “worst heatwave for 30 yrs”
    .. almost as an afterthought/means nothing !!!

    (Comment edited on request by SG)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Just read the latest from the BBC. The apology from the prime minister that blames the “supernatural forces” of the “climate crisis” I’ll leave to others. I was struck by the ending:

    Three people have been killed by the blazes, including a volunteer firefighter hit by a falling pylon, and an industrialist who was found unconscious at a factory near Athens last week. A third man was killed on Monday when his bulldozer fell into a cliff during a fire.

    Several others have been taken to hospital after suffering from smoke inhalation and burns.

    But the president of Evia’s village of Monokaria, Klelia Dimitraki, said she was concerned the area would never recover.

    “Ιt is a holocaust. All the villages, the whole area is finished, finished,” she said.

    “All we are saying today, is that we are fortunate to be alive.”

    Three people killed and the term holocaust. As a climate ‘denier’ that really got to me.

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  15. Richard,

    Since ‘holocaust’ is by definition destruction by fire, I suppose we have to grant the use of such language. We should just be grateful that no one has yet thought to label those of us who take the time to look at the statistics as holocaust deniers.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. John: I’m assuming Klelia Dimitraki was speaking in Greek with the BBC doing the translation and understanding the allusions. It’s black humour on my part but three really isn’t that many, even if you take the lives the Shoah put paid to just from Greece. And three will hardly make a bump in Lomborg’s next ten-year running average:

    Let’s get the analogies in the right ball park numerically, shall we?

    James Smith meanwhile I’ve heard say that genocide has killed far more, ahead of their time, than any other cause since 1900. I’ve been meaning to email him about that.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. DFHunter,

    Thank you very much for the link. That Xanthopoulos paper is a real corker. Where do I start? Let’s go with:

    a) It seems from the data that the 1998 outbreak mentioned in the ClimateChangePost analysis was only the start of a three year season, each year of which far exceeded the current destruction figures for 2021. It just re-emphasises how much one cannot trust the present-day rhetoric, even from supposedly reliable sources such as Greece’s civil protection chief.

    b) Wow, all that data and analysis regarding causation and not one mention of climate change? How refreshing. Instead, there is a sober summary of what weather one should always expect in Greece. In particular, “In the summer, maximum temperatures occasionally reach 42-45oC at various inland locations.” Do they really?

    c) Then there is man’s influence, such as: “The influence of man, active in the area for more than three thousand years, is also reflected in the distribution and usually degraded condition of the forests.” I presume they are not referring here to three thousand years of global warming. No, that would have to be a modern-day trend. Does it get a mention, however?

    “The increase in the number of fires in the 1980s can be attributed to many factors, one of which is a more thorough effort to record forest fires. However, a large part of this increase is due to increased activity of people in or near the forests and forested lands. New roads and an ever-increasing number of private cars offered easier access to forests. The number of people leaving the cities in the summer, seeking cooler places along the coastline and in the mountain villages for their vacation, has gradually increased, increasing the probability of accidental fires. The same is true for international tourists who visit Greece every summer at the peak of the fire season. Most importantly, a trend that started in the late 1970s of building secondary summer housing along the coasts, accelerated in the 1980s. These housing areas were poorly planned, creating a troublesome urban/wildland interface and increasing the risk of wildfires. The activities of these people, starting with construction and continuing with their everyday activities (barbecues, burning debris, parking cars on cured grass, etc.) have very frequently resulted in accidental wildfires.”

    That would be a ‘no’ then.

    d) And to answer Jit’s question: “Grazing of sheep and goats, traditional in the country, in recent times has become one of the main causes of wildfires. Many areas are overgrazed. Shepherds react to the resulting reduction of feed for the animals by burning to stimulate new growth of shrubs and grasses.”

    e) And then there is the thorny subject of arson. We all know this is fake news promulgated by deniers and their bots, don’t we?

    “Another factor that led to increased forest arson in the 1980s and 1990s is a spin-off of the demand for land to build secondary summer housing and to develop tourist accommodations…”

    Yes folks, arson can trend, didn’t you know? And I don’t mean just on twitter.

    And the list of problems just goes on and on. Degradation of fire services, depopulation of mountainous areas, the expansion of urban/wildland interface areas, etc. Maybe it would just be better if you were to read the paper yourself. The bottom line is this: Yes, an extended fire season caused by climate change may be a factor in the increased numbers and severity of forest fires in Greece, but there are so many other factors that can explain the numbers, all of which are a much stronger influence on them. So much so that, when it comes down to a serious analysis of the situation on the ground, climate change doesn’t even warrant a mention. Where’s a BBC journalist when you need one?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Dougie/John

    That article offers some much-needed perspective. If only someone in the media would realise that there is this thing called the internet where you can find out about things that happened more than a week ago.

    Interesting points:

    1. the human-caused fires outnumber the natural fires by more than 10:1 (although there are plenty more without an attributed cause, in text these are described as likely arson). Natural causes (lightning) are responsible for <3%.

    In terms of importance, arson fires for land use change, fires from burning garbage dumps and power line fires are considered to be the worst since they usually occur on days with high wind. Shepherd fires are also a problem, both due to the cost of fighting them and to the fact that even when firefighting efforts are successful the shepherds merely wait for more difficult conditions and try again.

    2. fires occur in every month but as might be expected, July-August-September are the worst months.

    3. the number of plane crashes associated with wildfire fighting is extraordinary.

    In the past, resin collectors contributed to safer forests (mainly those of Pinus halepensis and Pinus brutia) by maintaining forest trails for their need to move from tree to tree and by managing the forest, selectively removing older trees that were useless to them in order to favour regeneration. Furthermore, since the forests were their field of production and the storage area of their product, they exercised maximum fire prevention care and immediately suppressed any fire. Unfortunately, by the end of the 1970s this profession started to slowly die out as the demand for resin decreased, income dropped, and no subsidies were provided by Greek or European Union policies.

    I think I know how to help, or at least make myself feel good about doing nothing to help. Drink more retsina. (Although after one particular incident, I vowed never again.)

    Forest flammability is generally high. The most flammable types are the pine forests (Pinus halepensis, Pinus brutia) and the shrublands at the lower elevations, by the sea, in the middle and southern part of the country. This vegetation is also adapted to fire either through cone serotiny (pines) or re-sprouting (shrubs).

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  19. Oh, and it’s interesting that the effects of goats are seemingly the opposite to what I expected. My theory was that spring grazing would lead to less dry vegetation in the summer. But according to the article, the shepherds burn off the dead stuff to stimulate a nice green “bite”. Also mentioned is the observation that such fires lead to soil erosion, which presumably favours drought-tolerant flammable species. Oh well.

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  20. Jit: To be fair, that’s not the goats but the goatherds. Man-made yes (as part of a highly complex multivariate situation), concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere nothing to do with it. But it sounds like a fascinating doc.

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  21. Richard,

    >”But it sounds like a fascinating doc.”

    It most certainly is, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is spouting the mantra regarding climate change and wildfires. For example, I caught the back end of a BBC 1 article this lunchtime, in which (judging by the accent) Californian wildfires were being discussed. I paraphrase, but the concluding statement made directly to camera was along the lines of, “You’re going to have to face it. These wildfires are caused by climate change and that is no longer deniable. Period”. To which I would say, “Just shut up and read this. Exclamation mark.”

    Incidentally, Xanthopoulos is one of the authors cited by the ClimateChangePost analysis, though, judging by the dates, the paper found by Dougie predates the one that they cite. Whatever the case, it provides detail that only serves to further emphasize the point of my own article – only when you look beyond the obvious do you start to understand.

    There’s a lot of willful ignorance out there at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. The BBC (inevitably) has an article about wild fires and climate change today. Its first heading is “Are wildfires getting worse?”, but when you click on the link, it turns into “Wildfires: How are they linked to climate change?”. It’s a “Reality Check” article:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/58159451

    First, California:

    “The acres burned across the US in 2021 so far sit below the 10-year average, with some other states not being as badly hit as California.

    But experts are warning it is still very early, in what is looking like an exceptionally dry and long fire season.

    Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires.

    Dr Prichard says: “Extreme fire weather events including increased lightning and strong winds, are also becoming more common under climate change.””

    Next Turkey:

    “The wildfires in Turkey have been labelled ‘the worst in its history’ by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

    More than 200 have affected western and southern Turkey, although the authorities say the majority of these are now contained.

    About 175,000 hectares have been burned so far this year, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

    That’s more than eight times the average for this time of year – measured between 2008 and 2020.”

    Greece:

    “Greece has also seen record-breaking wildfires – with 12 times as much land being burned than average.”

    Siberia:

    “The average burnt area in Siberia for the last decade (2011-2020) was more than double the previous one, according to data from the Sukachev Forest Institute.

    The Sakha Republic (or Yakutia) in the north-east has faced severe fires since mid-June. This type of high intensity fire emits more carbon dioxide.

    The volume of carbon released by fires in Sakha this year far exceeds recent years. However, some neighbouring regions haven’t endured such a bad season.”

    Brazilian Amazon:

    “So far in 2021, the area burned is less than last year, according to satellite data analysed by Dr Michelle Kalamandeen, a tropical ecologist.

    But the Cerrado, a vast grassland or savannah used to farm crops and cattle, has seen an increase in land affected by fires.

    In 2020, fires were particularly destructive at the southern edge of the Amazon, such as in the states of Mato Grosso and Pará. Here the forest meets the more fire-prone savannah.

    Current conditions and the rain forecast suggest another drought, meaning “we could see large fire conflagrations again in this region”, says Kátia Fernandes, Assistant Professor of Geosciences at Arkansas University.

    In other sections of the rainforest in Brazil – and in Peru and Bolivia – a more “average” season is expected. Overall, forecasts suggest climate conditions will be less conducive to the type of severe fires seen in 2020.

    Human activities such as deforestation also pose a major fire risk.”

    I love that final sentence, added as though it’s almost an inconsequential afterthought. And the inevitable conclusion?

    “And alongside these human activities, the impact of climate change on the Amazon is significant, says Prof Fernandes.

    “We have seen evidence the dry season has increased in length, and severe droughts are occurring more frequently due to natural variability exacerbated by climate change.””

    How does one Fact Check the Fact Checkers? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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  23. “Algeria forest fires: Dozens killed in Kabylie region”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-58165169

    “At least 25 Algerian soldiers and 17 civilians have been killed in wildfires to the east of the capital Algiers, the country’s prime minister has said.

    Several more soldiers were injured fighting the fires, in the forested Kabylie region.

    Temperatures of up to 46C were forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Fires have caused devastation in several Mediterranean countries in recent days, including Turkey, Greece, Lebanon and Cyprus.

    Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires.

    The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since the industrial era began and temperatures will keep rising unless governments around the world make steep cuts to emissions.

    More than 100 fires have been reported across 17 Algerian provinces, the country’s official news agency APS said on Tuesday evening.”

    Far from the headline, deep in the article, is this:

    “Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said that about 50 of the blazes were “of criminal origin”.”

    But that’s irrelevant, obviously. Read on!

    “Earlier this week, a major UN scientific report found that human activity was changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways.

    The landmark study warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding, and a key temperature limit being broken in just over a decade, but scientists say a catastrophe can be avoided if the world acts fast.”

    It’s a strange world when RT might offer more balance than the BBC:

    “Algerian officials launch probe to find arsonists behind 50 ‘horror’ fires as firefighters battle blazes”

    https://www.rt.com/news/531671-algerian-government-arsonists-deadly-fire/

    “Algeria’s government has announced an investigation to identify the “criminal hands” responsible for 50 “horror” fires that destroyed swathes of forest to the east of the country’s capital city and killed more than 20 people.

    Speaking on Tuesday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud declared that the government would launch an inquiry to find the “criminal hands” who are “behind the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires across several localities of the province.””

    Yes, the article mentions other blazes around the world, but not a mention of climate change! Compare and contrast….

    Like

  24. Mark,

    This isn’t a question of whether or not climate change has influenced the frequency and severity of forest fires. It is a question of the extent to which observed trends can be explained by climatic changes, given that there are several other factors that can be expected to reproduce a similar trend. It is a classic question of attribution and, as such, it requires being able to answer counterfactual questions. In this instance, the key question is: If there had been no increase in global temperatures over the period, would we still have seen an increase in frequency and severity of forest fires and, if so, to what extent? Unfortunately, no one in the climate science community appears to be in the least bit interested in providing answers to that question. This is part of the willful ignorance I referred to earlier. The media reports you quote are just icing on the cake.

    As a case in point, let us talk more about the situation in Algeria. If you search beyond the online media hype you will find this paper on the internet: “Wildfire Management Policies in Algeria: Present and Future Needs”

    *ttps://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr245/psw_gtr245_382.pdf

    It is a paper that does not deny the relevance of climatic change to Algeria’s wildfire problem, but the following statements are worthy of note:

    “As in the entire Mediterranean basin, forest fires in Algeria are mostly human-caused, whether by negligence or voluntary.”

    “…for the 1985 to 2010 time series, for which we have almost complete information, the fire cause cannot be identified in 80% of the cases…In Algeria, it is commonly accepted that at least half of the fires attributed to unknown causes are either arson or security fires, which are purposely set by the Algerian Army as a counter terrorism measure; making it a rather difficult topic to address.”

    So, Algeria has a major, major problem with arson. It turns out that army personnel are not just heroically losing their lives fighting fires, they are also the ones deliberately starting them. Not a detail that appears in your average BBC coverage.

    Further down, there is:

    “…the number of fires has significantly increased in the last two decades. In contrast, area burnt has shown some stabilization. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in the availability and allocation of firefighting resources for surveillance and suppression actions.”

    The point here is that little progress has been made in reducing the number of outbreaks (hard to do when the army is responsible for them) but fires are being kept under better control because of investments in fire detection and firefighting equipment and personnel.

    So I return to the question of causal analysis and the importance of counterfactual questioning. With such major influencing factors to consider, how can one possibly be able to discern the climatic influence? For example, if the army were to stop their ‘security’ practices, or the Algerian authorities had not invested in fire management, what would the resulting picture look like? And even if we were able to discern the climatic influence, how much of an increased risk will we be talking about, given that Algeria has always had a climate and flora that is perfect for forest fires? Surely the law of diminishing returns would operate here.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Mark,

    I’ve just read the BBC Reality Check item for myself, and I must say that, for a report that claims to be presenting the case for attributing wildfires to climate change, it contains very little that goes anywhere near doing so in anything like a scientific manner. All I could find was:

    “Parts of the western US have seen record-breaking temperatures this year, which – along with severe drought conditions – have triggered a series of major wildfires.”

    A bold statement here that heat and drought ‘trigger’ wildfires rather than merely increase the risk. No mention at all, of course, of the actual triggers. But then there is:

    “Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires.”

    More incorrect use of terminology here. Hot dry weather doesn’t fuel anything. Combustible material is the fuel. No mention at all, of course, about the non-climatic factors that affect fuel availability. Enter Dr Prichard:

    “Dr Prichard says: ‘Extreme fire weather events including increased lightning and strong winds, are also becoming more common under climate change’.”

    What Dr Prichard forgets to say is that lightning is only a relatively minor trigger for forest fires compared to human activity. But then there is Dr Yusuf Serengil:

    “Dr Yusuf Serengil, from the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Istanbul, says: ‘It’s a very bad year all over the Mediterranean region. We believe that this is caused by an above-average hot July in the region’.”

    Beware anyone who talks of a single cause for such a complex issue, particularly when expressed as a belief. Where’s the science? As for Greece:

    “Greece has also seen record-breaking wildfires – with 12 times as much land being burned than average.”

    More than the average what? Bear? Speaking of bears:

    “A study found Siberia’s record breaking heatwave in 2020 was impossible without climate change.”

    Indeed, only a less intense heatwave would have been possible. However, the key question is whether or not the wildfires would have still been possible with this less intense heatwave. This is another classic attempt to construct a causal argument based on necessity alone whilst completely ignoring matters of sufficiency.

    Finally, and only for Brazil, we at last get a mention of the relevance of human activities:

    “And alongside these human activities, the impact of climate change on the Amazon is significant, says Prof Fernandes.”

    Not good enough. Tell us what the relative attribution is Prof Fernandes. But you can’t, can you?

    In summary, there is no recognition in the BBC’s article of the many factors that have to be carefully analysed before drawing any conclusions. Also, there is not a single reference here to an attribution study that discerns and quantifies the relative causal influences. And that, of course, is because no one has ever attempted one. Until then, we have to put up with arm-waving and vague, unquantified references to what is actually a favoured subset of risk factors.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I’ve just finished watching the evening news on BBC, where George Alagiah announced that ‘hundreds of thousands of hectares’ have now been destroyed in the Greece forest fires.

    Blimey, I thought. That’s shot up from the 50,000 of only a few days ago. Even the devastating fires of 2007 only managed 190,000 – and that was 2% of the area of Greece! These fires are now truly apocalyptic if they are already running to ‘hundreds of thousands’. So I searched on the internet to find out just how many hundreds we are now talking about. Here’s your answer:

    Very nearly 1.

    https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210811-almost-100-000-hectares-of-forest-burned-in-greek-fires

    That’s numberwang!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. gotta love BCC “numberwang” – I sometimes do the same with my pension pot, until the fact checker (the wife) brings me back down to earth.

    Like

  28. There are a number of ‘communications’ outfits out there purporting to provide assistance to those who need an update on the latest in climate change science. One of those is Climate Communications, who, amongst other things, have developed a number of fact sheets for journalists to consult. So I looked up their fact sheet on wildfires and climate change.

    https://www.sciline.org/climate/wildfires/

    It lists a number of ‘Facts for any story’. I won’t give a blow-by-blow appraisal of their ‘facts’ but I will pass comment on their final point. Under the heading of ‘Pitfalls to Avoid’, they have the following warning for journalists:

    “Many factors contribute to wildfire occurrences, and human activities are by far the leading source of wildfire ignitions even as climate change has contributed significantly to wildfire size and intensity. (From 1992 to 2012 in the United States, humans ignited 84 percent of wildfires.) Instead of asking whether climate change “caused” a wildfire, it’s better to ask:

    • How is climate change influencing the likelihood of wildfires such as these?
    • To what extent was this wildfire larger and/or more intense because of climate change?
    • How has climate change made the U.S. more vulnerable to large fires like this one?”

    Okay, but there is a far more important pitfall to avoid, and one that the scientists at Climate Communication have signally failed to avoid. The better questions to ask are actually:

    • How are factors other than climate change influencing the likelihood of wildfires such as these?
    • To what extent was this wildfire larger and/or more intense because of factors other than climate change?
    • How have factors other than climate change made the U.S. more vulnerable to large fires like this one?

    By including the above questions one can avoid the cognitive bias known as the Focussing Effect. With advice such as that provided by Climate Communication it is no wonder our journalists are sleeping on the job!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. “Greece plans to name heatwaves in the same way as storms
    Personalising the ‘silent killer’ hot spells could raise awareness in time to avert loss of life and property, say scientists”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/21/greece-plans-to-name-heatwaves-in-the-same-way-as-storms

    “Spurred on by this summer’s record temperatures, Greek scientists have begun discussing the need to name and rank heatwaves, better known for their invisibility, before rampant wildfires made the realities of the climate crisis increasingly stark.”

    It strikes me that it’s simply another way of creating the impression that things are worse than they are, as with the naming of storms in western Europe, some of which would barely have caused a raised eyebrow in the past. The Met Office’s increasing use of weather warnings seems to be part of the same strategy.

    Yesterday, when I looked at the weather forecast for today (online, via the BBC website) I saw an exclamation mark, indicative of a weather warning. Oh dear, I thought, that doesn’t look good. And yet, the forecast was for light rain at first, turning dry with fluffy white cloud, light winds and a maximum temperature of 19C. Why the exclamation mark? It’s disappeared on this morning’s forecast for the rest of the day, by the way.

    Like

  30. The BBC has returned to the fray to publish the following piece on the Algerian forest fires:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-58269789

    It’s a piece that typifies how the BBC goes about dealing with the thorny issue of causation, inevitably concluding that climate change is the real issue. So we have this:

    “Both Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said that the origin of the forest fires were criminal, while failing to produce concrete evidence for the claims.They blamed separatist groups fighting for self-determination in the Kabyle region around Tizi Ouzou, and also said it would ‘review’ diplomatic relations with Morocco, which it accuses of backing the groups.”

    The BBC journalist seems pleased that ‘concrete evidence’ was not forthcoming but perhaps had he done his job properly he might have discerned for himself the reason for this. I’m no journalist, but it took me very little time to unearth the fact that academics who study the history of Algeria’s forest fires have compiled statistics on causation. According to General Technical Report PSW-GTR-245 of the Proceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on Fire Economics, Planning, and Policy, lack of concrete evidence is not really the issue. Just to remind you:

    “…for the 1985 to 2010 time series, for which we have almost complete information, the fire cause cannot be identified in 80% of the cases…In Algeria, it is commonly accepted that at least half of the fires attributed to unknown causes are either arson or security fires, which are purposely set by the Algerian Army as a counter terrorism measure; making it a rather difficult topic to address.”

    Having missed the point regarding evidence, the BBC journalist continues by claiming irrelevance:

    “However, such accusations ignore the fact that countries around the Mediterranean have also struggled with forest fires in recent weeks, including Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and France. Climate change in the region is likely to be causing an increase in the conditions in which wildfires occur.”

    Well, yes it is, and the fires can’t all be blamed on fighting separatist groups, but once again the point is missed. There are still many common factors that have contributed to the scale of these fires, and the heatwave is only one of them.

    Forlornly, the BBC reporter finally states”

    “Unfortunately, global warming is not yet a significant part of Algerian public discourse.”

    Well maybe if the BBC got off its fat arse and did some proper journalism for once, it might understand why there are very good reasons for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. “The climate science behind wildfires: why are they getting worse? – video explainer”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2021/aug/20/the-climate-science-behind-wildfires-why-are-they-getting-worse-video-explainer

    “We are in an emergency. Wildfires are raging across the world as scorching temperatures and dry conditions fuel the blazes that have cost lives and destroyed livelihoods.

    The combination of extreme heat, changes in our ecosystem and prolonged drought have in many regions led to the worst fires in almost a decade, and come after the IPCC handed down a damning landmark report on the climate crisis.

    But technically, there are fewer wildfires than in the past – the problem now is that they are worse than ever and we are running out of time to act, as the Guardian’s global environment editor, Jonathan Watts, explains”

    Interesting final paragraph. There’s a 4 minutes 34 seconds video, which looks like the usual propaganda, though I do notice that they confirm in the video that there are fewer fires in the past. If you can’t stand to listen to it, you can mute it and watch with sub-titles.

    Like

  32. Mark,

    I’ve looked at the video and I have to say that it is pretty dumb. But firstly, I like his use of the word ‘technically’. It is a word that is usually employed to downplay significance. In this instance, presumably, wildfires are only technically fewer in the rather limited sense that their numbers are lower.

    In fact, his analysis is twee at best. He seems to be putting down the increase in severity to there being more monoculture nowadays (plantations). How this effect can be separated from the effects of climate change is left as an open question, other than he introduces a somewhat tenuous concept of the feedback loop between fires and climate. Honestly, that is four and a half minutes I’ll never get back.

    Like

  33. An interesting concept: watching eco-lunacy with the sound off and subtitles might be more acceptable to sceptics. I suppose if the subtitles get too much you can always shut your eyes.

    Like

  34. Alan,

    If you turn the sound down you don’t get to hear the professorial tones to go with the professorial beard. Actually, Jonathan Watts’ beard is as qualified to talk about climate science as he is, since his qualifications seem to amount to little more than a degree in Oriental and African Studies. Even so, his journalistic prowess gives him just enough understanding to follow all of the highly technical stuff (like lower numbers implying fewer fires) whilst knowing just how much he needs to dumb it all down for our benefit. The truth is that his presentation was half-baked, self-contradictory and mired in cognitive dissonance. He was so desperate to shoehorn in the dreaded feedback loop and to implicate man’s impact on biodiversity that he forgot to think about logical consistency.

    Like

  35. John, apologies for depriving you of that 4 minutes 30 seconds. Still, I think we need to be aware of what’s going on in the world of climate alarmism.

    Alan, it might be worth watching with the sound muted and your eyes shut….

    Like

  36. “Greece’s deadly wildfires were sparked by 30 years of political failure
    Yanis Varoufakis
    The climate emergency and state neglect caused this disaster”

    Of course, he mentions climate change (it’s de rigeur, after all) but there’s also a lot of stuff like this:

    “To grasp why this is happening, we need to understand the trajectory of urban and rural development in Greece. War and poverty caused a mass exodus from the countryside that began in the late 1940s. Villagers who did not migrate to countries such as Germany, Canada and Australia descended upon Athens. Combined with lax urban planning, this surge of humanity quickly turned the Greater Athens area into a concrete jungle. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the same people dreamed of a partial return to the countryside, of a summer home in the shade of some pine trees, close to Athens and, preferably, in some proximity to the sea.

    To these petty-bourgeois dwellings, which by the 1980s were strewn all over Attica, the mid-1990s added middle-class suburbia. Villas and shopping malls gradually invaded inland wooded areas bordering Athens, at a speed that reflected the economic growth fuelled with money borrowed from EU banks or provided via EU structural funding.

    It is as if we were looking for trouble. Fire is a natural ally of Mediterranean pine forests. It helps clear the ground of old trees and allows young ones to prosper. By helping themselves to the wood daily and by employing tactical burning every spring, villagers once prevented these fires from running amok. Alas, not only did circumstances force the villagers to abandon the forests but, when they and their descendants returned as atomised urbanites to build their summer homes inside the untended forests, they did so bearing none of the traditional communal knowledge or practices.”

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Mark,

    That piece by Yanis Varoufakis echoes what Xanthopoulos said in his paper and what was said in the ClimateChangePost analysis regarding rural depopulation of northern mountain areas. It appears to be a well-documented issue, though clearly not well-documented enough to appear on the MSM radar.

    Like

  38. Mark do you have some high-falluting device (or have had mystical eastern training) that allows you to watch with your eyes shut? I suspect some of my students in the past had this ability.

    Like

  39. Alan,

    If you are to conquer climate change, grasshopper, you must learn to see without looking, hear without listening and know without thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. DFH
    “ If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else.
    It will spread into your work and into your life.
    There are no limits.
    There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. “

    Mighty saying of the great Bruce Lee

    Like

  41. OK, it’s California, not Greece, but I suspect some of the issues are the same.

    “‘It’s a reality’: Biden calls for urgency in California as climate crisis fuels wildfires
    President calls year-round fires an emergency country can no longer ignore as he advocates for rebuilding plan”

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/13/california-wildfires-biden-trip-climate-crisis-links-extreme-weather

    “Joe Biden travelled to California on Monday to survey wildfire damage as the state battles a devastating fire season that is on track to outpace that of 2020, the state’s worst on record.

    The president is using the trip to highlight the connection between the climate crisis and the west’s increasingly extreme wildfires as he seeks to rally support for a $3.5tn spending plan Congress is debating.

    Biden pointed to wildfires burning through the west to argue for his plan, calling year-round fires and other extreme weather a climate crisis reality the nation can no longer ignore.”

    He ‘travelled’ to California, did he. On a magic carpet or in Air Force One? If the latter, there’s certainly an irony in a jet-setting President making a jet-setting trip to draw attention to climate change and the apparent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

    Like

  42. Mark,

    There is a quite comprehensive entry in Wikipedia on the subject of Californian wildfire history:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_California_wildfires

    In it you will read that:

    “During the 2020 wildfire season alone, over 8,100 fires contributed to the burning of nearly 4.5 million acres of land.”

    This would be quite alarming if one hadn’t just read:

    “Pre-1800, when the area was much more forested and the ecology much more resilient, 4.4 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of forest and shrubland burned annually.”

    As with all these wildfire news stories, the long-term wildfire history tends to be downplayed and the reality is that attributions to climate change are much more difficult than is made out. Besides which, in the case of California, one can read this (ref. Jin-Ho Yoon et al. 2015):

    “However, what is not yet fully understood is the extent to which the projected wetter climate in California towards the latter part of the 21st century (Neelin et al. 2013) could affect wildfire risk in the future.”

    What? Projected wetter climate? So that would mean that Biden is trying to make matters worse for California by stopping climate change.

    Doh!

    Liked by 1 person

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