Nasa satellite data shows that globally the amount of land burned in wildfires fell by a quarter between 1998 and 2015 – not that you would know from hysterical reporting and the lazy assertion, made by Greta Thunberg and others, that the “Earth is on fire”.
In the past year climate-related disasters have cost over £100 billion in damage. Or maybe it was 82 pence.
Okay, I made up the latter figure, but it will be no worse a guess than the former, which is implied in a report “Counting the Cost. 2019: a year of climate breakdown” published by Christian Aid. The charity has compiled estimates for damage caused by 15 severe weather incidents last year and blamed everything on climate change – disregarding the fact that we have always had storms, floods and wildfires.
Even if rising global temperatures and sea levels do exacerbate heatwaves and add to sea flooding it would be ludicrous to bung the whole bill for every adverse weather event on climate change. And what about the other side of the ledger: the damage that would have been done by snow and freezing temperatures but hasn’t been done as a result of a slightly warmer Earth?
I don’t expect a lot else from Christian Aid, a left-leaning charitywhich seemingly likes to paint a pictures of climatic Armageddon to obscure the significant success of global capitalism, combined with emergency aid, in reducing the number of hungry people in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation it has fallen from 1 million in 1990 to 800,000 today, in spite of an extra 1.9 billion people in the world.
But what really bothers me is how ‘grey’ literature like Christian Aid’s hyperbole gets reported more than genuine science. The report attributes Hurricane Dorian to man-made climate change. Yet an analysis by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published last August concluded that it was ‘premature’ to make such an attribution. While its models project that rising temperatures will, by the late 21st century, slightly increase the intensity of hurricanes it also predicts that there will be fewer such storms.
Christian Aid blames wildfires in California on climate change. Yet long-term data by National Interagency Fire Center shows a dramatic fall in the acreage burned annually by wildfires in the US. In the worst year, 1930, 52.3 million acres burned. Last year, it was 8.8 million acres. Although the methodology changed in 1983, and so the two figures might not be directly comparable, the data shows a dramatic fall in the 1940s and 1950s as fire services became better at fighting fires.
Indeed, that is now the problem: the natural cycle of burning followed by regeneration has been broken, leading to a build-up of dead wood and to bigger fires when they do occur.