Is Global Warming Increasing Forest Fires?

Duh! Of course it is.The Union of Concerned Scientists thinks so.  Temporarily at least.


Sure. As areas that were formerly cooler warm up, there will be less rainfall, thus more fires. More fires put more carbon in the air, making more warming. But over time a new equilibrium will be reached. The extra trees in over-treed areas will gradually burn out and fewer trees will grow. Species more suited to fires will move in. Areas that used to be wet enough for trees and brush will turn to semi-desert. The number of fires will eventually drop.

But of course, the wiser of my readers will note that in order to create equilibrium, the globe must warm up and then stop warming. Unless we stop creating more heat, the curve will continue to rise. Let’s be pessimistic; it might even steepen. Then the equilibrium will be reached when mankind’s carbon-emitting practices result in a catastrophic fall in civilization, which will ameliorate the situation.

One can picture a future when the Petroleum Age raises temperatures to the point where disaster strikes, throwing human civilization into a tailspin. It pulls out at a level somewhere like the early Industrial Revolution, where coal is the major source of energy. This, of course, produces further global warming and leads to a worse crash. There may be several of these cycles until the decimated population no longer has the ability to affect the environment. Then the Earth will go its merry way, disregarding human needs as it always has.

At which point, if our luck continues as it has recently, the pendulum will swing back too far the other way, and we will have global cooling, otherwise known as an Ice Age.

If That’s Not Bad Enough…

Most of us have already noticed that global warming isn’t just warming. It would be very nice for San Francisco if the climate would warm up just enough that Los Angeles warmth would push out those cold, damp, winters.

But it doesn’t work that way. The warming seems to stimulate global climate factors, and they all get worse. Bigger storms, bigger floods, bigger tides, hotter summers, colder summers, warmer winters, colder winters.

Ever get the feeling that the Earth is like a dog with dirt on its coat, shaking itself furiously to dislodge the irritating mess. And guess who is the mess?

What to Do?

Well, it would seem like a good idea to stop heating up the globe. I’m a big fan of solar power. Not only does the sun produce free electricity, but all those solar panels are also a big heat sink, using up extra heat the world doesn’t need.

Again, Speaking Pessimistically

When the Bennett Dam was built in Northern BC in the 1960s, it created Williston Lake, which was a big enough body of water (26th largest lake in Canada) to appreciably change the climate in that immediate area. Realists can therefore predict huge arrays of solar panels soaking up the sun’s rays and cooling the climate in their vicinity. To what effect? Who knows? Earlier Science Fiction writers pictured huge solar farms in space, beaming energy down to the earth’s surface by microwave. Doesn’t sound like such a good idea now, does it? Especially the microwave part. Maybe we’ll save that for the next ice age.

Back to Forest Fires

If the world is really getting hotter and we don’t want our homes to burn to a crisp, what should we do?

In the Black Forest those clever Germans have harnessed the power of the Fairy Tale. Little gnomes and goblins come out every night and clear up all the burnable undergrowth beneath the trees, leaving a park-like setting that discourages the spread of fires, and impresses the heck out of tourists at the same time.

A friend of mine has a cabin on one of the northern Gulf Islands near Nanaimo, in a climate zone known as Temperate Rainforest; wildfires are not an everyday problem. However, after fires burned 239 homes in Kelowna, B. C. in 2003, a crew of us went over and spent a day with chainsaws and axes clearing all the burnables on her small lot. When the truck came to pick it up, the pile was about 3 metres wide by 3 metres high by 7 metres long. Enough for a real nice bonfire. And that was only underbrush and dead wood. We didn’t cut any live trees. Up until the Kelowna fires, teh owner hadn’t even noticed. Workers had been pruning the fruit trees and tossing the shoots into a pile in the brush where they had dried into a nice tinder.

Think of all the homes in the forests of BC, and all the kindling stacked around them. Think of the roofs made of cedar shakes. Think of the grass that’s allowed to grow right up against the foundations. Dare I predict a decline in the use of vinyl siding? Probably not. It’s just too darned convenient.

And what about all those TV news interviews, where stricken homeowners keep saying, “We only had an hour’s notice to get out!” Is anybody actually listening? If I lived anywhere in the BC Interior, I’d have everything important packed already. People have been known to receive only 10 minutes warning. I’d also have a “people-pets-papers-backup hard drive” sort of priority list, in case I got even less warning than that.

I have a metal roof on my house, but I also have a metre-thick cedar tree within two metres of my eaves, spreading its flammable umbrella protectively over us. And a yard full of ornamental shrubs and bushes. And two next-door neighbors who are tree huggers and refuse to cut down the 35-metre tall spruces and balsams that surround us.

Oh, well, at least it’s shady in these hot summers. The rest of the province probably wishes they were so lucky.


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