Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach [See update at end] [Note correction under Figure 1.]
Our charmingly incompetent California Governor, Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, has announced that all climate-change deniers are “definitely contributing” to the wildfires in the northern and southern parts of the state over the past few days, as well as blazes “in the coming years.” So look out, you dang “deniers”, it’s all your fault!
“This is not the ‘new normal.’ This is the ‘new abnormal.’ And this new abnormal will continue, certainly in the next 10 to 15 to 20 years … And unfortunately the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify. Predictions by some scientists are we’ve already gone up one degree; I think we can expect a half a degree, which is catastrophic, over the next 10-12 years. So we have a real challenge here threatening our whole way of life.”
And what is his brilliant solution? Why … to my shock and surprise, Governor Moonbeam proposes throwing more and even more taxpayer money at it:
“And we’re going to have to invest more and more in adaptation. When we talk about things like the climate, and the warming climate, and we talk about words like ‘adaptation,’ that’s what we’re talking about. And it’s not millions, it’s billions, and tens, and probably hundreds of billions even in the span of a few years.”
So … did scientists actually “predict” that past temperatures have gone up by one degree? Can scientists actually predict the past? And can we really expect half a degree of warming in the next decade? To get some perspective on these questions, I thought I’d take a look at the records. I found an interesting site, the Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC), which has a variety of weather-related data state by state. So with no further ado, here is the average temperature in California from January of 1895 to the present, October 2018.
Figure 1. Average monthly California temperatures from the WRCC. The seasonal variations have been removed.
Now, has the temperature gone up by one degree as the Governor said? Well, yes, but only since 1895. Since 1895, it has been going up at a rate of about 0.12°C, twelve-hundredths of a degree Celsius, per decade. [NOTE: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that the trend was two-hundredths of a degree per decade, rather than the correct value of twelve-hundredths of a degree per decade. The text has been changed to reflect the correct values. My thanks to Grietver, the commenter who pointed out my error.]
How much is twelve-hundredths of a degree Celsius? Well, as is widely known, temperature decreases with altitude. You can feel this when you go from sea level up the side of a mountain, for example. The rate at which the temperature drops is about 1°C for every hundred metres of additional altitude.
And this means that 0.12°C is about the altitude-caused temperature drop between … wait for it … the ground floor and the fourth floor of a building. In other words, it’s equivalent to moving 12 metres (40 feet) vertically up the side of a mountain …
So obviously, the Governor is telling porkies when he says that anthropogenic temperature rise is the cause of the recent decade’s fires. The temperature rise in California is small, twelve-hundredths of a degree Celsius in a decade. That is not enough to make a big difference like the increase in fires that we’ve seen in the last decade.
Well, if it’s not the temperature, how about the rainfall? Is climate change making the state dryer? Fortunately, the WRCC has the data for that as well. Here’s the monthly rainfall in California.
Figure 2. Annualized monthly rainfall in California per the WRCC. Since rainfall data is usually given in inches per year, not per month, I have multiplied all of the values by 12 to “annualize” them, in order to make the trend a yearly trend.
Is the precipitation decreasing? Yes … by a totally meaningless five-hundredths of an inch (1.1 mm) per decade. So that is clearly not the reason for the increase in fires.
So what is the reason for the increase in fires? Actually, there are a few reasons.
First, our forests have not been harvested properly for some years. This is the result of a variety of lawsuits, one of which banned logging in many areas in 1994. This was in a vain attempt to protect the Spotted Owl. Unfortunately, this was just a green fantasy—stopping the logging has had no effect on the decline of the Spotted Owl. It appears that instead, it is being displaced by another owl, the Barred Owl. Oops … and there have been a host of other lawsuits that have stopped or restricted logging.
Next, California regulations highly restrict both the logging and the thinning of forests. After the fires in Redding, Governor Brown said he’d work to change the laws … but so far, crickets.
Naturally, when you don’t log and you don’t thin the forest, you get a buildup of what is called the “fuel load”. This is the amount of burnable stuff per acre. And when that happens, what would otherwise be a small fire turns into a large fire very quickly
Finally, a couple of years back we had a big El Nino/La Nina event. This led to the recent couple of warmer, drier years. There’s a name for this, and it is not “climate change”—it’s called “weather”.
Now, there’s been a meme circulating on the internet saying that President Trump is bad and wrong to blame the State, because according to the meme, 98% of the forest in California is National Forest, and 2% is State Forest. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But in fact, about 43% of the forest is privately held, and of the remainder 98% is Federal and 2% is State forest. So overall, about 44% of the forests in California are ruled by California laws and regulation.
But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more … both of the recent fires, the Camp Fire in Paradise and the Woolsey Fire in Thousand Oaks, occurred on privately owned forest. Which means the Federal Government had nothing to do with the regulations leading up to these fires.
Should President Trump have been so aggro? Of course not, that was a mistake … but I can understand his anger, given that Governor Brown is claiming that the fires have nothing to do with California regulations.
But not to worry. The Governor said that steps to combat global warming can still, eventually, “shift the weather back to where it historically was.”
Ah, yes, back to where it historically was, to the mythical Climate Eden, where the weather is the same year after year after year …
Where once it never rained till after sundown
By 8 a.m the morning fog had flown
Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot
[UPDATE] A commenter asked:
Could you please give us a ‘public relations’ plot of the “Average monthly California temperatures from the WRCC” on a hardware store thermometer
We’re nothing if not a full-service website:
Here, my gorgeous ex-fiancee and I staying in the Youth Hostel in Santa Cruz on our way back home. The smoke from the forest fires was bad in the Central Valley on the way up from LA, but it’s relatively clear in Santa Cruz. The word from where we live, though, is that it is still quite bad there … we’ll find out tomorrow.
Best regards to all,
PS: When you comment, please quote the exact words that you are discussing, so we can understand just what you are talking about.