Setting Senator Whitehouse Straight On Climate And Wildfires

Jim Steele

Not enough politicians are honestly educating the public about the science of climate change and wildfires. Motivated by the March 9th 2023 Senate Committee on Budget’s focus on wildfires, this video presents the science behind the causes of recent American wildfires and demonstrates why CO2 has not contributed to these fires at all.

A transcript for this video is at…

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus, authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, and proud member of the CO2 Coalition.

And here is the full transcript found at the above link.

Not enough politicians are honestly educating the public about the science of climate change and wildfires.

Senator Whitehouse has pushed climate misinformation mostly offering conspiracy theories that argue skeptical science is fabricated & paid for by the dark money of fossil fuel companies. He compares skeptics to a “ventriloquist’s wooden painted dummy” and controlled by fossil fuel companies. In his numerous “Time to Wake Up” speeches, senator Whitehouse has fear mongered wildfires as evidence of a climate crisis, such as highlighting Colorado’s most destructive Marshall Fire.

Now as the chairman of the senate’s committee on the budget, he pushes speculation on the extreme cost of climate change. This March 9th 2023 his committee focuses on wildfires.

I was being considered to be one of the expert witnesses for that hearing but did not make the final cut. So, instead I’ll present what I had prepared for broader public consumption. I’m an ecologist and environmentalist, free of any fossil fuel manipulation, so I’m titling my contrasting presentation “Time to Learn Some Science”.

There is no evidence supporting claims that rising CO2 and global warming increases the spread or intensity of wildfires. The intensity and spread of the destructive Marshall Fire was governed by the flammability of the grassland and the winter winds.

In winter, the vegetation is dead or dormant, so moisture content reaches its seasonal low.

The Marshall Fire was a grass fire. Grasses become highly flammable in just hours of dry weather. Grasses become highly flammable independent of climate change. The Marshall Fire was not evidence of a climate crisis!

The Marshall Fire was ignited by humans.

Human ignitions have expanded fire season into the coldest seasons, making deadly fires less predictable. Natural lightning fires are more predictable in the summer months of the more limited lightning season.

Like the Marshall Fire, humans caused California’s most deadly fire, the Camp Fire, due to faulty electrical apparatus in October. Also in October, faulty electrical caused California’s 4th most deadly fire, the Tubbs Fire.

Electrical sparks ignited California’s 2nd largest fire, the Dixie Fire as well as its 9th largest, the Thomas Fire. A mere spark from a stake hitting a rock in a grassy pasture ignited a section of the 3rd largest fire, the Mendocino Complex Fire. An escaped campfire caused the 12 largest, the Rimm Fire And a highway accident caused the 14th largest, the Carr Fire.

As grass fires are want to do, the Marshall Fire went from ignition to an out-of-control state in less than one hour

Despite strong winds, temperatures were below freezing, and relative humidity was above average, conditions not considered to be worrisome fire weather. So, the National Weather Service did not issue a red flag warning that day.

However, the drying Chinook Winds were strong enough that a no-burn restriction was rightfully issued. Strong winds will carry an escaped fire into human habitat with devastating speed.

California’s Santa Ana & Diablo winds have similarly spread California’s worst fires. All these winds peak in winter as cold air flows down the mountains. Any global warming should reduce these winds.

Fires require high amounts of energy to ignite and spread.

It is well proven that increasing CO2 from burning fossil fuels adds about 2.4 W/ m2 of energy. But that cant ignite even a paper fire.

In contrast,  3,400 W/m2 will ignite grassy vegetation in seconds.

It is also well proven that grass fires emit about  35,000  W/m2 of energy.

 Depending on the vegetation density, that’s 10 times more energy than what’s needed to sustain a grass fire.

Thus, the added energy from CO2 adds only 0.007% to the energy that a fire emits So, the added energy from CO2 is insignificant regards the drying and spread of a fire.

Once a grass fire ignites a house, the house generates so much heat its ignites neighboring houses causing a fire siege that destroyed this whole community. Studies of burning furniture find a burning mattress alone releases nearly 4 million watts of heat.

In contrast to Whitehouse’s call for a CO2 safety zone, a defensible space is created only by removing any vegetation that carries a fire too close to one’s home. Only then can a reasonable wildfire safety zone be realized.

The introduction of Eurasian cheat grass over 100 years ago, has enabled increased fire ignitions and created more pathways carrying fire into shrubland, forests and rural towns. Cheat grass creates a dense carpet of highly flammable fuel that dies and dries by June and cheatgrass’ spread is one correlate with the disproportional number of fires in the west.

If the senator wants to minimize deadly fires, the budget committee should consider more support for restoring native vegetation.

The deep rooted, native perennial grasses that cheatgrass replaced, produce moist live foliage through august and create a mosaic of grassy clumps and bare ground that slows the spread of fires.

Similarly, in forest habitat, money would be best spent increasing prescribed burns and forest thinning to create a mosaic that again reduces wildfire spread.

Fires were far more common in the early 1900s when CO2 was lower and temperatures were cooler as demonstrated by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Likewise, fires were far more common throughout the American southwest during the Little Ice Age.

Fire suppression policies that began 100 years ago and were meant to save forests, instead caused forest fuels to accumulate, unintentionally resulting now in more intense and devastating fires

Lightning is the cause of natural fires. Despite a lightning strike raising air temperatures by 50,000 F, a strike usually doesn’t ignite living trees due to the trees’ high moisture content and the lightning’s short duration. Lightning is also less likely to start a fire when accompanying rainstorms.

Interestingly, California accounts for 31% of all of America’s burnt area from lightning, despite having one of the lowest densities of lightning strikes.

However dry lightning is more common in the arid western USA and is another correlate explaining the disproportionate number of fires in the western USA.

Accordingly, California’s largest fires were due to a summer swarm of dry lightning strikes in 2020. Dry lightning caused California’s all time biggest recorded fire, the August Complex Fire, in addition to causing the 4th and 6th largest fires.

In contrast, Florida is hit by 50 times more lightning strikes per square mile. Yet, although California is just 3 times larger, California’s burnt area is 20 times larger than Florida’s, despite both states being equally affected by rising CO2.

This difference correlates with the fact that California has the least amount of summer precipitation during lightning season while Florida has the most. Thus, it’s California’s Mediterranean climate that makes it naturally prone to dry lightning, drier fuels, and larger wildfires.

A Mediterranean climate’s dry summers happen each summer because a clockwise-spinning high pressure system sets up and diverts moisture-carrying storms northward & away from California inhibiting its summer rainfall.

Although a similar high pressure sets up in the Atlantic, the same clockwise spin drives more rain into the Gulf and east coasts, explaining why the eastern USA has far fewer fires.

The Pacific high-pressure system fades in winter allowing California to receive more rainstorms, but La Nina-like oceans can maintain higher pressures during the winter, resulting in more drought, particularly in California.

La Nina’s are natural. So, CO2 driven models have failed to accurately simulate their occurrence. Scientists are struggling to understand why their models predicted more El Nino-like oceans as CO2 increased, in contrast to the past 40 years of observations finding the pacific has become more La Nina like.

Finally, climate alarmists and mis-informers have been cherry-picking & weaponizing the tragedies of the Marshall Fire & California’s fires, as evidence of global warming catastrophes. However, the global burnt area declined by 25% between 2000 and 2017, again contrary to global warming predictions.

The red areas show where burnt areas have significantly increased, blue significant decreases. All the white areas represent NO trend and reveal neither the USA nor the world show any indication of a growing wildfire crisis or any correlation with rising CO2.

So, indeed wake up America, it is time to learn some science!

Thank you

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Tom Halla
March 7, 2023 6:35 pm

Bad wildlands management, largely a product of green NGOs interfering legally in any realistic management plan, are much larger problems than the mild warming. Of course, being California, much of the power of the green NGOs is “sue and settle” by the state government not wanting to actually take responsibility for their equally green ideology.

John Hultquist
March 7, 2023 7:22 pm

Another serious fire (July 2014) in central Washington State, 70 miles north of me:

March 7, 2023 7:40 pm

Very nice Jim Steele, any idea who prevented you from testifying?

Jim Steele
Reply to  Bob
March 7, 2023 8:21 pm

I wasnt “prevented.” These hearings only allow 2 or 3 “experts” for each party. Out of a small pool, I just didnt have the pHd credential to provide the best optics.

Reply to  Jim Steele
March 7, 2023 10:43 pm

Well done Jim. Here in Australia we have exactly the same climate and fire issues as in America, and to date most of the public has no idea what the real science that you have expounded really says.
We have regular inquiries after each serious fire event, and ongoing proposals to increase the preseason burning and opening up fire breaks to reduce fire risk in our protected forests and National parks. However, the bureaucrats and management responsible for implementing these ‘cold’ burns are declining their duties because of their ‘Green” ideology, fears over creating more climate change CO2 emissions and their sense of importance of wilderness values. Our Bureau of Meteorology is fully behind this abrogation of science, due to their adherence to the failing AGW theory and their faulty climate models with zero predictive credibility.

So, we have to put up with worsening fire risk due to their insane panic over climate change and fossil fuel energy issues, that are literally driving us over the cliff of common sense into oblivion.

Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 3:31 pm

That’s to bad, any time I hear something like that I think of the old saw “experts built the Titanic an amateur built the ark”.

March 8, 2023 2:00 am

Excellent side by side comparison between Florida and California.

Only time will have the skeptics back. Compelling evidence will only fall on deaf ears for a few more decades. Another excellent article.Thanks.

March 8, 2023 3:18 am

There is no evidence supporting claims that rising CO2 and global warming increases the spread or intensity of wildfires.

Perhaps the extra atmospheric CO2 will promote tree growth resulting in more wilds to fire.

Jim Steele
Reply to  rovingbroker
March 8, 2023 5:53 am

CO2 does indeed promote growth which is why it is pumped into commercial Greenhouses.But the CO2 greening of the world shifts the balance to more live green vegetation with high moisture content vs dead vegetation with low moisture, and thus it can bee argued CO2 can reduce fires but that effect is determined by local ecosystem considerations such as growth of annual vs perennial grasses, or growth of flammable weedy shrubs vs trees.

The increased growth of grasses has definitely been attributed to more and bigger fires, but that grass growth correlates best with rainy years. In California that is most likely during El Nino years.

Due to landscape disruptions that have allowed more invasive annual grasses like cheatgrass to dominate, cheatgrass’ growth, early death and quick drying greatly adds to the fire danger, especially in the western USA where it has spread the most.

David Dibbell
March 8, 2023 4:24 am

Good points in this video, Jim Steele! Much appreciated.

I do have one caveat though. I don’t see how “It is well proven that increasing CO2 from burning fossil fuels adds about 2.4 W/ m2 of energy.

This may be accurate in the limited sense of the theoretical incremental static radiative coupling of the atmosphere to the surface. But the atmosphere is not static. It is the working fluid of its own dynamic heat engine operation. Incremental CO2 does not “add” energy at all to the overall land-ocean-atmosphere system. The energy absorbed is from the sun. (Yes, I know the claim is that CO2 “adds” energy by inhibiting the top-of-atmosphere longwave emission to space, which itself is unproven and unprovable in my view.) And given the variation of water vapor and clouds over any location on the surface, the contribution of incremental CO2 to downwelling longwave radiation cannot be isolated from the rapid changes in both directions relating to water vapor and clouds. As illustrated here.

Jim Steele
Reply to  David Dibbell
March 8, 2023 6:06 am

Dave, I agree with most of what you are saying. However I think it is well proven by laboratory experiments that CO2 absorbs infrared and then emits it in all directions causing back radiation to the earth’s surface, with 2.4 W/m2 being in the upper limits. CO2 doesnt trap heat but it does slow down the cooling process as I have discussed elsewhere.

I firmly believe skeptics should not deny that simple fact. Skeptic arguments are on firmer scientific foundations if we accept that added radiative effect, but demonstrate that it is insignificant . Dynamical heating explains the ocean’s heating via “solar pond dynamics”, and wildfires release thousands of times more heat from burning vegetation. Blaming CO2 for the dynamical heating and drying of wildfires is easily proven to be absurd.

David Dibbell
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 7:18 am

Thank you for your reply. Much respect for your work. Please keep on exposing the errors of the claims of catastrophic warming.

However I think it is well proven by laboratory experiments that CO2 absorbs infrared and then emits it in all directions causing back radiation to the earth’s surface, with 2.4 W/m2 being in the upper limits.”
This is not in dispute as far as I am concerned, as a matter of computation from experimentally determined properties, in the static case of the surface looking toward space. But the atmosphere itself, including clouds, is the emitter to space that matters most. Consider what is being observed from space by the geostationary satellites, as in the images from NOAA GOES East, band 16 at this link. The radiance at 30C brightness temperature on the color scale (yellow) is 10 times the radiance at -90C (white.) The motion changes everything about where to expect the energy involved in the static warming effect of incremental CO2 to end up. As you say, “…CO2…emits in all directions.”

Skeptic arguments are on firmer scientific foundations if we accept that added radiative effect, but demonstrate that it is insignificant.” Agreed.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 10:11 am

Thank you, Jim Steele, for another EXCELLENT article!

Re: “demonstrate that it is insignificant”

I disagree.

The burden of proof is on the AGWists. THEY must prove that it is significant. Given that the 2.4w/m2 is based on observations ONLY in a closed system, not in a replication (not even close!) of the earth climate system,

ALSO, given the drastic measures being demanded of society to counter this alleged problem (no data proving it yet), they have a very heavy burden of production and proof.

The AGWists haven’t even made a prima facie case for their speculation.

Last edited 18 days ago by Janice Moore
Jim Steele
Reply to  Janice Moore
March 8, 2023 11:17 am

Janice, I wish that was true, but simply by pushing their narrative using one fact, no matter how irrelevant it is for earth, that CO2 is adding heat & thus it causes every problem connected to rising temperatures, there is an enormous % of the population that are convinced/brainwashed that rising CO2 is possibly causing all manner of catastrophes. In my one-on-one discussions with believers, they become more open when I “demonstrate that CO2 is insignificant”

Janice Moore
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 12:27 pm

Your strategy for persuasion is a wise one.

March 8, 2023 5:37 am

I’m getting ready to drive through the burn area of Louisville/Superior in a few minutes like I do most days.

Several of the homes being rebuilt are nearing completion. It took most of the past year for the local governments to agree on cleanup contracts and to grant permits.

There has been very little discussion of the cause of the fire and what to do about it. I suspect that a thorough investigation would reveal culpability of the local governments due to their incompetence. There was an opportunity to lessen the damage by being prepared and fighting the fire at its source.

It appeared that firefighters were running around like chickens with their heads cut off, driving past the ignition point multiple times. Once the fire got going the wind and nature took its toll. No fire suppression work on the open space had been done before hand.

March 8, 2023 7:33 am

Well prepare for more of this BS when there is a massive increase spring foliage due to the wet conditions that then dies in the summer heat and dries and provides excellent tinder for wildfires this summer.

Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 7:50 am
Jim Steele
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 9:18 am

One of Whitehouse’s chosen expert was Veronica Serna, Mora County Commissioner where a devastating fire was started as a prescribed burn by the US Forest Service on April 6, 2022 in a grassland. These factors have nothing to do with climate as this video discusses. Grasses become highly flammable in just hours of dry weather. April is naturally one of the driest periods in New Mexico, as most of this regions rains arrive during the summer monsoons in July and August. Sen Lujan mentioned that fires now happen all year, implying it is due to CO2 climate change, without mentioning that all studies show all year fires are due to human ignitions

Jim Steele
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 9:33 am

Another witness for Whitehouse was Michael Wara, JD, PhD; a lawyer and Director, Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Wara repeats the typical alarmist talking point connecting global warming to vapor pressure deficit to wildfires stating “Vapor pressure deficit has increased over the last two decades due to climate change and consistent with climate models. It is projected by the same models to continue to increase over coming years such that the average fire seasons of the next few decades are likely to be similar to the worst fire seasons we have experienced to date. By 2040, the fire seasons of the 2010s may come to seem as quaint and manageable as the fire seasons of the 1960s do today.”

First Vapor pressure deficit is another way of measuring relative humidity. The papers arguing that an increase deficit is due to rising CO2 was pushed by Park Williams but doesnt address to what extent the deficit has on fire ignitipon and spread. They ignored the fact that grass fires are not affected by any 40 year deficit trend. Grasses become flammable in hours of dry weather.

By comparing the recent 40 year trend in the increasing deficit using a model with and without human greenhouse gases, the concluded the model differences SUGGEST anthropogenic factors caused 2/3rd of the deficit. But their model does not account for all the natural factors causing less water vapor.

It is quite funny that when there is a drought they argue global warming is drying the air, and when there are floods they argue global warming is increasing water vapor in the air.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 10:17 am

“It is quite funny disgusting and contemptible.”

Jim Steele
Reply to  Janice Moore
March 8, 2023 11:10 am

I agree Janice. Disgusting and contemptible is more accurate. I must be getting soft in my old age.

Janice Moore
Reply to  Jim Steele
March 8, 2023 12:22 pm

🙂 Thanks for your kind response. I was going to edit my comment so that it wouldn’t appear to be correcting you (but, neglected to). I got what you meant; it is “funny.” I just wanted to ADD the other terms. In your old age… no. You are MUCH too young in heart and mind to ever be truly “old.” Just a number. And (for me, age 10) a very good disguise. 😉

Last edited 18 days ago by Janice Moore
March 8, 2023 8:39 am

I would describe the Senator as inconvincible of anything. The man is a totally blinkered political hack.

March 8, 2023 8:43 am

Senator Whitehouse is a thoroughly corrupt demagogue. He cares not a whit about facts or reason, as those interfere with his plans to arrogate power and money.

Last edited 18 days ago by JamesB_684
Gunga Din
March 8, 2023 9:08 am

They seem to imply wildfires are something new if not getting worse.
Do they know that there are some plants that depend on fire to open their seeds?
How “new” are they?
How many other plants have developed defenses against fire or even depend on fire to clear underbrush so they can prosper?
What might be considered “new” is more people are building homes in fire prone areas just like they build in flood plains.

Last edited 18 days ago by Gunga Din
March 8, 2023 9:36 am

On the last graphic…see those red dots in Northern Canada….total bullshit, few people live there, no firetrucks, no way to fight a fire if lightning strikes. One of the dots is Thompson, and Manitoba has significantly updated fire reporting in the last decade, so numerically “wildfires have increased”. Realistically just more seen in their satellite view that weren’t previously reported…cuz there’s nobody for miles….

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  DMacKenzie
March 8, 2023 9:08 pm

Same as with hurricanes and tornadoes
Any supposed increase more than explained by increased tech for detection

March 8, 2023 11:55 am

There’s nothing straight about that Senator from Rhode Island.

March 8, 2023 4:40 pm

“Not enough politicians are honestly educating the public about the science of climate change and wildfires.”

I object to having the words “politicians”, “honestly” and “educating” in the same sentence !

I have read dozens of articles on wildfires in the past few years. None of them explain the natural fires as well as this article, which I will recommend on my blog tomorrow: Honest Climate Science and Energy Blog

March 8, 2023 5:02 pm

This article does not seem to focus on manmade fires, which I believe are about 85% of all wildfires. I assume if an electric line goes down during high winds and a thunderstorm, that is considered a manmade fire?

Let’s consider a hypothesis, which needs to be logical before seeking data to support it:

The number of manmade fires will change if the average temperature changes slightly.

That makes no sense to me.

Why would accidental and deliberate manmade fires change if there is a tiny change in the average temperature over a decade?

I can’t come up with any logical explanation for any relationship. Therefore, the relationship between the number of manmade fires and small changes in the average temperature are NOT related — they are spurious — no matter what the data appear to show. There is no logical connection.

What we do know is there was global warming and US warming from 1975 to 2015. We also know there was no global warming from 2015 to 2023 (UAH) and a cooling trend in the US after 2015 (USCRN).

We know there was a global decline of wildfires from 2020 to 2023.
(Global Active Fires Index)

There is no obvious relationship of all these variables.

I can speculate:
If there are more fires than 50 years ago, it is mainly because there are more people living near forests, where homes are more affordable, and ore people visiting forests. With more people, and more electricity transmission lines, there are more accidents.

The fuel is dry every fire season. It can’t get any drier from a slight increase in the average temperature, because it is ALREADY dry.

The acres burned will depend mainly on forest management, tree trimming around electric lines and the ability to put out fires, which could be helped by random weather events, such as no wind, or having rain.

Global warming has generally been accompanied by more rain. Rain in California is an exception — it varies a lot from year to year, 2022 was dry but CA has had a flat trendline for a century.
2022 Is California’s Driest Year on Record So Far – an Ominous Sign for Summer and Fall | Weather Underground (

Last edited 18 days ago by Richard Greene
March 10, 2023 2:33 pm


An excellent article.

The only thing I’d add to explain CA and other wildfires of the west, is the tracks taken by the summer monsoons.

I live in Oregon’s high desert, which has plenty of cheat grass. Despite some abundant cheat grass crops the past couple of years thanks to June rains, we haven’t had grass fire conflagrations like we had before, say, 2020, in large part because the storm tracks for whatever reason have gone either to the west or the east. Instead, we had the horrific Bootleg fire of 2021 and the Cedar Creek fire of 2022, both in timber. By and large, the lightning didn’t hit the sagebrush/grassland steppe.


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