CNN Publishes Blatantly False Claim About Wildfires – There’s No Link to Fossil Fuels at All

Originally posted at ClimateREALISM

A May 16, 2023 article by CNN reporter Rachel Ramirez titled, “More than a third of the area charred by wildfires in Western North America can be traced back to fossil fuels, scientists find” claims that fossil fuel companies are directly responsible for a third of wildfires in the western U.S. and Canada. This claim is easily disproven by real-world data. Data show no correlation between wildfire acreage burned and CO2 produced from the burning of fossil fuel products.

The CNN article references a questionable study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) – a politically oriented climate activist organization who by their own admission, say “We use science to make change happen.” For the UCS science is not a tool to produce knowledge, but rather a lever political change.

Unfortunately, CNN was unable to discern this difference and treated the UCS press release as if it was actual science, rather than politically motivated climate activism disguised as science.

Reporting from the press release, CNN wrote:

The study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that 37% of the area burned by wildfires in the West since 1986 — nearly 19.8 million acres out of 53 million — can be blamed on the planet-cooking pollution from 88 of the world’s major fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers, the latter of which have been shown to produce around 7% of all carbon dioxide emissions.

The amalgam of megadrought and record-breaking heat that’s drying out vegetation due to climate change has stoked the West’s wildfires. And researchers found that since 1901, the fossil fuel activities of these companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, among others, warmed the planet by 0.5 degrees Celsius — nearly half of the global increase during that period.

The UCS “study” used a novel and little-known approach to link the so-called megadrought and heat to fossil fuel emissions: Vapor Pressure Deficit (VPD). The VPD is similar to, but not the same as, the more commonly known relative humidity seen in daily weather reports.  In layman’s terms, VPD measures how much water is in the air versus the maximum amount of water vapor that can exist in that air. This atmospheric metric is hardly ever used.

In the study published by UCS, the authors claim::

Increases in burned forest area across the western United States and southwestern Canada over the last several decades have been partially driven by a rise in vapor pressure deficit (VPD), a measure of the atmosphere’s drying power that is significantly influenced by human-caused climate change.

We use a global energy balance carbon-cycle model, a suite of climate models, and a burned area (BA) model to determine the contribution of emissions traced to the major carbon producers to the long-term increase in VPD during 1901–2021 and to cumulative forest fire area during 1986–2021 in the western US and southwestern Canada.
In other words, rather than using real-world measured data, they used computer climate models to make an estimate based on assumptions about changes in vapor pressure deficits, which haven’t been actually measured, as such, across the time period claimed. As Climate Realism has repeatedly shown, model outputs are not the same as reality, and much-hyped climate models have been proven to run hot, projecting rising temperatures that are, in the words of the scientists who work on the models, “implausibly fast.” The UCS paper claims that VPD in the western U.S. and Canada is showing a long-term drying, thus contributing to wildfires. This drying via the VPD metric would be an indicator of increased drought conditions, yet  no causation or even correlation has been shown between recent climate changes and wildfires.

Most egregious of all, the UCS study itself ignored actual data in a paper they used as a reference to bolster their claim about VPD drying. In the 2020 paper Plant responses to rising vapor pressure deficit, actual VPD data was shown for the western U.S. and Canada. Surprisingly, these areas actually show VPD values that indicate more moisture, rather than less, completely contradicting the claims of drying made in the UCS study. This is seen in Figure 1 below, with both the U.S. and an expanded magnified panel showing the western area of the UCS study. The green colors indicate wetter conditions.

Figure 1 – Figure 1A from the paper Plant responses to rising vapor pressure deficit, magnified and annotated by A. Watts to show the Western U.S. and Canada regions cited in the UCS paper. Green areas in California and Western Canada indicate wetter conditions, yet these are areas where the biggest wildfires occurred. 

Not only are the authors of the UCS study ignoring the contradictory VPD evidence contained in the paper they are citing, they also selectively cherry picked the wildfire data, only citing the range of years which seemingly support their assertion that climate change induced VPD deficits are driving wildfires. UCS claims:

This analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) attributes portions of the observed increases in fire-danger conditions and burned forest area across the western United States and southwestern Canada (referred to here as western North America) to the world’s 88 largest fossil fuel companies…

The analysis finds that 37 percent of the cumulative burned forest area in western North America since 1986 can be traced to carbon emissions from these companies’ products.

Wildfire data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) was used in the UCS study. This data goes back to 1926. But even though UCS used VPD data back to 1901, they only used wildfire data from 1986 to the present. As you can see in Figure 2, in the early years of the data, wildfire in the US was much more prevalent. By using only more recent data, they UCS implies wildfires are increasing in relation to VPD.

Figure 2: A comparison of the before and after erasure NIFC dataset showing acres burned. Note the blue trend line goes from a negative trend to a positive one when cherry picked data is used.

Climate Realism covered the blatant disappearance of earlier wildfire data here, noting that it was only disappeared after researchers began to cite it as showing wildfires are not getting worse in the United States. The data was valid enough to be used in the 2001 Update to 1995 Federal Wildland Management Policy. (PDF)

Using the entire NIFC dataset easily disproves the UCS “study”, but even more telling is the fact that when you compare carbon dioxide (CO2) levels between the cherry picked and full NIFC data, the lie by omission becomes clearly evident as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Panel A shows correlation between CO2 levels and wildfire when the UCS cherry-picked data is used, but in panel B, that correlation completely disappears when all of the wildfire and CO2 data is used. Sources: NIFC and NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 data. Graphs originally by Tony Heller, modified, combined, and annotated by A. Watts.

By hiding the data prior to 1986, UCS created the appearance of a false correlation between CO2 emissions and wildfire when none exists in the full data set. In other words, they lied by choosing only the data they wanted to show.

Finally, if that isn’t enough, recent satellite data shows no correlation between wildfire acreage burned and carbon dioxide levels. In fact, while carbon dioxide levels rose, wildfire area burned actually declined from 2000 to 2018. Further, according to a U.S. Forest Service report, fire-scarred California giant Sequoia trees indicate that severe fires occurred there in the years 245, 1441, 1580 and 1797 – well before climate change concerns and fossil-fuel companies ever existed.

As CNN is wont to do, it failed fact check any of the UCS’s claims with reference to available data. Instead, CNN simply regurgitated the claims from a political organization producing “science to make change happen.”

Any doubt that UCS is anything more than a “science for hire” organization is easily dispelled by that fact that my dog, Kenji, became a member of UCS simply by paying a fee. All that is required to become a “concerned scientist” is to provide a valid credit card.

Clearly, the UCS and CNN have gone to the dogs when it comes to scientific integrity and reporting science accurately to the public. Their so-called science doesn’t even pass the “sniff test.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website

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No one
May 25, 2023 6:12 pm

Carbon Dioxide is used to extinguish fires. Maybe they missed that correlation on purpose? And when you use it for that task, it certainly has a chilling effect, even to the extent of frostbite. If they were really worried about global warming, emptying your CO2 extinguisher should be as important an Earth Day activity as sitting in the dark.

May 25, 2023 6:13 pm

I put the blame on Dylan Mulvaney.

Reply to  Scissor
May 25, 2023 6:47 pm

Maybe the waterbombing crews can use Bud Light this season for their fire suppression payloads?

I have heard that the remaining areas of drought in the U.S. still have ample supplies of stale Bud Light!

Reply to  pillageidiot
May 25, 2023 7:15 pm

Good news: free beer. Bad news: it’s Bud Light.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Scissor
May 25, 2023 10:02 pm

Would it have to stand or squat to put out a fire?

Tom Halla
May 25, 2023 6:14 pm

In a Mediterranean climate, the bush dries out enough to burn every year. Wildlands management would have rather more effect on the severity, but green NGOs oppose forest management, having the belief that leaving it to “nature” is the Right Thing To Do.

Reply to  Tom Halla
May 25, 2023 6:55 pm

There is a chance that California will actually have a bad burn season this year.

The abundant precipitation this winter will create a much higher fuel load this summer. In a Mediterranean climate, fuel load is a much more relevant critical factor than the annual VPD.

Fortunately, there may be an El Nino this summer. All of the idiot CNN anchors say that carbon dioxide super-charged El Ninos create more natural disasters. Of course, the historical record shows that the worst California wildfires occur during La Nina conditions.

Reply to  pillageidiot
May 26, 2023 4:26 am

California already appears to be headed toward disaster, in the form of flooding.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  starzmom
May 26, 2023 4:54 am

California already appears to be headed toward disaster, in the form of flooding green energy policies.

fixed it!

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 26, 2023 10:35 pm

green energy policies manic demented government.

Also, everybody near the coast (50 miles or so) is slowly getting mercury poisoning in winter.

Last edited 5 days ago by prjndigo
Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 26, 2023 4:52 am

“but green NGOs oppose forest management”

such fools, excellent forest mgt. (it’s not all excellent) produces many values: high value timber, wildlife habitat and diversity, watershed protection, reduces wildfires, aesthetic values, etc.

what they now want is called “proforestation” – lock up all the forests to serve only one purpose- sequester carbon- of course when the wildfire occurs, it’ll all be released

Onthe Move
May 25, 2023 6:30 pm

CBC published the same garbage, and I have to pay for it anyway, which is even worse.

Reply to  Onthe Move
May 25, 2023 6:58 pm

I feel the same way when NPR uses U.S. tax dollars to disseminate left-wing propaganda.

Reply to  pillageidiot
May 26, 2023 10:37 pm

NPR isn’t so much tax dollars as tax fraud dollars…

Elliot W
Reply to  Onthe Move
May 25, 2023 8:04 pm

And, still in Canada, Global News TV headline this evening said that although the upcoming hurricane season is predicted to be utterly “normal” that climate change was starting hurricanes earlier with fiercer winds. *insert eye roll here*

Reply to  Onthe Move
May 25, 2023 9:16 pm

Overheard in a pub –

Ist drinker –
“you say it’s bullshit? How do you know it’s bullshit?”

2nd drinker –
“I heard it on CBC”

1st drinker –
“OK, I’ll buy that”

May 25, 2023 6:44 pm

Good grief. When has CNN ever been honest?

Reply to  JamesB_684
May 25, 2023 7:18 pm

It was 5 PM EST, June 1, 1980. Then they went on air.

CD in Wisconsin
May 25, 2023 7:14 pm

“Unfortunately, CNN was unable to discern this difference and treated the UCS press release as if it was actual science, rather than politically motivated climate activism disguised as science.”


Anyone who has a reasonable understanding of the ethics and principles of journalism should be able to see the problem whenever the lamestream media put out a story like this.

There should always be two sides to a story in journalism if my understanding of journalistic ethics is correct. The absence of any effort on the part of CNN to apply critical analysis to the UCS claim and verify its credibility demonstrates that journalism has been replaced here by activist demagoguery. It would not surprise me in the least if UCS and CNN had colluded in advance of the publishing of this story and that the UCS “study” was custom designed to suit CNN’s purpose.

CNN and other “news” outlets treat their readers like they have the I.Q. of 10 year olds who have yet to learn and understand anything about journalism. It is no wonder then that CNN’s ratings have been in the doghouse if the reports on their ratings are correct. It would gladden my heart to see them go under some day.

Reply to  CD in Wisconsin
May 25, 2023 10:34 pm

Well said

Sadly, churnalism is all we have left in the Misleadia

Tom Abbott
Reply to  CD in Wisconsin
May 26, 2023 4:00 am

“journalism has been replaced here by activist demagoguery”

Yes, it has.

Last edited 6 days ago by Tom Abbott
May 25, 2023 8:13 pm

This is the abstract of an article that I have written:

‘The Cause if Atmospheric Rivers”:

“Extreme flooding due to Atmospheric Rivers has been observed for centuries, but they are considered to be natural events, with no known explanation for their occurrence.

However, it has been observed that they are always preceded by periods of higher temperatures caused by volcanic droughts (periods of 4-5 years without any VEI4 or higher volcanic eruptions), where there are no volcanic Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) aerosols circulating in Earth’s atmosphere, or other instances where atmospheric SO2 levels have been reduced, such as during American Business recessions (due to idled foundries, factories, etc). With lower amounts SO2 aerosol pollution in the atmosphere, temperatures rise, and heat waves, droughts, famines, and torrential downpours happen around the world”.

With respect to this post, it shows that droughts, which increase the occurrence of wild fires, are due to decreased levels of SO2 aerosols in the atmosphere, rather than to increased CO2 levels, so it is not surprising that no correlation between wildfires and CO2 levels can be found..

Tom Abbott
Reply to  BurlHenry
May 26, 2023 4:06 am

“so it is not surprising that no correlation between wildfires and CO2 levels can be found..”

So what is the correlation between SO2 and the most recent drought in the Western U.S. over the last few years, and between SO2 and the recent atmospheric rivers that have eliminated that drought? What about SO2 caused the weather to change from extreme drought to too much rain in just a few years?

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 26, 2023 7:41 am

Tom Abbott:

The correlation with SO2 is simply that its concentration in the atmosphere is being reduced.

Less SO2 aerosol pollution results in cleaner air, which increases the intensity of the Sun’s radiation striking the Earth’s surface, resulting in higher temperatures, which lead to droughts, and atmospheric rivers, as explained in my article.

Extreme drought is still present around the world, too much rain is local, and is primarily from Atmospheric rivers, which have not eliminated drought.conditions

May 25, 2023 8:55 pm

Further, according to a U.S. Forest Service report, fire-scarred California giant Sequoia trees indicate that severe fires occurred there in the years 245, 1441, 1580 and 1797 – well before climate change concerns and fossil-fuel companies ever existed.”

A burned sequoia tree we encountered in Sequoia.
My picture of a group of tourists that asked me to take the picture and forward it. I did.

With all of the healed edges of the burn, it sure didn’t happen recently.

Sherman Grove Sequoia 7-11-07-038.JPG
Chris Hanley
May 25, 2023 8:55 pm

There seems to be a formatting problem in the above article.
The para starting: “In other words, rather than using real-world measured data …” should be in normal text, not as part of the USC quote.

Gunga Din
May 25, 2023 9:59 pm

Have they ignored forest mismanagement on purpose?
CO2 doesn’t prevent dead wood from being logged.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Gunga Din
May 26, 2023 4:58 am

The greens HATE forest management. Here in Woke-achusetts they are fighting to end all forestry on almost a million acres of state owned forest. If they win that battle, they’ll fight to end all forestry on private land. But they don’t seem to mind forest being converted to glorious wind and solar “farms”.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 26, 2023 8:50 am

Yep. they were quite content to see 14m trees cut down in Scotland to make way for wind turbines.

Most solar installations in UK are on farm fields. For example there are at least two large projects (Cottam and West Lindsey-Lincolnshire)being proposed in Peta of Newark’s stamping ground. Both are over 50MW and the latter includes a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS)

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Dave Andrews
May 26, 2023 8:56 am

Scotland is rather far to the North – I’d think it wouldn’t be ideal solar “farm” country. As far North as Labrador, for North Americans to appreciate.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 27, 2023 7:01 am

Next they’ll be looking to build those worse-than-useless things at the North Pole.

May 25, 2023 10:30 pm

Good that these miscreant ‘journalista’ get called but is anybody lodging formal complaints with the news media oversight organization ?
I am sure that nobody other than the enlightened few who visit sites like this ever see these news media taken-downs.

May 26, 2023 12:04 am

As warmer air holds more moisture, a warming world should have a rising VPD.
More rainfall, mists and humidity as moist air from the coasts can travel further inland before precipitating.
Why sinply assume that increases in wild fires are related to the temperature?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  MCourtney
May 26, 2023 4:12 am

“Why sinply assume that increases in wild fires are related to the temperature?”

Alarmist climate science is made up entirely of unsubstantiated assumptions. This particular assumption is just one of many. Assumptions are all Climate Alarmists have. Climate Alarmists substitute assumptions for evidence because they don’t have any evidence.

Last edited 6 days ago by Tom Abbott
Tom Abbott
May 26, 2023 3:52 am

From the article: “By hiding the data prior to 1986, UCS created the appearance of a false correlation between CO2 emissions and wildfire when none exists in the full data set. In other words, they lied by choosing only the data they wanted to show.”

Yes! This is the state of Alarmist Climate Science today. The only way they can make a case against CO2 is to lie about it.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has no credibility.

We are surrounded by liars pushing the Human-caused Climate Change scam. The Union of Concerned Scietists ought to be ashamed of themselves. Blatant liars. These distortions of the truth were not accidental, they are deliberate lies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists are deliberately lying to the world about the state of the Earth’s climate. No other conclusion can be reached.

Joseph Zorzin
May 26, 2023 4:47 am

“planet-cooking pollution”

wow, and the oceans are boiling! we’re all doomed! 🙂

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 27, 2023 7:06 am

What the Union of Communist Socialists puts out is brain cooking propaganda, not science.

Of course, the Communist News Network is all to happy to spread said propaganda.

Joseph Zorzin
May 26, 2023 5:04 am

“….the most viewed website in the world on climate…”

No reason to doubt that- but, I wonder how influential it is?

David Wojick
May 26, 2023 5:14 am

Their attitude is that since there is a study that suggests this result it must be true, right? No wonder science is taking a hit.

Doug S
May 26, 2023 5:28 am

I spent the summers of my childhood and young adulthood up in the California Sierra mountains. At some point in the late 1970’s, the locals became very angry at the policy shift made by the National Forest Service. Forest clearing was halted and maintenance to the fire roads including cutting new fire breaks was stopped. The old loggers and men who knew those mountains like the back of their hands warned us that this new policy was a disaster for the forest. They predicted, accurately, that letting the fuel accumulate on the forest floor and letting the fire breaks get overgrown was a recipe for disaster.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Doug S
May 26, 2023 8:59 am

True, and this same policy has occurred in Australia, France, Greece, Italy, Spain etc

Mr Ed
May 26, 2023 8:05 am

Many years ago each National Forest Unit was an self financed operation. It
ran on the income it received from logging, mineral rights and grazing.
When a timber unit went to bid no money traded hands till the logs
were delivered at the sawmill. The government, local. state and federal
got first dibs and the logger got what was left. The mill got the logs. This was
is how towns were able to finance roads, schools and other items.

At some point the Nation Forest Units changed and are now run out of Washington DC.
Ivory Tower Management. With the enviros blocking the harvest with lawfare and what was
valuable timber becomes worth a fraction. From million$ to $50K ish.

If the enviros had to post a bond on the appraised value of the timber when they sued
the forest would be a much different place today. Here in the Northern Rockies when
I travel the area it’s easy to tell the difference between private and governement
timber grounds. The private is vibrant, green and healthy and the government
ground is dead/dying. We are now having a douglas fir beetle outbreak, very easy
to see along the roads. Fossil Fuels causing wildfires? Enviro lawfare is
a multi billion dollar operation that is causing untold damage to our forests and
making them fire traps.

When the beetle kill hit the lodge pole pine and the
trees died and the needles fell out and the trees stopped using water the first
thing that happened is springs started flowing which made the grass grow with the
canopy open.
The grass in these dead lodge pole stands is over chest high, my farmer side
say’s 4-5 tons/acre. Thats a fine fuel which when hit by lightening burns like
a gas soaked rag. There are miles upon miles of this in my area. The dead timber
is jackstrawed and has a moisture content of kiln dried’s a death trap.
If one is in the timber in late summer and a smoldering lightning strike from
a dry thunder storm from the night before takes off you will never get out alive.
Think of a grass fire with the grass being 100ft tall in a 20-30mph wind..
The media never covers this side of the enviros for some reason. Climate change
my eye..

May 26, 2023 11:31 am

She has a green thumb… a Green nose.

Last edited 6 days ago by n.n
May 26, 2023 10:31 pm

There is, actually, a link between fossil fuels and wildfires but it’s very very greatly in their reduction. Turns out horses are difficult to feed while doing forestry work to reduce risks.

May 27, 2023 4:44 am
AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Yooper
May 27, 2023 9:38 am

That’s an excellent write-up. Spot on.

May 28, 2023 7:15 am

Of the ten worst wildfires in CA only one was initiated by natural forces, i.e. lightning. Most others were human caused. So, how can anyone make a claim that indirectly fossil fuel use is a main driver? More than silly. Sorry, I don’t have a quick link to this list of wildfire causes, it’s what I remember. I still wonder, though, how many fires are set by wacky activists. Keep an eye out for the national fire map and compare the fire density below and right above the Canadian border, since forest type and forest density are the same, as well as the local climate/weather.

Mr Ed
Reply to  potsniron
May 28, 2023 9:38 am

“I still wonder, though, how many fires are set by wacky activists”

Back in 2020 in late August we had a series of arson fires here in the
Northern Rockies. All believed to be related to the “Summer of Love” radicals
rioting on the west coast.
Thankfully all were able to be put out quickly and none got out of control.
It was hot and dry with a huge fuel load. One was a few miles from my place.

A DNRC wildfire unit confirmed to me that it was arson but the
media curiously never gave it any notice.

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