Climate Change

California's 'New Normal' Has Always Been Normal

Gov. Jerry Brown, naturally, blames climate change, but there have always been wildfires.

Jordan Candler · Dec. 12, 2017

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the devastation Saturday in Ventura — the area hardest hit by firestorms that have displaced nearly 90,000 people in Southern California — calling it ‘the new normal.’” He cited man-made global warming as the catalyst for the travesty and suggested that large-scale wildfires “could be something that happens every year or every few years.” The wildfire situation in California is indeed a highly debilitating and challenging one. But it’s easy to lose sight of the facts in the heat of the moment, if you will.

Leftmedia outlets are pointing to evidence of bigger wildfires in recent years, which they unequivocally and prematurely link to fossil fuels. In October, for example, Time magazine reported, “Climate change has helped make California’s wildfires more intense.” Another publication, The Conversation, wrote in May 2016, “Wildfires in West have gotten bigger, more frequent and longer since the 1980s.”

Now for an alternative perspective. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, a total of 67,743 fires occurred in the U.S. in 2016, burning 5,509,995 acres. In 2015, there were 68,151 fires that scorched 10,125,149 acres. However, in 1980 and 1981, there were a whopping 234,892 and 249,370 fires, respectively, and in those back-to-back years 5,260,825 and 4,814,206 acres were burned. In this regard, there would appear to be an inverse relation. Between 1960 and 1982, there was only one year with fewer than 100,000 fires (1961), whereas between 1983 and 2016, not a single year has reached 100,000 fires annually.

That said, some recent years have seen a noteworthy increase in the number of acres burned, yet compared to parts of the 20th century, there are significantly fewer fires overall. Why? It’s not as simple as blaming man-made global warming. California is home to nearly 40 million people. Many of them are expanding to areas that are historically prone to forest fires. The results are the equivalent of adding millions of people to Florida’s shorelines — a bigger population means bigger impact from natural disasters. Moreover, last winter California experienced a deluge of rain. Oddly enough, this worsens the wildfire outlook. As newly lush undergrowth dries out, it serves as additional fuel. Policymakers consider the repercussions unexpected, but most meteorologists saw the writing on the wall.

Speaking of policymakers, they share some (a lot?) of the blame. For too long they have failed to erect needed dams and routinely waste precious water in the name of preserving smelt (a small fish). And other areas of the West suffer from irresponsible logging practices. While Gov. Brown debates wildfire semantics and blames man-made global warming, the fact of the matter is that infernos are recurrent and always will be. And while natural climate change and population trends may change the overall scope and impact, what’s clear too is that leftist policies have become the “new normal,” as Brown would say. And they deserve at least as much attention, if not more, as any climate finger-pointing.

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