According to a new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), we can now blame forest fires on energy corporations: Coal, oil, and gas companies are now directly linked to worsening forest fires across the western United States.
The study, titled The Fossil Fuels Behind Forest Fires: Quantifying the Contribution of Major Carbon Producers to Increasing Wildfire Risk, claims that nearly 20 million acres of burned forest can be attributed to heat-trapping emissions traced to the worlds 88 largest fossil fuel producers and cement manufacturers. The study offers policymakers, elected officials, and legal experts a scientific basis for holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the impacts of their products and their decades-long deception efforts.
The conclusion sounds similar: While countries and consumers have some responsibility for climate change and its impacts, fossil fuel companies can and should be held accountable for climate harms. For those who drive trucks and cars and work with cement, that may sound more like advocacy than science.
The UCS authors came to this conclusion by using computer climate models to make an estimate on assumptions about changes in vapor pressure deficits. In his review of the study, Edward Ring of the California Policy Center cites deficits in the UCS research. As he notes, the recent heat waves in western forests are not unique.
Californias hottest recorded temperature was 10 years ago in 2013, a full 134 degrees in Death Valley. During the 1930s, temperatures rivaled ... those we experience today, and the recent drought was reportedly the worst in 1,200 years. According to Ring, this raises the obvious question ... about that even bigger drought that occurred 1,200 years ago, long before those energy and cement companies geared up. Trees are another concern.
Ring explains that the number of Californias mid-elevation Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests has swelled from 60 trees per acre to 170 trees per acre. Unlike the subjectively defined algorithms of climate models, Ring writes, excessive tree density is an objective fact.
The density issue came up during the epidemic of California wildfires in 2020. President Donald Trump contended that forest management was key to combating wildfires. California Gov. Gavin Newsom argued that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this. Newsoms natural resources secretary, Wade Crowfoot, talked up the science but did not spell it out in any detail.
As it turns out, Crowfoots degree from the University of Wisconsin is in politicalnot climatescience, and he once served as West Coast director for the Environmental Defense Fund. In similar style, the UCS studys co-author Alicia Race holds degrees in political science from the University of Illinois and Northern Kentucky University. Before joining UCS, she worked with the San Diego Climate Action Campaign.
The UCS study is peer-reviewed, but the authors give no mention of replication. In this process, authors give their data to independent scientists to see if they arrive at the same conclusion. Without replication, and with reliance on climate models, Ring finds the authors guilty of scientific malpractice. Politicians and bureaucrats also share the blame for destructive wildfires that threaten life and property, especially in California.
Cal Fire [The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection] and other state and federal agencies [are] at fault for allowing fuel conditions to persist that enabled so many wildfires to reach epic proportions, contend the authors of California Wildfires: Key Recommendations to Prevent Future Disasters.
The study recommends proactive forest management, forest restoration, and more prescribed or controlled burns. Additionally, private-property owners must be allowed to more easily remove trees ... through forest thinning and the creation of breaks [in vegetation], especially near communities.
Only you can prevent wildfires, says Smokey Bear, who calls for campfire safety, proper maintenance of equipment, and home protection. Such practical advice is better than blowing smoke on climate change, blaming energy companies, and allowing politicians and bureaucrats to escape accountability.