The West Is burning — How much blame goes to climate change?


Click to enlargeJohn McColgan, USDA

❝ So far this year, wildfires have scorched nearly 5 million acres in the U.S. That sounds like a lot, but compared to 2015, the season has been downright tame. Last year at this time, more than 9 million acres had already burned, and by the end of the year, that number would rise to more than 10 million — the most on record. In 2015, the Okanogan grew into the largest fire Washington had ever seen, breaking a record set just the year before. California recorded some of its most damaging fires, including the Valley Fire, which torched around 1,300 homes. More than 5 million acres burned in Alaska alone. But that’s not to say that this year has been without drama. For instance, California’s Soberanes Fire, which was sparked by an illegal campfire in July, is still smoldering. The effort it took to contain that blaze is believed to be one of the most expensive — if not the most expensive — wildfire-fighting operations ever.

❝ With wildfire, such superlatives have, paradoxically, become normal. Records are routinely smashed — for acreage burned, homes destroyed, firefighter lives lost and money spent fighting back flames. A study published earlier this year found that, between 2003 and 2012, the average area burned each year in Western national forests was 1,271 percent greater than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Like the extreme hurricanes, heat waves and floods that have whipped, baked and soaked our landscape in recent years, such trends raise the question: Is this what climate change looks like?

❝ John Abatzoglou and his co-author, Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, estimate that human-caused climate change was responsible for nearly doubling the area burned in the West between 1984 and 2015. If the last few decades had been simply dry, instead of some of the hottest and driest on record, perhaps 10.4 million fewer acres would have burned, they say.

❝ Wildfire is particularly responsive to temperature increases because heat dries things out. It sucks moisture from twigs and needles in the forest the same way it does from clothes in a dryer, turning this vegetation into the kindling, or “fine fuel,” that gets wildfires going…

To shore up confidence in their estimates, they repeated the analyses in their study using eight different fuel-aridity metrics and then averaged the results. “One thing that gives me confidence is that all eight of these essentially lead to the same conclusion,” Williams said. “All eight have been increasing. All correlate well with fire.”

❝ In the end, they found that more than half of the observed increase in the dryness of fuels could be attributed to climate change. Fuel aridity, in turn, correlated very closely with fire activity for the time period they looked at — it explained about 75 percent of the variability in acreage burned from year to year. “That means that it is a top dog,” Williams said. “Correlation is not causation, but the correlation is so strong that it’s very hard to get a relationship like this if it’s not real.”

Williams added that as aridity increased, wildfire activity increased exponentially. “This isn’t a gradual process. Every few years we’re kind of entering a new epoch, where the potential for new fires is quite a bit bigger than it was a few years back.”

RTFA for more detail. Once again, science and maths point the finger at responsibility. Not only for cause; but, for the refusal to offer any constructive solutions. Congressional conservatives are so set in their commitment to stopping any change brought by our nation’s first Black president they’re willing to burn in a hell of their own creation.

Yes, of course, they won’t. Neither will the contributors to their demented campaign. The voters who keep them in office? That may be a different story.

The whole American economy, region by region, state by state

Conventional maps, by their nature, emphasize sheer spaciousness even though many large areas can be relatively devoid of human beings or other forms of activity. This cool diagram from HowMuch.net gives us a different way to visualize the entire US economy, depicting the whole thing as a big circle and then slicing it up by state, with each state’s area representing its share of total economic output:


Click to enlarge

The basic news that California and Texas are really big shouldn’t come as a huge shock. But you also see here that Florida punches a bit below its weight in terms of population, in part because a large share of the state’s residents are retired.

There are also disparities related to wealth. New Jersey has fewer people than North Carolina, Michigan, or Georgia, but it contributes more to the national economy since the productivity per worker in New Jersey is much higher.

Now you can see how much or how little your state contributes to the nation’s whole economy. 🙂

Census Metric: Male geezers narrowing the old age gender gap

Women still outlive men, but the gender gap among U.S. seniors is narrowing.

New 2010 census figures, released Thursday, show men are narrowing the female population advantage, primarily in the 65-plus age group. It’s a change in the social dynamics of a country in which longevity, widowhood and health care for seniors often have been seen as issues more important to women.

In all, the numbers highlight a nation that is rapidly aging even as Congress debates cuts in Medicare, an issue with ramifications for the growing ranks of older men…

Over the past decade, the number of men in the U.S. increased by 9.9 percent, faster than the 9.5 percent growth rate for women. As a result, women outnumbered men by just 5.18 million, compared with 2000, when there were 5.3 million more women than men.

The male-female ratio in the U.S. also increased to 96.7 from 96.3 in 2000, reflecting the narrowing of the female advantage in overall population…There hasn’t been such a sustained resurgence in the U.S. male population since 1910, when medical advances started to increase women’s life expectancies by reducing deaths during pregnancy…

The latest census figures come amid a graying baby boomer demographic of 78 million people — now between the ages of 46 and 65 and looking ahead to retirement — who will have a major voice in the 2012 elections as federal spending and the spiraling costs of Medicare rise to the forefront.

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