Are the Recent Canadian Wildfires Accelerating the End of the World?

Are the Recent Canadian Wildfires Accelerating the End of the World?
Are the Recent Canadian Wildfires Accelerating the End of the World?

If there were an academy award for pursuing leftist causes, the climate change crowd would be perennial winners of the “Best Hyperbole” statue. For years, it has proved adept at bending weather conditions to “prove” that the climate is a disaster waiting to happen.

Throughout the summer of 2023, Canadian wildfires have dominated the news. Often, the primary concern was not the fires themselves but the air quality of the twin wellsprings of the national news media, New York City and Washington, D.C.

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Certainly, wildfires generate images that provoke emotional responses. Most people grow up admiring the grandeur of lush forests. Many feel sympathy for the woodland creatures suddenly confronted with a lethal situation. The fires mindlessly consume isolated, fine and luxurious homes that millions of congested city-dwellers envy. Smoke contaminates the air, complicating life for those with respiratory problems.

A Crisis Expressed in Headlines

Readers can trace the arc of 2023’s wildfire saga in the following headlines.

May 18—Wildfires Rip Across Canada as Heat Wave Smashes Temperature Records—NBC.

June 5—Air Quality Levels in Parts of the U.S. Plunge as Canada Wildfires Rage—NBC.

June 7—New York Goes Martian: Wildfire Smoke Engulfs City In Eerie Orange Haze—Forbes.

June 7—Millions Breathing Hazardous Air as Smoke From Canadian Wildfires Streams South Over US—AP.

June 27—Canadian Wildfire Emissions Hit Record High as Smoke Reaches Europe—Reuters.

July 15—A New Outbreak of Canadian Wildfires is Sending a Plume of Unhealthy Smoke Into the US Yet Again—CNN.

July 17—Toxic Smoke From Canadian Wildfires Could Impact Health of Millions in the US—ABC.

July 17—Canadian Wildfire Smoke Puts Around 70 Million US Residents Under Air Quality Alerts—CNN.

July 18—US Air Quality Today: AQI Maps Show DC, New York Among Cities Impacted by Canadian Wildfire Smoke—USA Today.

July 19—Canadian Wildfires Hit Indigenous Communities Hard, Threatening Their Land and Culture—ABC.

July 21—Why Can’t Canada Just Put the Fires Out?—NPR.

July 24—Canadian Wildfires Burning Land at Record Pace—Reuters.

July 25—Smoke From Hundreds of Canadian Wildfires Blankets Northern US Cities with Air Pollution—CNN.

July 26—A Grim Climate Lesson From the Canadian Wildfires—New York Times.

Indeed, all the nation’s media outlets are trying to outdo each other. They argue the world’s future is at stake.

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In this frenzied world, the Wall Street Journal injected a dose of sanity. On July 31, it published an article titled “Climate Change Hasn’t Set the World on Fire.” The following day, the New York Post reprinted the same article with a new headline. “Climate Alarmists Falsely Claim the World is Literally on Fire.”

A False Alarm?

The article’s author, Bjorn Lomborg, wrote “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet.” He begins his argument in a once-common way. He states provable facts.

For more than two decades, satellites have recorded fires across the planet’s surface.

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“The data are unequivocal: Since the early 2000s, when 3% of the world’s land caught fire, the area burned annually has trended downward.

“In 2022, the last year for which there are complete data, the world hit a record low of 2.2% burned area.”

Then, Mr. Lomborg commented on the unfortunate state of news in modern America.

“Yet you’ll struggle to find that reported anywhere.”

Australia 2019-2020

The article draws several analogies between the current fires and those that affected Australia in the summer of 2019-2020. (Remember that Australia has summer when North Americans endure the snows of winter.)

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Unsurprisingly, the newspapers waxed euphoric when describing the damage with headlines like “Australia Burns” and “Apocalypse Now.” Yet the actual amount of affected Australian land was relatively small—about four percent. Despite the dramatic nature of the 2019-2020 fires, the event represented a substantial decrease in the amount of Australian land affected by wildfires. That figure stood at about eight percent during the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The press mourned the three billion animals affected by the 2019-2020 fires. They didn’t tell readers that this figure represented a substantial improvement over the thirteen billion animals affected by the fires of the early 2000s. That is a ten billion animal improvement.

A group of self-appointed environmentalists at states, “Lightning is the most common ignition source that causes the vast majority of wildfires.” At first, that sounds like an agreement that natural conditions, not human activity, primarily cause wildfires. Such a conclusion is heresy to environmentalists. They quickly add, “Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest trigger of extreme lightning storms.”

Doubting An Undoubted Conclusion

However, history provides much reason to doubt that “undoubted” conclusion.

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First, the only reliable records are relatively recent. Only in the last century-and-a-half has the U.S. government kept detailed records of temperature, rainfall, wind, humidity, and similar meteorological data. Before roughly 1870, the data is spotty, anecdotal and largely unavailable. European records aren’t much better. People tended to record natural events, including fires and weather, that they thought extreme in diaries, letters and folklore, but day-to-day records do not exist.

Compared with the world’s history, 150 years is a mere speck of time. Some historians specializing in climate speculate that at least two discernible warming trends exist. One was during the Roman Empire, and the other was during the Medieval era. Interestingly, both were times when material life substantially improved over the colder periods that preceded and followed the warmer centuries.

Largest Fires in History

There is also substantial information that the worst wildfires are not recent. Earth.Org lists the “Fifteen Largest Wildfires in US History.” Six occurred during the twenty-first century. The most recent on their list is the 2021 “Dixie Fire” in California, which destroyed 463,000 acres of vegetation and buildings. The 2020 “Bay Area Fire” consumed “almost one million acres.” The other four are the 2018 “Camp Fire” (153,336 acres), the 2017 “Tubbs Fire” (36,800 acres), the 2013 “Yarnell Fire” (8,000 acres), and the 2004 “Alaska Fire Season” when “more than 6.6 million acres were burned by 701 fires.”

Such destruction is, indeed, unfortunate. However, most of these hardly compare with four fires, all in the Midwest between 1871 and 1884. Wisconsin’s 1884 “Great Hinckley Fire” burned about 250,000 acres in four hours. The 1881 “Thumb Fire” in Michigan affected one million acres. The 1871 “Peshtigo Fire” in Wisconsin consumed 1.2 million acres. However, the 1871 “Great Michigan Fire” dwarfs all of these. It burned “at least 3,900 square miles” (emphasis added). That area translates to 2.49 million acres.

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Certainly, there is an “apples and oranges” quality to any comparison of the 1870s and 2010s. There are some similarities, like lightning, warm temperatures and dry conditions. There are also conditions, for example, population density and fire-fighting technology, that have changed drastically.

However, the environmental movement makes far more speculative comparisons regularly. They are comparing current conditions to the entire history of the world—a history of which they know very little. Basing economic and environmental policies on that infinitesimally small body of knowledge would be a terrible—perhaps disastrous—mistake.

Photo Credit:  © JAH –