The Abuses of the Suppression of Fire Theory

Comments

1

Charles, you are just making it eaiser for climate change deniers.

2

climate change is real, and so are the predictable results of continuous fire suppression, and both are making it worse, but the elephant in the room is crappy forest management, what I would call timber mining. Clear cutting followed by abandonment of responsibility. Dense stands of regeneration becoming half dead through natural competition, and never being pre-commercially thinned because it is "pre-commercial". It is systemic.

3

Charles, could you please post a link to a climatologist who believes this smoke was caused by climate change and not fire suppression? Thanks. I''ll wait.

4

ps- fire suppression is a big deal. It's not some red herring for climate change deniers. Millions of us live in towns on the edge of burnable lands. Washington State has a shit ton of wildfires every year, and does almost no controlled burns. Look what happened in Wenatchee two years ago. Not a big problem on Capitol Hill, but scary as hell in Snoqualmie and North Bend...

5

Well, SOMEbody got a little hot under the collar after his attempt to burn a real scientist on this topic instead just showed how much smoke he himself has been blowing!

6

Well this is an improvement over the last post, at least you recognize the argument the other side was making. Maybe on the next point you’ll actually try to debate it rather then just saying “but climate change!!!”...

Charles I fully agree climate change is a huge issue (second biggest issue facing human kind, first being income inequality...there’s a profit motive in solving climate change), but for someone who claims to be a “thinker” you’re coming across a lot like homer here

https://youtu.be/g3U6IUMTDHY

7

@4 He pointed out how it was important and could be effective linking to the Yosemite project. Controlled burns aren't going to save us from the effects of climate change.

10

@9: Your comment @8 said it all, “brother.”

10

The evidence is pretty clear that prescribed burning is a far superior method for fire suppression, almost the exact opposite of how we've been "managing" forests for the past century or so. But it's been resisted for most of that time, because it's expensive: either timber companies have to remove huge quantities of biomass from logged areas in order to minimize secondary fuel sources, or else they have to sacrifice future profit by swailing areas they've recently replanted.

11

Charles....you simply refuse to understand what cliff is saying...and he is totally correct: to deal with fires one needs to fix the forests (which can be done in a matter of few years) AND work to reduce our emission of greenhouse gases. One is totally under our control. The other is a global issue that we are a very small part of. Your name calling against a well-known local scientist and an expert in our weather/climate is both unseemly and counterproductive. Why are you so fixated on Professor Mass?

13

@11:

You can't "fix the forests" in "a matter of a few years": for one thing, the sheer expense of fire mitigation just to deal with the roughly 500 million square miles of private and public forests in the U.S. (we'll leave off Canadian holdings for the sake of argument) would be astronomical - we've already spent more than $800 mm this year alone on fire suppression - and we've still got quite a bit of time left in the current fire season - and that's only covered a mere drop in the bucket in terms of what needs to be spent and the number of acres involved; last year alone we spent nearly $3B fighting fires on a mere 10 mm acres, or about 2% of total U.S. holdings - and that doesn't count preventative measures to reduce the risk of massive fires on lands that haven't burned - yet.

So yeah, do the math and then get back to us again about how fucking EASY this is going to be...

15

Charles....it is good you got the wording right in your second try (suppression not regression). And you seemed to have gained some understanding that we need to undo the damage to our forests. And you didn't descend to childish name calling this time (in your last article you suggested I had some kind of mental disability). Major progress. But you still don't seem to understand the obvious....that we need to fix our forests and work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is not either or...it is both. We have the power to fix our local forests. Changing the atmospheric levels of CO2 is something we can help with, but that involves folks over the entire planet. I am certainly a strong supporter of reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. For example, I worked hard for initiative 732, the carbon tax initiative, something YOU were against. Your simplistic and uninformed views of climate change, and your propensity to attack others who don't see things exactly your way, are hurting the efforts of many of us to deal with the environmental issues of our time. You are part of the problem...cliff mass

16

@15 - That should be: “We need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fix our forests.” Not “work on reducing” and not forests first, atmosphere second. As unbiased as you want to believe you are, your bias still shows, and you’re scarcely more tolerant of differing viewpoints than Charles is. You are like a passenger in a burning car telling everyone to buckle their seatbelts.

17

Even though you claim to know better, even though you seem reasonable by acknowledging climate change. This is how Charles is so often wrong (and always pretentious and annoying) yet right and you are always right, yet so dangerously wrong.

Global warming is an existential threat to all of us. Charles gets that. Fine - it is only 1% to blame for the smoke today, but what about 10 years from now? 20 years? You know the answer: it gets worse. And worse.

Lead with that fact, then inform us on the limited role of climate change today. You have a special opportunity to educate, but you waste it lecturing Charles on his shitty math. We all know his math is shitty.

18

@15
"You are part of the problem...cliff mass"

You are part of the problem cliff mass.

Fixed it for you.

19

@15: Please disregard the novices who don't know what they're talking about. They're so angry that they feel justified in taking liberties to ignore scientific facts and end up making fools out of themselves.

20

@19 - Make sure you lick the balls, too. Important to be thorough!

21

*not a crisis

The science is different than the models. Every one of these stories is confirmation bias, which is also science.

22

Charles- still waiting for that link (from anyone worth quoting) that these fires are a result of climate change and not just forest mismanagement. If you don't have that, your entire argument (which is that the issue of fire suppression is a red herring to avoid talking about climate change) has no logical underpinnings.

23

Mudede is no more qualified to argue climate science than the climate change deniers calling it a Chinese hoax. Both camps ignore science in favor of politics. The Stranger should not provide a platform for uninformed punditry.

24

Charles, I find it a bit strange that you reference Australian aboriginal forest-burning practices when you could quite easily find more relevant referents closer to home.

The practice of fire suppression in the US began in earnest after the great fire of 1910, at a time when controlled burns or "light burns" were a well-known forestry practice. This practice was called "Paiute forestry", and the phrase became an insult as the suppression movement took hold.

Paiute, as I'm sure you know, is a Native American language group, not a tribe or nation. The derogatory term referred to practices of groups in the southwest, but almost all Native Americans used fire to manage their regional environments, one of many ways in which the American landscape Europeans encountered was highly domesticated, and not "wild" at all.

There was clearly a colonial component to the switch to suppression, and the removal of Native Americans from land they had managed for thousands of years was a rather large contributing factor to the suppression regime and decline in forest health through the 20th century.

This would, I think, give you food for thought, were you not so peculiarly fixated on scientifically unsupportable maximal attribution of every unpleasant weather event to global warming.

Ah well. For some people, ideology is far more important than history, let alone mere science. It is just another thing standing in the way of progress I guess.

25

Bad things happen. If we don't do anything about climate change, more bad things will happen. But that doesn't mean that every bad thing that happens (today) is the result of climate change.

For example, no one is saying that Trump being elected is the result of climate change. I'm sure I could make that argument with the same veracity as Charles. Others -- experts in the field of political science, perhaps -- would point out how ridiculous my argument is. At that point, like Charles, I could then pivot to my main point, which is that climate change is terrible, and that we shouldn't feel comfortable thinking that we only need to prevent fascists like Trump being elected -- that we need to prevent climate change as well. These are points that everyone agrees with, since they are fucking obvious to anyone with a fucking brain.

This is what passes for a spirited debate in the world of Mr. Mudede (at least as regards Mr. Mass). Cliff Mass believes that climate change is real, and believes that it has profound and horrible ramifications for the world. But he doesn't believe that it is responsible for things like the election of Trump, or smoke that drifts into Seattle.

26

It took Mr./Dr. Mass weighing in for me to read Charles' post four more times. He and most of you are completely missing his point. Completely. I don't know if I want to spend the time unpacking the context in which Charles was obviously writing from. First he introduces it with a little history and ancient cultural understanding of how fires were once used. Then came industrialization. Then a lot of people not wanting to be bothered or inconvenienced with far away fires. Nobody willing to make change other than have someone else do it and this includes "forest management". Then he correctly states "there is no good news" and delves into a little economic truth about the fossil fuel industry as he wraps it up. Whoosh did the meaning of this idle thought, totally viable for consideration go over the head of Mass and many of you others. I might point out that Cliff has so many typos on his site which I do check regularly because I do respect him and like his comprehensive local forecasts, but he cannot tell the difference of nuance vs an all out attack on his credibility. I let his typos pass because I realize he is not dean of UW English Dept.

27

My understanding is that the vast majority of the smoke blanketing our region originated from fires in British Columbia.
Logically, it would seem that the "fire-supressionists" or "mismanaged forest" theory advocates would need to be able to apply their theory not to the forests of Washington State but to the forests of British Columbia. Not to Coastal forests but to the interior forests and bio-regions where this smoke originates.
I sincerely doubt advocates for fire suppression as the ultimate cause (as opposed to climate change) are eager to defend their thesis as it relates to Canadian fires because climate-related insect damage to Canadian forests is so obviously both an ultimate and proximate cause.

28

Your colleague Dan Savage recently pointed out that having children is by far the costliest detrimental impact one can have on the environment. I’m torn about this one, but it would seem to me that failing to mention family planning in your article is a big omission.

29

@28 - For billions of years, all life on earth has faced a reality in which survival was a scarce resource; and if the drive to reproduce hadn’t been so powerful, there might be no life of any kind at all today. At no point did any species have to coordinate their reproduction collectively. The individuals of the species each humped like bunnies (in some percentage of instances, because they literally were bunnies), and since life was violent and dangerous, you could safely assume that most of the next generation would perish. Luckily, forethought did not co-evolve as a trait alongside lust and avarice, so the parents didn’t worry about the young’uns devouring all that yummy clover.

So now you ponder us. We can think ahead (well, maybe 5-20% of us). We haven’t known scarcity since the Dust Bowl. We (maybe 10% of us) recognize that consumption has costs.

Is that enough to get us collectively to disregard billions of years of programming and slow not only our rate of reproduction, but also our rate of consumption? After all, it used to be that the first to the clover survived, while the rest might starve. When clover can be produced in abundance, but at the abstract cost of an invisible form of waste, can we get our animal brains not to feast and fuck with abandon? And not just any clover, but the very best clover, getting better every day in fact, the clover of the gods, if the gods had immense imagination.

I am going to say, “No.” Only Malthus can slow us down, and his measures are ghastly and unpredictable. Given the scale and scope of human dominion, the systemic failures that could control our population may be so massive as to be irrevocably fatal to all. Human existence is the bank that is too big fail, but there is no external authority to bail us out.

And sadly, the people not reproducing are precisely the ones who have evolved both forethought and empathy, exactly the kind of creature that could survive this new reality.

I don’t want to say we’re doomed. Who knows? Life has withstood catastrophe before. A dinosaur philosopher might have felt very pessimistic indeed in the years after the asteroid, and yes, things were bad; but now we have chickens and other descendants of the tyrannosaur.

Doesn’t mean you’d want to sign up some future kid to live through the aftermath.

30

It is a shame that Charles, a man who considers himself an intellectual, and has many good points to make repeatedly embarrasses himself because he simply doesn't understand the basic idea behind climate science. There are really two key elements: The first is that there is a lag period. The damage we are doing right now won't be felt for years. The second is that climate is an average, while weather -- or weather based events -- are random. Bad hurricane season? Random. Bad hurricane century? Climate change. Bad fire season? Random. Bad fire century? Climate change.

Cliff Mass repeats these points over and over, and cautions people from assigning particular, random events to climate change, while pointing out that we will see more of those type of events in the future. Charles either doesn't understand, or feels more comfortable bullshitting people. He is acting like a concerned parent, telling us that if we don't eat our vegetables, the boogeyman will get us, while Cliff is telling Charles (and others) to calm down, and that we should eat our vegetables because they are good for us.

Here is how Cliff Mass ends his blog on the subject:

"Warming from increasing greenhouse gases is surely making the situation a bit worse, and its impact will undoubtedly escalate when the real warming occurs later in this century. But today, global warming is a relatively small element of the current wildfire situation, particularly in the slow to warm Pacific Northwest. As citizens of one small region, there is only so much we can do to stop global warming. But we can fix our forests, improving the fire/smoke situation today and preparing for the greater warming that is undoubtedly in our future."

His key point is really the same as the one Charles makes: we are fucked. Global warming is coming, and even reducing our emissions won't do shit to stop it. (If we had done something forty years ago, then it could have been prevented, but we are basically fucked now). Our only chance now is some sort of miracle -- geoengineering that somehow works and doesn't make things worse. At the same time, we need to reduce emissions. Basically we are like a long time smoker who has lung cancer -- we need to undergo chemotherapy at the same time we quit smoking. But climate change has little to do with the smoke we are all dealing with right now, which is caused primarily by bad forest practices (by both the U. S. and Canada). Climate change, when it really kicks in, will make it much worse, but at the very least we could manage the forests a lot better.

31

@30 - The problem is, Mass never says: “We’re fucked.” Instead, he makes it sound we are not fucked at all, like ho hum all this is so, so normal.

Statistically speaking, it might be “normal.” Variance within the mean and all that. But if there’s a signal in the noise that is abnormal and growing, debating whether its impact is 1% of the current observed data or 5% is like arguing about the probability that Jack could have fit on that door with Rose. Who cares, he’s dead, we should have had a different debate about how best to avoid that iceberg a couple of hours ago.

32

@27

"Insect damage," yes.

"Climate-related insect damage," however, has a couple of problems.

The first, most obvious problem is that average temperature increase is not the only factor driving the success of the Mountain Pine Beetle. Other factors include a) decades of timber harvest practices that remove the least insect-vulnerable (large, healthy, mature) trees and leave behind more vulnerable (younger, smaller, less resiliant) trees, b) stand-replacement lumbering (i.e. clear-cutting) which results in regrowth of denser stands of smaller, again more vulnerable trees, wherein parasites can spread more rapidly, c) monocultural replanting, which results in an entire forest vulnerable to the same pest, and d) suppression of low-intensity fires, which reduce insect populations while leaving mature trees intact. In other words, many factors exacerbating the pine-beetle outbreak are a consequence of 100 years of forest mismanagement.

Another problem is that your temperature-only causal attribution implies that this will be a one-time event-- vulnerable tree species (lodgepole pines, in this case) will be wiped out in the region, the fuel thus generated will burn up more or less en masse, and the subsequent regrowth will necessarily consist of species not vulnerable to the proliferating insect (in this case a native insect, but true for invasive species as well). This would mean no action is necessary-- the problem is self-correcting. If your attribution is correct, then nobody needs to do anything, no forestry practices need to be changed, the environment will recover, newly adapted to the increased CO2 level and the new climate it brings about.

Global Warming is real, and it is by far the most pressing environmental problem we face today. We are going to lose many coastal cities, and many more delta farmlands, and we do not seem to be ready to talk about what that means yet. It feels a lot better to just short-circuit our critical faculties, re-bleat our preconceptions, and award ourselves imaginary internet-points. The Oligarchy's paid-troll directors couldn't be happier.

33

@29

While I'm generally incined to agree that Malthus will eventually receive his due, something weird is happening in human populations around the world:

The richer they get, the fewer kids they have.

The inverse relationship between economic development and fertility rates is by now a well-established, robust finding-- it's true across geography, culture, and creed. As a nation's economy develops, its birthrates decline. This is true not only in the richest nations, where fertility is so low that in some places it is considered a "crisis," but in the poorest as well-- wherever there is economic development, there are fewer babies.

And what's more, the reverse is true. Where economies collapse, birth rates tend to go up, most notably in places where the economic collapse is due to violence-- war, civil war, factional or sectarian conflict, etc.

34

@33 - What you say rings true, but I’m not sure rising prosperity slows the birth rate enough to avoid a Malthusian outcome. Human prosperity has arguably never been higher, but the population continues to grow and grow. And of course birth rate is only half the equation: mortality rate is the other. There, too, good news in the short term is bad news in the long term.

The specific rates, the magnitude of changes due to a better economy, and the absolute breakpoints all matter greatly, and I’m guessing even with rising prosperity, none runs in our favor.

35

@34

The data say this is true for overall rates of population change as well as fertility rates-- that is, increasing lifespan does not simply counterbalance the drop in fertility, and total population curves flatten out. IF the economies remain strong, and aren't disrupted by violence.

Anyone serious about sustainability isn't just asking how many people the planet can support after the fossil fuels run out, but asking how we can get there peacefully, especially if we have to do it in the face of mass migrations and farmland disappearing under the waves.

36

Fertility rate are important as well seanat - societies need at least have a 2.5 % rate. Some are not. Your inherent abhorrence to procreation is flawed.

37

@36 - I don’t have an inherent abhorence of procreation. Procreation can be a positive or a negative to survival, depending on the species and its environment. For our species, with rising per capita consumption and by and large declining rates of mortality on a single finite planet (sorry, Elon - I won’t need that seat on the Mars flight), it is probably easier to have a ferility rate that’s too high than one that’s too low.

38

Every person on the planet could 'believe' in global warming/climate change - and it wouldn't make a damn bit of diffrence. None. Zero. Why? Our species can't even maintain our teeth well enough to prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Easily prevented or greatly reduced by regular brushing and flossing - how many of us do this simple thing that yields tangible health benefits, AND saves money (oral surgery ain't cheap)? That is just one example. Exercise is another - the spirit willing, flesh weak. And yet - a critical mass of us is going to somehow adopt this 'belief' and change our behavior to bring about a halt to climate change? Sorry, I can't bring myself to believe our species has the ability.

The problem is not the hard science, but the 'soft' science of how and why people do what they do.

39

@38

It kind of depends on who, exactly, believes in Global Warming, and whether or not they think it's a threat to their interests. For the time being, The Oligarchy seems to think there's more wealth to be gained by disbelieving (or at least pretending to disbelieve) in Global Warming than by sounding the sirens about it.

If that were to change, I'm pretty sure The Oligarchy would do something about Global Warming-- and what they'd do, I'd wager, is use the media they own to blame the poor for the CO2 levels, and then use the local military or police they've co-opted to kill them off-- if not directly via live ammunition, then by bulldozing their homes and herding them into "managed sustainable community" camps in which they would be sterilized for the good of society, put on a strictly rationed diet, and perhaps set to productive labor, if still able-bodied.

But then, I did read waaaaay too much unforgivably terrible Sci-Fi as a teen, so take all that with a grain of salt.

40

Charles's method is exaggeration, to the point of even falsehood, to achieve his view of how the world should work, nevermind even lying to the public, as long as it's for the greater good as he envisions. The Socialist Elite ruling with lies just to keep power. Just listen to his debate with Mass, he says so. It's far more important to cause fear among the masses with hyperbole than give them the truth. The masses are in no position to think for themselves.

Charles, who elected you?

42

@41, Almost there. No one will notice under Charles's plan because science will only be pubic when it advances the body politic into uniformly.

43

I love Mass, own his book, read his blog, and appreciate his perspective. He’s also a prickly shit and iconoclast who frequently veers out of his lane and offers opinions on crap he should leave alone, or allow someone better informed on to post about.

I love Mudede, treasure that he’s one of the true open-thinkers left in journalism, who asks us to regularly stretch our minds across the arbitrary borders we put up in our brains. He’s also prone to outbursts, have-explanations, and sloppy logic.

In the end, better forest management, AND constantly reminding people that something bad is NOT connected to climate change just lets people off the hook for doing anything about climate change.

44

@43 Charles is not a journalist. He writes opinion peices.

45

@43, Charles, a journalist? Dear fucking god that made me laugh so hard coffee came out of my nose.

46

Has Charles taken up Cliff Mass's offer of a public discussion on this subject?

47

@raindrop, @robotslave, @nastavmad, @jeebus999 - thanks for a thought-provoking discussion. Merely picking sides in the CM v. CM slap fest is a bore. Matlhus and fertility rates and how it all plays out - that’s worth talking about.