The Fire Next Time

Australian Bush Fire
Australian Bush Fire

Realclimate.org has an interesting post about the Australian wildfires:

Although formal attribution studies quantifying the influence of climate change on the increased likelihood of extreme fire danger in south-east Australia have not yet been undertaken, it is very likely that there has been such an influence. Long-term increases in maximum temperature have been attributed to anthropogenic climate change. In addition, reduced rainfall and low relative humidity are expected in southern Australia due to anthropogenic climate change. The FFDI for a number of sites in Victoria on 7 February reached unprecedented levels, ranging from 120 to 190, much higher than the fire weather conditions on Black Friday or Ash Wednesday, and well above the “catastrophic” fire danger rating.

If there is such a link, those of us in the American West also may have something to worry about.

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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “The Fire Next Time”

  1. Dan,
    This is important research. While proliferation of invasive species, settlement of more people closer to forests, and other factors are exacerbating wildfire risk, researchers have already started to establish a link between climate change and wildfire in the western U.S., both from overall temperature increase and from the earlier onset of spring:
    http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/313/5789/940
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/07/060710084004.htm
    Sean

  2. But I think it’s important to point out that, at least in the American West, we would still be facing devastating fires even if climate change never happened. We are suffering from over a century of terrible land management where old growth forests have been clear cut, new, less-fire resistant trees have become overgrown, and humans have suppressed needed fires, especially since WWII. Not to mention, as Sean references, humans are living in the path of fires at an ever-increasing rate. The American West, particularly in the mountains, evolved since the last ice age with repeated deliberate fires set by virtually ever indigenous group who has lived here. The result was cleared-out brush and park-like old growth trees, not to mention healthier soil. Climate change will make fires worse, but we’d be in this mess regardless.

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About Dan

Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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