The Political Aftermath of California’s Wildfires

The amount of time it takes a celebrity of the political left to blame a natural disaster on global warming can usually be measured in seconds. Gov. Jerry Brown quickly answered the challenge last week by coldly politicizing the deadly Northern California wildfires. Following the master blueprint Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid down while an Obama adviser, Brown wasn’t going to let a crisis go to waste.

“With a warming climate, dry weather and reducing moisture, these kinds of catastrophes have happened and will continue to happen and we have to be ready to mitigate, and it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Brown said.

He’s sure mitigation will cost a lot, and so are were. He’s also sure that blame for the fires should be assigned to man’s industrial and commercial activities. But we know better.As we have in the past, we go again to Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Richard Lindzen to find out to what degree Brown or anyone else can be sure that global warming is the fuse that lit the California wildfires. His response held no ambiguity.

“Given the lack of any obvious trend so far, I’d say that the certainty was zero,” he said. He then pointed to federal National Interagency Fire Center data that show that since 1985, the number of U.S. wildfires has remained constant.

In fact, there have been far fewer wildfires in the last 30 years than there were in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, according to interagency data.

Though Brown has been known to wander into the weeds of political flakiness at times throughout his career, his isn’t a lonely voice calling out from the wilderness about the fires. His is just one of many:

LeRoy Westerling, professor of management at the University of California, Merced, for instance, told CBS News that “climate change is kind of turning up the dial on everything. Dry periods become more extreme. Wet periods become more extreme.” He also said “the frequency of fires is expected to increase.” But then we were also told in the 2000s that an onslaught of hurricanes was expected due to man’s increased greenhouse gas emissions. Yet it never materialized.

Meanwhile, the headline over the Los Angeles Times letters to the editor section dramatically screams: “How many more cities must burn before the climate-change deniers give up?”

Then there was Hillary Clinton speaking Oct. 9 at the University of California, Davis, going on about a “tough couple of weeks with hurricanes and earthquakes and now these terrible fires.”

“So in addition to expressing our sympathy, we need to really come together to try to work to prevent and mitigate, and that starts with acknowledging climate change and the role that it plays in exacerbating such events.”

Mitigate. There’s that word again. Were Clinton and Brown reading from the same list of bullet points? Probably not, because they already know what to do. It’s first nature for them to, as H.L. Mencken said, “keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

That line was written in 1921 and is a truly insightful explanation of all cynical politics, including the manufactured hysteria of global warming.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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