Environment

Romm's Sleight of Hand

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSep 2, 2009 1:56 AM

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Joe Romm never misses a disaster to beat the global warming drum. You name it-- floods, fires, hurricanes--if they're in the headlines, then he finds a way to connect them to climate change. It's tricky stuff because he's smart enough to know that no single climatic event or catastrophe can be pinned exclusively on greenhouse gases. Yet he always suggests that climate change is at least a contributing factor and that disaster X should be viewed like the proverbial "canary in the coalmine"--a warning of what's to come if carbon emissions are not stabilized. So it's no surprise that Romm seizes on the latest California wildlfires in a recent post. He did the same with Australia's tragic conflagrations last winter. Both times Romm also chastised the mainstream media for not playing up the supposed climate change link. That's why I've taken to calling him a propagandist. To Romm, disasters are convenient "messaging" vehicles. But it's highly irresponsible to use wildfires in naturally fire-prone lands that also sit in the urban/wildland interface to dramatize concerns about global warming. Steven Pyne warned against this kind of "misdirection" after the Australia wildfires. So it is with the latest torching in California. Here is Pyne again, over at Island Press's blog, trying to educate us about fire:

In fire-prone public lands, where the setting will not convert to shopping malls and sports arenas, some fire is inevitable and some necessary. From time to time a few fires will go feral. Without fire some biotas will only build up combustibles capable of stoking still-more savage outbreaks, and equally, some will cease to function. Fire is a force of "creative destruction" in nature's economy. Without it, particularly in drier landscapes, nutrients no longer circulate freely but get hoarded. It's as though organisms hid their valuables in secret caches dug in the backyard or in socks under the bed. The choice is not whether or not to have fire but what kind of fire we wish.

You can listen to Romm or Pyne when it comes to wildfire. That's also a choice.

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