Heartland, CEI Press Conference Addresses California Wildfires

This morning, I joined Myron Ebell (Director of the Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute) and Steve Milloy (Board of Directors for The Heartland Institute) for a telephonic press conference regarding California’s wildfires and attempts to blame the wildfires on global warming. Media in attendance included:

  • Bloomberg News
  • Breitbart
  • CBN News
  • CNN
  • Daily Signal
  • InsideSources
  • PJ Media
  • Real Clear Politics
  • Reuters
  • The Federalist
  • The Washington Post
  • The Washington Times

After opening statements, we fielded questions from the press. Here is the text of my opening statement:

It is very troubling, and dangerous, for policymakers to blame climate change for wildfires that could have, and should have, been stifled by wise, proactive forest management. Asserting the climate change mantra may prove politically convenient for policymakers to shift attention away from their own poor policy decisions, but such misdirection fails to address the root cause of out-of-control wildfires that kill people, destroy ecosystems, and destroy people’s lives.

During recent decades, policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels have followed the disastrous advice of environmental extremists to prevent active forest management, including proactive thinning of forests, prescriptive burns, thinning of underbrush, and removal of dead trees that serve as super-fuel for forest fires.

A February 2018 report from the California state government documented “California’s forests suffer from neglect and mismanagement, resulting in overcrowding that leaves them susceptible to disease, insects and wildfire.”

When government officials ignore the California state government’s own findings, and instead continue to oppose active forest management, more severe, out-of-control wildfires become inevitable.

For those seeking to blame global warming, instead, for this year’s unusually severe wildfire season, how do they explain the fact that the amount of global land burned by wildfires is in long-term decline? NASA satellites have measured a 25-percent decline in land burned by wildfires globally since 2003. If global warming were to blame for California’s wildfires, we would expect to see a global increase in wildfires. Just the opposite is the case.

National Interagency Fire Center data show much more U.S. land burned in an average year during the first half of the 20th century – many decades of global warming ago – than has been the case in recent decades. That is at odds with the claim that global warming is making wildfires worse. However, policymakers following the dictates of environmental extremists risk a return to the more severe wildfire events of the early 20th century.

The tragic irony is the very policies that we were told were necessary to protect forests and wildlife are the direct cause of an uptick in recent wildfires that are destroying forests and killing wildlife to a far more severe degree than proactive forest management. Blaming global warming rather than the true causes of severe wildfires will merely enable continuing severe wildfires in the future. Let’s stop laying false blame on global warming and instead work together to be sound stewards of our forests and our environment.

James Taylor
James Taylor
James Taylor is the President of the Heartland Institute. Taylor is also director of Heartland's Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy. Taylor is the former managing editor (2001-2014) of Environment & Climate News, a national monthly publication devoted to sound science and free-market environmentalism.

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  1. Wow, don’t confuse them with FACTS! I really appreciate the effort Heartland and a few other conscientious outlets make to bring reason to various debates. I can’t imagine sitting in the break room at the Heartland Institute (some days) discussing the widespread LUNACY of the day. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude & energy to be seemingly the “lone salmon” swimming upstream. As a retired (30 year) regulatory professional in the oil & gas industry, I think I can understand your frustration. Keep up the good work! Sensible people appreciate your efforts…


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