The Truth About Wildfires that Gov. Newsom ‘Has No Patience For’

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is in the news today, proclaiming wildfires in his state have left him with “no patience for climate change deniers.” That is too bad. If Newsom had the patience to spend 2 minutes reviewing wildfire facts, he wouldn’t be advancing a fake climate scare.

Deadline, Politico, and many other media outlets are reporting on Newsom’s comments today. Politico’s story, “Newsom: ‘No patience for climate change deniers’ amid historic wildfires,” was typical of the coverage, with Newsom linking the ongoing horrific wildfires and heat California is suffering under to supposed human cause climate change. The problem is the data undermine his and the headlines’ assertions that the heat and wildfires are “historic.”

Research shows massive wildfires have regularly swept through California. Indeed, a 2007 paper in the journal Forest Ecology and Management reported that prior to European colonization in the 1800s, more than 4.4 million acres of California forest and shrub-land burned annually. That is far more than the area of California that has burned cumulatively since 2000. As compared to the 4.4 million California acres that burned each year prior to European colonization, only 90,000 acres to 1.6 million California acres burn in a typical year now.

Wildfires have declined sharply over the course of the past century in the United States. As reported in Climate at a Glance: Wildfires, long-term data from the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) show wildfires have declined in number and severity since the early 1900s. Assessing data on U.S. wildfires from as far back as 1926, NIFC reports the numbers of acres burned is far less now than it was throughout the early 20th century, with the current acres burned running just 1/4th to 1/5th of the amount of land that typically burned in the 1930s (see the figure, below).

Figure 1: Total wildfire acreage burned by year in the United States, 1926 to 2019. Data from
Graph by meteorologist Anthony Watts

Globally, the data on wildfires are just as clear. In his book False Alarm, Bjorn Lomborg observes:

“There is plenty of evidence for a reduction in the level of devastation caused by fire, with satellites showing a 25 percent reduction globally in burned area just over the past 18 years … In total, the global amount of area burned as declined by more than 540,000 square miles, from 1.9 million square miles in the early part of last century to 1.4 million square miles today.”

Gavin Newsom has announced he has lost patience for practicing science and discovering the truth. Fortunately, climate realists still have the patience to do so.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is the Director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News. In addition to directing The Heartland Institute's Arthur B. Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy, Burett puts Environment & Climate News together, is the editor of Heartland's Climate Change Weekly email, and the host of the Environment & Climate News Podcast.

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  1. For completeness’ sake, it’s worth mentioning that much of the acreage burned in the early 20th century was due to controlled burns. If you remove that from the chart, there is actually a bit of an upward trend. But that can almost certainly not be tied to CO2 increases[1].


  2. On Sept 14, with only 70% of the year gone, California’s fires are reported (CNN 14 Sep 2020) to have already burnt 3.2 million acres, and are still out of control. 2020 could easily surpass 4.4 million acres, which was the guesstimate made in 2007 about fires projected to have happened in the1800s. Your claim that “only 90,000 acres to 1.6 million California acres burn in a typical year now” gives a very misleading view of what is happening in California (and the entire west coast) now.
    Compared with California’s fires in recent years 2020 is very alarming.
    Actual known millions of acres burned in California:
    2019 0.3; 2018 1.9; 2017 1.4; 2016 0.7; 2015 0.9; 2014 0.6; 2013 0.6
    2012 0.9; 2011 0.2; 2010 0.1;


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