The Hill Is Wrong, Climate Change Is Grossly Overemphasized as a Factor Causing Wildfires

Near the top of a Google news search for the phrase “climate change” today turns up a story in The Hill claiming the media is failing to properly place the blame for wildfires on climate change. This is false. Hundreds of stories over the past two years alone have blamed climate change for wildfires. To be accurate, they are all wrong. Data do not show a significant increase in the number of wildfires or the acreage burned by them. As a result, rather than underrepresenting climate change as a cause of wildfires, the mainstream media is, in fact, giving misplaced emphasis on climate change as a factor in wildfires.

In The Hill story, “Media coverage of wildfires omits one key element: Humanity’s role,” the author writes:

Global media outlets cover [large wildfires] like the disasters they are, but too few point out that human-driven climate change is their shared accelerant. … We are burning our own house down. If we’re to survive, we need to acknowledge our pyromaniacal role now.

While wildfires occur every year and are an important element of functioning ecosystems, the scale of 2021 fires naturally raises questions about their relationship to climate change.

Since June of 2019, at the beginning of the first wildfire season for which Climate Realism was in existence, Climate Realism has refuted more than 46 news stories, for instance, here, here, here, here, here, and here, claiming supposed human caused climate change was causing more frequent and more severe wildfires. The data does not support these stories’ claims. Yet each of the false wildfire stories Climate Realism refuted, or versions thereof, have been published and republished in hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and science journals over the past two years.

Contrary to false news stories, NASA satellites have documented a global long-term decline in wildfires. NASA reports satellites have measured a 25-percent decrease in global lands burned since 2003. That is an objective scientific fact.

Also, as reported in Climate at a Glance: Wildfires, U.S. acres burned each year are much fewer now – even in our worst years – than was the case in the early 20th century. This is an inconvenient scientific fact that the United States government has since sought unsuccessfully to erase.

While media outlets like The Hill may choose to push false climate alarm about human climate change causing wildfires, and claim that the media underreports on this, the facts show just the opposite. Because the data show wildfires are not increasing in number or intensity, any story that reports otherwise is one too many.

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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